Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is an exquisitely detailed masterpiece of epic literature that outlines the fall of mankind as depicted in the Bible. The poem is divided into twelve books, the fourth of which describes how the story’s infamous antagonist Satan ventures to Earth to contrive a way he can bring about ruin to the creation of God he has heard about. Satan was once loved by God, but was condemned when his aspirations to rule led him to attempt an overthrow of God’s kingdom. Feeling unjustly punished for his crime, Satan’s purpose is motivated by a thirst for revenge, and Milton’s work of character description goes above and beyond the duty of a poet to bring to the reader a Satan who is at once, solemn yet resolute in his plot to wreak havoc against a God who has cast him from the face of heaven.
When Satan reaches Mt. Niphates, a tragic side of himself is revealed in a moment of reflection. He sees the sun and is touched by memories of Heaven’s glory and his once valued position before God. Satan’s mood adopts human characteristics of remorse by these memories, and he is somehow saddened in spite of his malicious plan to lash out at God. But his fury is ignited once more when he deigns that God must have somehow endowed him with a powerful will to rebel, though he is frustrated by this circular logic. “O had his powerful destiny ordained me some inferior angel,” he states during his soliloquy upon the mountain; Satan is under the complete impression that by being created with the intrinsic nature to fail as a spirit-child of God, he has somehow been short-changed by some manipulative, ulterior motive. Although these ideas enrage him within, his thoughts allow him to ponder whether or not he could claim redemption. When he concedes to himself that his very nature, whether preordained or not, is subject to rebelliousness no matter the condition, his thoughts quickly revert to ferocious hate. Satan’s anger at God is so deeply rooted that he perceives the notion of redemption as ultimately futile. Satan fully understands the omnipotence of God’s power, and he not only surmises that God has already thought all of this through, but he becomes resolute in fulfilling God’s all-knowing predictions with the most nefarious of his malice. If God has somehow chosen Satan to enact a crucial part of some grand scheme to play out over time, the fury of Satan has become the essential impetus to initiate the plan into action.
Milton paints the figure of Satan vividly during this moment of self-reflection, employing facial descriptions of “ire, envy, and despair.” Such emotions are not pleasing to experience, and yet they act as a sort of morbid inspiration for the devil’s purpose. Satan is soon an ambitious, curious spirit who wanders about the Garden of Eden, recovered and reequipped with his natural instincts of cunning and avaricious malice. He is in no hurry to return to Hell, and the hope of discovering a means to create problems for God drive him to watch and wait. The fascination with which he catalogues the wonders of Eden in his mind is testament to the intelligence level that Satan possesses; Satan is acutely enlightened to the awesome power of God. His intelligence is tickled when his eyes fall upon Adam and Eve, at which he gazes with surprise and subtle wonder; they appear unbelievably divine to him. Though Satan’s intelligence level provides him the patience to simply observe with a sense of skeptical awe, his innate haughtiness drives him to inwardly and immediately vow to a state of ruin for the both of them. Satan’s jealousy has been inflamed by the exasperating breadth of their beauty, and his motivation to destroy becomes ever so decisive that he perceives victory before even knowing the exact means by which he will do so.