John Milton divided the characters in his epic poem Paradise Lost into two sides, one side under God representing good, and the other side under Satan representing evil and sin. Milton first introduced the reader to the character Satan, the representative of all evil, and his allegiance of fallen angels that aided in his revolt against God (Milton 35). Only later did Milton introduce the reader to all powerful God, leader and creator of all mankind (John). This introduction of Satan first led the reader to believe acts of sin were good, just like Eve felt in the Garden of Eden when she was enticed by Satan to eat the fruit off of the Tree of Knowledge (Milton 255). The later introduction of The Almighty had the readers change their feelings towards sin, as the ways of God were introduced to them and these ways were shown to be the way to feel and believe. This levy of good vs. evil carried on throughout the poem with the interaction of Satan and his fallen angels with God and his son in Heaven.
The common representation of sin and evil came from the lead character in the battle against God, Satan. His name means “enemy of God.” He was a former high angel from Heaven named Lucifer, meaning, “light bearer” (John). Satan became jealous in Heaven of God’s son and formed an allegiance of angels to battle against God, only for God to cast them out of Heaven into Hell (Milton 35). This did not bother Satan at first since he became the leader in Hell rather than a servant in Heaven. Satan believed that it was, “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” ( I-l. 263). Much of Satan’s reliance on getting things accomplished came from his ability to lie and deceive. He lied to the fallen angels about the Son and his “vice-regency” in Heaven in order for them to follow him instead of The Son. He also concealed his true self by hiding in the body of a serpent when presenting himself to Eve in the Garden of Eden (Blessington 32). She would not have been as easily tempted into sin had he not concealed his true form. In addition, Satan showed the reader a large amount of anger and destructiveness when he planned his revenge on God (Milton 62). Satan even found pleasure in the pain and destruction of other people and things, “To do aught good never will be our task, / But ever to do ill our soul delight” (qtd. in Blessington 32). It is clear the feelings and views of Satan represented evil.
With Satan and his battle against God, he formed an allegiance of fallen angels to help him carry out his evil goals. Satan placed his chief supporter named Beelzebub in charge of the fallen angels, and getting them together to form the Demonic Council to serve as an administration for Hell (John). Milton described Beelzebub as being a ” Majestic, wise statesman” (qtd. in Bush 265) in his leadership abilities of this council. Although Satan put Beelzebub in charge, it was not because of Beelzebub’s abilities, but due to the fact Satan was able to trick his chief supporter easily into expressing his beliefs instead of Beelzebub’s own. With Satan’s ability to deceive Beelzebub easily, he will easily mislead the Demonic Council into carrying out his evil ideas against God in Heaven.
The council held a meeting in the capital of Hell called Pandemonium, where the reader is introduced to all of the fallen angels, and learned their evil ideas of revenge against God and Heaven. The first fallen angel that spoke at the meeting was Moloch, who was the “strongest and fiercest spirit that fought in Heaven, now fiercer by despair” (Milton, II-l. 44-45). He came forth with a “suicidal battle philosophy” (Blessington 39), promoting open war in Heaven. He was very aggressive in nature, and did not care if God destroyed the fallen angels in the battle, as long as they fought in revenge (Bush 258). The second fallen angel that spoke at the meeting was the false and hollow angel named Belial. He represented true passivity towards fighting (Blessington 40). He conceded to God’s power, realizing they would easily be defeated (John). Up next came the “least erected spirit that fell from Heaven” (Milton I-l. 679) named Mammon, who was characterized by greed and tangible wealth. When Mammon was in Heaven, he desired the golden floors he walked on better than desiring the wealth and virtue available from God who ruled over them (John). The reader saw this same desire in his philosophy of what the angels should do in Hell, which was to stay there and exploit its wealth rather than war in Heaven against God (Milton 67-68). The final speaker at the meeting was Beelzebub, who relayed the earlier thoughts of Satan, which were to go after the new creation of God, man, rather than take the chance of fighting in Heaven (72-73). Since these ideas were those of Satan, he quickly adjourned the meeting, and the plans to accomplish his idea were begun (74-75).
The final two essential characters that interacted with Satan representing sin were his daughter Sin and incestuous son Death, showing the reader the perversity in evil. Sin was Satan’s daughter, born from his head in Heaven, only to fall with him into Hell. The poem described her as a woman, beautiful above the waist but an evil serpent below, with Satan’s Hellhounds crawling out of her stomach. These hellhounds aided Sin in her main duty, which was to guard the gates of Hell (John). Sin carried on an incestuous relationship with her father, which brought forth a son named Death (Blessington 40-41). Death, described by the poem as a threatening, shadowy figure, carried a dart as a weapon and even threatened his father with it. Death had two specific tasks, first to serve as Satan’s jailer, then as his road builder from Heaven to Paradise (John). With the relationship between these three characters, Milton showed the sick perversity of evil to the reader.
