Dark Angel: Satan, Milton's Paradise Lost, and the Human Spirit

Me miserable! Which way shall I fly

Infinite wrath, and infinite despair?

Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell

John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book IV, Lines 73-75.

I was very lucky. I was able to take a class, years ago, devoted entirely to Milton's Paradise Lost. I would never have read it on my own, of course, being a kid from Brooklyn and a high school drop-out, because it's tough slog, full of classic allusions, written in a very dense style, and it took all of that entire term to get through it.

I've read it on my own since, many many times. The reason is because it seems to say so much about the human spirit, and the grave and apparently obvious injustice we seem to be forced to face in order to be alive.

What it says to me, more than anything else, is how we seem to be condemned for what we are and yet what we cannot help being.

It's supposedly a story designed to "justify the ways of God to Man," in Milton's own words, but there is a not-so-deep secret , yet very deep secret, here: Satan is the hero. The debates go on and on about whether Milton intended this. I think he did.

Remember, by this time he had gone blind. He had loved to read (as do I), and had hired help read to him after his blindness. He dictated the entirety of Paradise Lost. I can't imagine what this must have been like.

The story, very simply (and by the way, there is no such entity as Satan or 'Devil' in either the Tanakh or New Testament; it's an entirely modern concept), is that Satan is originally "Lucifer," the "Light Bearer," the "Morning Star," and dearest to God. That is, until God decides to invent this thing called "Man." Lucifer is placed second, and he is hurt, and justifiably so. No explanation, no meeting with God to outline the idea; Lucifer goes from first to second place. And so, he rebels, and is defeated and cast down into Hell.

And here is where Milton creates the greatest anti-hero of all time: Satan is no longer Lucifer, but he says "NO. I will not endure this without a fight !" And so, the struggle between good and evil, between submission and self-assertion, begins.

All Satan/Lucifer said, really, was Listen To Me. He didn't want to be God; he just wanted God to notice, and when that didn't happen, he decided to be noticed on his own.

That's what boxers do.

What we do. To say I Am.

But, there's a price to pay. The price is myself am hell.

The price you pay for being you, and obeying the nature that you can't help but have.

I used for reference (there must be tens of thousands of references to Milton) the Oxford Orgel and Goldberg edition. Their endnotes are terrific.

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