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A BRIEF NOTE ON JOHN MILTON’S PARADISE LOST

Introduction:
John Milton was an English poet, pamphleteer, and historian, considered the most significant English
author after William Shakespeare. Milton is best known for Paradise Lost, widely regarded as the
greatest epic poem in English. Together with Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes, it confirms
Milton’s reputation as one of the greatest English poets in the history of English literature.

Critically discuss Satan’s speeches in the Paradise Lost book 1 or Discuss Satan as an epic anti-hero:-

Satan of Book-I Paradise Lost, is one of the glorious examples of political leadership and political oratory.
The impression that one gets after examining Satan's speeches is that of nobility and greatness. But if
we carefully examine Satan's speeches we will find that he is the personification of evil His speeches are
the key to his character and his art of oratory excels the best of Roman rhetoric. He is the leader of the
rebel-angels in Heaven and the uncrowned monarch of Hell. By following his lead, the fallen angels are
deprived of “happy fields, where joy forever dwells.” Satan has now the task of retaining their loyalty
and does so by the sheer magic of his high-pitched oratory. There is a certain pathetic grandeur of
injured merit in them which wins the hearts of his followers. Around the character of Satan, Milton has
thrown a singularity of daring, a grandeur of sufferance and a ruined splendor which constitute the very
height of poetic sublimity.
Satan is the first to recover from the stupor into which all the rebel angels fall. Soon he notices his
first lieutenant, Beelzebub, weltering by his side. He finds that his compeer is much changed. So he
makes a cautious approach, for he is not sure whether his friend is in a mood to blame him or he still
loves him.
First Speech. Satan’s speeches reveal pure Miltonic lyricism. His opening speech to Beelzebub is a
magnificent set-piece. It reveals the character of Satan – a defiant rebel and a great leader. He
encourages and sympathizes with his followers with bold words and sentiments.
Satan first takes pity on the change in his friend. Then he refers to their friendship of the hazardous
enterprise in heaven and in their present misery. He is ashamed to admit the might of God. But he will
not allow it to change his mind. He has nothing but contempt for God who insulted his merits. It is a
sense of injured merit that makes him wage war against the tyrant of Heaven. As for the battle, it has
been an equal match and the issue uncertain. It is not their want of merit but God’s new and secret
weapon that won the war. There is an irony through Satan’s speech which continually reduces his
stature even when apparently it seems to be building it up. Satan’s historical of “high disdain” and
“sense of injured merit” have overtones of the ludicrous. It seems weak and childish.
A single victory does not permanently ensure God’s victory. For the present, they may have lost the
field, but that does not mean they have lost everything.
What though the field be lost?

…what is else not to be overcome?


He, who failed to conquer these things cannot be said to be victor at all. Defeat is complete only
when the spirit and the will too are subjugated. The bow down before God is worse than defeat. So he is
determined to wage eternal war by force or guile.
Satan’s question “what though the field be lost?” is “an exposure of himself and his inability to act
in any other way other than what he enumerates.”

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Though the speech is one of high rhetorics there is barrenness; no suggestion of action at all except
to brood on revenge and hate. Revenge will be eternally “studied” and have sustained yet it is so grandly
expressed that we are thrilled by the implied suggestion to wage ceaseless war against hopeless odds,
this appears as admirable.
Second Speech. With his second speech, Satan sweeps off all doubts from his friend’s mind. “To be
weak is miserable, doing or suffering.” If God attempts to turn evil into good, it must be the sacred duty
of the fallen angels to foil his attempts and turn all good to evil. God has now withdrawn all his forces
and is in a confounded state. They should not let this opportunity slip. It is imperative that all of them
should assemble and consult how they may hereafter most offend their enemy, best repair their own
loss.
The audacity and superb self-confidence of Satan are well brought out in these words. He seizes the
opportunity to mobilize his forces once again, conscious of the crushing defeat that he and his followers
have suffered. Satan is trying to infuse fresh courage into them. His speech shows a heroic quality.
Third Speech. After winning over Beelzebub and putting new courage in him, Satan asks him
whether they are forced to exchange this mournful gloom for celestial light. Now that they have become
avowed enemies of God, the farther they are from him the better. So he welcome the dismal horrors of
the infernal world. For him Hell is as good a place as Heaven, for his mind remains unchanged by place
or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
In Hell they are free from servitude. It is “better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”
“Farthest from him is best” is a statement of heroic defiance and of moral alienation. Once again
the appeal is to the law of nature and God’s monarchy is presented to be based on force not on reason.
The line “Receive thy new Possessor” is characteristic of the Satanic mind and its passion for over
lordship.
Satan’s speech is “full of ringing phrases expressed with a deliberate sonority.” The brief elegiac
note gives way to rhetorical assertions of self-confidence. Again irony underlies the rhetoric. The ringing
line “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” with its melodramatic tone scarcely conceals the
mixture of pride and spite which it expresses.
Fourth Speech. Taking Beelzebub with him, he addresses other angels, with a resounding voice. He
directly touches their ego by calling them, “Princes, Potentates, Warriors, the Flower of Heaven.” He ask
them whether they are sleeping thus on account of physical exhaustion or in despair. He exhorts them
to “wake, arise or be forever fallen.”
Initially, Satan sarcastically addresses his fallen angels and then he tries to revive their detached
spirits. His speech is so commanding and fiery that his followers are roused out of their stupor.
Fifth Speech. Satan addresses the assembled angels. He is filled with pride to have so many
comrades. It is impossible that these vast numbers are vanquished. They are all powerful and still there
is every hope of regaining their native seat. God has conquered them by use of force, but such success is
only a partial success. Hell cannot contain so many valiant spirits for long. Peace of course, is despaired
and therefore ruled out. The only course open to them is war. “War open or understood.” Satan invites
all of them to the great council.

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Satan choked with emotion and tears, begins his speech, he indulges in rhetoric. Without distorting
facts he turns them to a different light and gives his defeated host a margin of hope. Throughout, Satan
resolves “to wage by force or guile eternal war.” Later he places an alternative before the infernal
council “op’n war or covert guile.” But now one finds that the emphasis is on war not guile. Satan is
determined to combat with God to save his own pride. Satan makes a warlike speech full of
contradictions and absurdities when examined closely but admirable and impressive on the face of it
ending with an appeal to continue conflict.
“War then war
Open or understood must be resolv’d.”

Through our reading of the great epic poem “Paradise Lost” we find that Milton has described Satan as
somewhat the potential hero of the story as undoubtedly the portrayel of Satan through his speeches
are grand and worthy of highest admiration, but also we cannot deny and skip the hollowness of Satan's
evil character, presented by his own speeches and comments on character of Satan by Milton himself
which very brilliantly shows Satan not as the hero but rather as the anti-hero of the story.

Discuss the Epic conventions and Epic similes employed by Milton in Book 1 of Paradise Lost.

Epic conventions are literary devices used to establish the genre of epic poetry or prose. Epic
conventions were first created by the poet Homer . In ‘Paradise Lost’ Milton uses epic conventions to
help the reader understand the nature and purpose of his work. Like a typical epic poem Milton in the
very beginning of the poem call upon the muses. The muse that Milton refers is not the muse of
previous classical epics. For example, the muse of Greek epics such as "Odysseus" was believed to be a
goddess that controlled the power of storytelling. In comparison, the muse of "Paradise Lost" is the god
of Christianity. Milton also uses epic similes to describe the events and characters of the story.

"Paradise Lost" begins "in medias res," or in the middle of the action. The opening book tells the story of
the war between God and Satan. The plot of "Paradise Lost" therefore begins after God cast Satan and
his followers out of heaven. Milton conceived of Paradise Lost as a contemporary epic poem about
man's fall from grace and the struggle between good and evil, personified by God and Satan. Important
elements of Milton's epic include heroic language and settings, catalogs of mythical beings, the names of
those engaged in the essential struggle, life and death consequences of victory and defeat, and epic
similes.

Appropriately, the first epic simile in Book I describes the poem's main character, Satan:

[Satan] lay floating many a rood, in bulk as huge/As whom the Fables name of monstrous size,/Titanian,
or Earth-born, that warr'd on Jove,/Briareos or Typhoon, whom the Den/By ancient Tarsus held. . .
.(ll.196-200)

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Milton establishes, again using an epic convention, that Satan is as large as one of the Titans, the
physically huge precursors of the Greek and Roman gods who actually went to war with their children,
gods such as Zeus (also, Jove), over control of earth and mankind. Milton's readers would understand
the war between Zeus and his fellow gods and the Titans as analogous to the war between Satan and
God.

As Satan moves out of the lake of fire, his shield, hung on his shoulders, is described in epic terms: "the
broad circumference/Hung on his shoulders like the Moon, whose Orb/Through Optic Glass. . . ." This
simile is particularly important because it emphasizes the large scale of everybody and everything in the
poem: just as Satan himself is so large that he covers "many a rood" (a rood is equal to about 7 yards),
his shield must also be equally large to protect his body and is therefore compared to the moon.

One of the important similes in Book I establishes the magnitude of Satan's fallen angels:

As when the potent Rod/Of Amram's Son [Moses]. . ./up call'd a pitchy cloud/Of Locusts, warping on the
Eastern Wind. . ./So numberless were those bad Angels seen/Hovering on wing under the Cope of Hell
(ll.339-345)

Here, Milton establishes not only the size (numberless) of Satan's army of fallen angels but also
compares them, in terms every reader would recognize as negative, to the locusts called up by Moses in
order to get the Pharoah to release the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. Any reader of Paradise
Lost tempted to sympathize with Satan and the fallen angels is reminded that they are no different from
the plagues in Egypt. In the following passage, another simile compares the fallen angels to the
barbarian hordes who came from northern Europe to terrorize the cultivated societies of southern
Europe, another comparison that would resonate negatively with an audience in the mid-seventeenth
century.

These are only a few of the epic similes Milton employs to set the stage for the conflict that follows in
Books II through XII. Milton brilliantly set forth a series of epic conventions throughout his Books
making his work the greatest of all Epic English Poetry.