Paradise Lost

Questioning Satan as the “Evil” Monarch of Pandemonium College

Even as Paradise Lost is the story of “man’s first disobedience,” John Milton notably opens his epic poem with a complex portrait of Satan as the ruler of Hell. Satan is a sympathetic character as a rebel, but easily denounced as a hypocritical monarch of Pandemonium. His leadership in Hell is unexpectedly similar to God’s leadership in Heaven, if not more reputable on Satan’s part, which brings in to question the traditional antithetical roles of these biblical figures. If one were to read the first two books lacking the presumptions that God is almighty and Satan is evil, one might view Satan as the hero. Fully aware of biblical tradition and Milton’s unquestioned faith, the opening descriptions of Satan and, to a lesser extent, God are unexpectedly controversial.

Satan’s first line, “If thou beest he; but O how fall’n!” captures the meek position he adopts as a defeated usurper of God (1.84). Satan presents himself as a martyr unable to resist the tyrannical “victor” (1.95). For a majority of the poem, he is proud and unwilling to admit defeat, so the admission that “so much the stronger proved/ He [God] with his thunder” is out of character (1.92-93). The natural inclination for the reader is to sympathize with the...

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