Satan’s Self-Vindication

Paradise Lost is an epic like no other. In terms of imagination, language, and insight, I am not sure what can compare to it. I am in the process of slowly reading through it. Book 1 begins with Satan’s “after action report” following his fall from heaven.

The book begins in hell. Satan and his host are considering their loss, and he gives an explanation for his rebellion. It is so compelling that you can easily begin to wonder, “Was Satan right?” After all, there had to be some specious reason for Satan to rebel, did there not?

Listen to how Milton imagines Satan’s view that it is “[b]etter to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” (1.263). He says:

What though the field be lost? All is not lost—the unconquerable will, and study of revenge, immortal hate, and courage never to submit or yield; and what is else not to be overcome. That glory never shall his wrath or might extort from me. To bow and sue for grace with suppliant knee, and deify his power who, from the terror of this arm, so late doubted his empire—that were low indeed; . . . (Paradise Lost, 1.105–114).

Satan believes that they can make a heaven out of hell. “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven” (1.254–255).

The fallen cherubs rejoice in their leaders speeches and respond with a determination to carry on “war then war . . .”:

He spake; and, to confirm his word out-flew millions of flaming swords, drawn from the thighs of mighty Cherubim; the sudden blaze far round illumined Hell. Highly they raged against the Highest, and fierce with grasped arms clashed on their sounding shields the din of war, hurling defiance toward the vault of Heaven (1.663–669).

Book I begins in this powerful way. It sets the stage for the rest of the book by describing Satan’s own temptation so compellingly.


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