Milton used two main characters to display good and virtue to the reader; the first one is God himself. God was the true symbol of all that is good in the world. God was the creator of man and kept this in control with three mighty powers. The first power was omnipotence, which is being all-powerful. God’s second power was that of omnipresent, which is the ability to be present everywhere at the same time. The third mighty power of God was being omniscient, which is the ability to know all things (John). God himself was surrounded by a holy light that is so utterly powerful that he cannot be approached (Milton 92).God displayed the power of omnipotence in full when he was able to cast Satan’s legion of angels out of Heaven into Hell (35). The angels fled over the edge of Heaven rather than face the wrath of God (170). God was also able to dispel all evil from Adam and Eve’s way in paradise through simple prayer (148). This mighty power of God showed his true ability as a ruler that fights only for the well being of good and virtue in Heaven and Paradise. God used his omniscient power to play an essential role in the poem, foresee the downfall of man, and give man free will. This free will of man is what gave man freedom from God. God still had control of man, but man was able to do as he chose, whether it was good or sinful (Blessington 43-44). God vows, “I form’d them free, and free they must remain, / Till they enthrall themselves” (qtd. in Blessington 44). God also used this freedom of choice as a test for man, just like the angels were tested before their downfall to Hell, even though he knew the outcome would be sin (Blessington 45). With these great powers, and God’s holiness, he is the true representation of all that is good. The mighty powers of God laid out the entire outcome of the poem to the reader, showing grace and virtue overcoming all evil.
The second key character introduced by Milton is The Son, whose powers and abilities are used to contradict the sin and evil throughout the poem. By his powers, God declared his son to be the king of the angels in Heaven (John). He was mighty in battle as he led the fight against the legion of Lucifer’s angels in Heaven, pursuing them in his thundering chariot towards the wall of Heaven till they leapt over the edge into Hell (Milton 170). The Son also had the power of free will but only used it as the savior of man and toward the purpose of good. The reader saw the abilities of The Son evoked good and love for man through the poem. In the third book of the poem, God gave his son the power to judge man’s sins (94-95). The Son, showing his true love, charity and grace to God, offered himself as a sacrifice for man’s sins (96-97). Milton believed this was true grace, not deserved by man, but God offered it to man in order to save his existence. The death and resurrection of The Son will redeem man for his sins. This is also showed the reader divine love to his father and leadership of angels, since he was the only one to offer himself when asked by God who will (92-93). The true love and mercy expressed by The Son throughout the poem brought grace and pity to all created.
The Son brought forth his commitment to his Father, judgment of man, to the reader in book ten of the poem. The Son judged Adam and Eve for breaking the commandment of God to not eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Adam resigned his manhood, and makes Eve a god to him. This act of making someone else a god, instead of the true God, is a major sin in the eyes of God (Milton 272). The first curse The Son handed down upon man was the pain of childbirth. Next, he declared the ground man walks on would grow thorns and thistles. Finally, The Son announced death to man, bringing about feelings of guilt and shame (273-274). With this announcement, the gates opened to allow the characters Sin and Death into Earth, never to leave, only to prey on man (275-276). The judgement of The Son gave the reader the definition of man today, able to choose sin with a path of redemption by Jesus, or take the easy road to Hell.
Throughout John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, the reader was able to see a contrast between what is evil and what is good. Milton first introduced the reader to sin and evil in the lead character Satan. Milton showed the reader Satan’s ways of deceit, jealousy, and destruction through various dreadful acts. With Satan’s incestuous relationship he carried on with his daughter to create the character Death, Milton exposed the reader to the true perversity brought on by sin. Next, Milton introduced the reader to the fallen angels and their evil ideas during their meeting in the capitol of Hell, Pandemonium. Such characters as Mammon with his materialistic greed, Belial with his false and hollow views, the all aggressive Moloch and his suicidal battle philosophies, and finally Beelzebub passing on the views of Satan. The contrast to these characters came from God and The Son. God, with his powers of creation, omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience, was able to look over his creations with subtle control and try to guide them toward good decisions. In addition to God, the reader looked upon The Son as a symbol of divine love of God and his creations and his showing of true grace toward man. With the powerful character representation by Milton, the reader is able to see the bad in evil and sin, and the good and justification in the judgements of God and The Son.
Blessington, Francis C. Paradise Lost: Ideal and Tragic Epic. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988.
Bush, Douglas, ed. The Portable Milton. New York: Penguin Books, 1977.
“John Milton’s Paradise Lost.” Internet. 7 October 1998. Available
Milton, John. “Paradise Lost.” Paradise Lost and Other Poems. New York: Penguin Books USA Inc., 1981.
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