Thoughts from Milton

When we read Milton's Paradise Lost--excerpts, I think--in college, I remember being annoyed that the professor discussed Milton's depiction of Satan as a pitiful figure, a character deserving of sympathy. It struck me as sacrilegious to view the demon as anything more than pure evil, deserving of the torment promised him. Reading Milton now on my own, however, I wonder if the professor intended to communicate (whether the breakdown was on his part or mine) Milton's success in humanizing Satan. That is, Satan's soliloquies open to me the dangerous likeness of my own sinful heart--not, I hope, to create sympathy for him, but to issue warning for me.

This quote is an example. In this passage, Satan is discoursing with himself on his fall from grace. I note that the subjection of gratitude, to God who has graciously given all things to us who merit none, is also our duty--and that the temptation to resent that duty as a burden is also a human one. I like how the quote ends, acknowledging that what we may be tempted to call a burden is really nothing like--and belying Milton's unusual depiction of an eloquent and, perhaps, pitiable devil with Satan's orthodox rejection of his own delusion.

. . . lifted up so high
I'sdained subjection, and thought one step higher
Would set me highest, and in a moment quit
The debt immense of endless gratitude,
So burdensome still paying, still to owe;
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?

Book IV, Lines 49-57

No comments: