Satan’s Doubts

In Book I of Paradise Lost, Milton envisions the self-vindication of Satan and his host. You can read a summary of it here. It is a forceful and specious defense of Satan’s rebellion. How should we answer it?

In Book IV, Milton provides a rebuttal to Satan’s self-vindication. It comes from the mouth of Satan himself. After he falls to earth, he expresses doubt about his rebellion.

Satan considers all that God had given him and how little he asked in return:

“He deserved no such return from me, whom he created what I was in that bright eminence, and with his good upbraided none: nor was his service hard. What could be less than to afford him praise, the easiest recompense, and pay him thanks, how due!” (4.42–48).

This idea of the “mild yoke” was important to Milton. That’s how he saw God’s service. As he contemplated his approaching blindness, he had his own doubts about how he could serve God. He answered them in his poem, “Sonnet 19”: “God doth not need either man’s work or his own gifts; who best bear his mild yoke, they serve him best.”

But isn’t rendering obedience contrary to one’s own nature, as Satan forcefully argued in Book I? Not at all, he reasons. Being grateful is natural to those who receive a gift, thus mere gratitude and praise could not violate his nature: “Forgetful what from him I still received; and understood not that a grateful mind by owing owes not, but still pays, at once indebted and discharged; what burden then?” And so he mourns: “Oh, had his powerful destiny ordained me some inferior Angel, I had stood then happy; no unbounded hope had raised ambition” (4.54–60).

In spite of his doubts, he decides in the end to continue with his rebellion. He sees no hope of reconciliation, and so he might as well continue the fight. What else is there to do?

Of us, outcast, exiled, his new delight, mankind, created, and for him this World! So farewell hope, and with hope, farewell fear farewell remorse! All good to me is lost; evil, be thou my Good; by thee at least divided empire with Heaven’s King I hold, by thee, and more than half perhaps will reign; as man ere long, and this new world, shall know (4.106–113).

And, so, with this gloomy note of determined despair, Satan suppresses his doubts and plunges forward into the battle.


Leave a Reply