Paradise Lost is an epic poem written by John Milton and has been catalogued by many as the best representation, within popular culture, of Satan (even better than that found in Goethe’s Faust?). But this story is much more than a bombastic representation of the baddest of all bad guys, within its pages we can find a series of events that may be familiar to us (such as the story of Adam and Eve) but told in a very peculiar, almost theatrical way, which gives the work a different quality within religious literature and literature in general. But I feel that the most interesting thing about Milton’s epic is the discourse implicit in its 286 pages (in the version I read), a sharp commentary on the scope of freedom in the midst of religious doctrine and, because of this, on the relationship between man and divinity.
But what is Paradise Lost all about? I think we’ve all heard (well, most of us have heard) the old story of how Satan was expelled from paradise and his inevitable fall into hell because of his corrupt ambition. This epic poem gives us that story, but in great detail. Had you ever heard that the angels threw mountains, yes… mountains! at each other during the battle in heaven, prior to the fall of the rebellious angels? Well, in John Milton’s story, this and other crazy things happen that the reader is unlikely to forget. But I feel that in the center of the story is described a questioning of Lucifer’s or Satan’s reasons, in relation to why he decided to engage in a war in paradise, having absolutely everything in his favor as one of God’s favorites. The author presents his own version of these events, endowing the angels with great rhetorical skills, as they engage on several occasions in discussions about what is right and what is wrong in the universe, what can and cannot be done, and so on. Satan’s motives then appear initially as almost trivial, he questions the powers given by God to his first and only son, bestowing him with such endowments that he surpasses even those of the angels, accustomed to being the only favorites of the creator, having him as their only superior. What bothers Satan is that now he will have to lower his head, not only before God, but before his son as well. Did you see? That is why I say that the situation may seem trivial at the beginning, but behind this tantrum is hidden the author’s true discourse, a discourse that brings him closer to the concept of freedom, so elusive in markedly hierarchical situations such as those described in God’s paradise.
But Satan is not the only one who debates about freedom in the face of the great divine powers; the fate of human beings is also intertwined in the matter. It is as if, in some way, Satan’s incursion into paradise and the subsequent loss of paradise by Adam and Eve, once again revealed the scope of freedom in this world dominated by the preceding will of a creator entity. Is it freedom for Adam and Eve to live immortal lives in a place that provides them with everything they need, as long as they obey the laws of the one who grants them such gifts? The situation becomes more complex at this point, for if we advocate the freedom of humans to commit sin, we would be equating ourselves with Satan’s thinking, at least in ideological terms (for obviously the angel went a bit further by throwing mountains at the other angels). And it is possible that Milton may have realized this peculiarity while writing his story, although his own individual freedom may have led him to mitigate the impact of such a statement (perhaps because of the time in which the story was written) by imposing on all discourse and events the pre-existing will of God, who always appears as an omnipresent figure and as the genesis of all movement. So much so that an angel appears before Adam to comment on all the events that will occur, including the loss of paradise and the torments that ensue, all as part of the great plan of the creator to forgive them in the end, via the sacrifice of his only son.
Now, we can get down to debating what kind of divine plan can involve so much suffering, death and destruction so that in the end it all ends in forgiveness. I have been thinking about it a bit and I feel that Milton wants to tell us that at bottom God is assuming that Satan and evil have come from himself, that they are part of creation and that their manifestation is as much a part of the matter as the other powers (a pantheon that includes such ancestral beings as Chaos, described as the only thing that was before the light). Now, if angels could rebel against God and his only son, this makes them as permeable to error as human beings, however, only the latter are punished with death (although on second thought, the angels who fell into hell fared much worse).
Well, as you saw we could be talking about Paradise Lost for a long time and most likely even more doubts will arise about the whole thing. What I can say about Satan, sorry, I didn’t really talk much about him as a character, is that in his speech we can find a lot of facets with which we can identify, his charismatic personality really provokes thought, even makes you want to forget that we are in the presence of the evil one par excellence. That impulse to not give up in the face of adversity, from the depths of hell to the earthly paradise, the pride that leads him to face beings much more powerful than himself (fallen in disgrace, I think that in his normal state things would have been different) are all characteristics that lead him to the deserved position of main character of the story. Without fear of being wrong, I can say that Paradise Lost is a story that is completely advanced for its own time, I would even say that in its pages we can find qualities that, without a doubt, have served as inspiration for later stories, such as the saga of “The Lord of the Rings” and even modern stories, such as Japanese animations and the like. But, above all, I can point out that the discourse on freedom that we find in its pages elevates the story to a higher level within the stories of its genre.
- Satan as the protagonist of the story.
- The battle between the angels.
- The speech about freedom.
- The pile of titles for some characters slows down the story.
- Jesus is too OP in the war of the angels (joke!).
In short… read or die!