“Pondering his voyage”: The Evolution of the Character of Satan from Genesis B: Christ and Satan to Paradise Lost
Current scholarship in Milton studies focuses on several related topics Paradise Lost’s function as a polemic, Paradise Lost as anti-royalist writing, Satan as a revolutionary and the use of Satanic subjects as a way of illustrating Milton’s heretical tendencies. These topics can be seen in Lander’s Inventing Polemic: Religion, Print, and Literacy Culture in Early Modern England (2006), Bryson’s The Tyranny of Heaven: Milton’s Rejection of God as King (2004), Achinstein’s Milton and the Revolutionary Reader (1994), Lieb’s Theological Milton: Deity, Discourse and Heresy in the Miltonic Canon (2006), Loewenstein and Marshall’s Heresy, Literature and Politics in Early Modern English Culture (2007) and Achinstein and Sauer’s Milton and Toleration (2007). These works tend to look at Paradise Lost as either a way to view the other political writings of the time or as proof of Milton’s heretical leanings. Some writers, most notably and recently Neil Forsyth in The Old Enemy and The Satanic Epic, have looked at what sources Milton may have used in creating his compelling character of Satan. Scholarly work on Milton’s character of Satan has restricted itself to sources or analogues that Milton probably used or had access to rather than examining how the character of Satan was portrayed in British literature up to, and including Milton’s portrayal.
Milton both created an entirely new character and fused multiple past aspects of devils with his representation. He took a flat, stereotypical character and created a dynamic, compelling character. As Blake is often quoted “people are guilty of knowing their Milton better than their Bible”. To many, Milton’s portrayal of Satan is the one most people think is described in the Bible and it is the portrayal seen the most in literature since. For this reason, it is important to understand what ideas and concepts Milton drew on from folklore and literature and how he used these to create an entirely new character.
While the most recent scholarship focuses on political ramifications and issues, there are two notable exceptions: Forsyth, who has analyzed possible sources and analogues for Milton’s Satan, and Russell, who has researched the more general devil character. While Forsyth’s The Satanic Epic (2003) focuses mainly on how Paradise Lost functions as an epic, the opening chapter addresses the origins of the character of Satan. Forsyth begins examining Satan chronologically so that he can trace Milton’s sources. He begins with the Adversary, in the Book of Job, Origen’s work where Satan is first seen as a rebel, he then looks at the comparison of rebellious Satan to Zeus, and Prometheus and Icarus, compares God to the Titans and Zeus to Satan. He goes on to state that Milton followed the shape of ancient mythic epics such as the Illiad and the Aeneid, as well as the heroes in them, in creating Satan. Then Forsyth states that Satan was used by the early and medieval church as a representation of heresy and argues that the story of Satan evolved through the middle ages into the story presented in Genesis B (Christ and Satan), which solidifies the idea of Satan as a rebellious angel. Forsyth’s work focuses on the “type” of character Satan is while ignoring the specific characterizations and how they are part of the character’s evolution.
Russell explores similar source territory as Forsyth with his book Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages (1984), where he researches the concept of evil as reflected in the figure of the devil in popular literature, art and during the middle ages. He looks at worldwide sources, and examines the devil in medieval art, poetry, and drama. Russell covers a large field, but unfortunately there are gaps in his coverage; it would have been illuminating if instead of rehashing old material, he had focused more on unexplored material, such as looking at the visual representations of the devil through this period since this is a topic rarely discussed. Both Russell and Forsyth provide the reader with background information on the types of sources Milton might have used but both focus on specific literature for references and what gets neglected are the ideas and concepts that were present in folklore about how the devil was viewed and presented.
One of the difficulties faced when analyzing the character of Satan is the choice between the literary character or the folkloric character. Recent scholarship has addressed the idea that Milton’s characterization of Satan in Paradise Lost has become the modern concept of the devil (Knoppers and Semenza). Forsyth has in detail, addressed the origins of the character in both The Satanic Epic and The Old Enemy. However, one issue that I do not believe has received enough attention is how Milton’s characterization of Satan has more basis in folklore than in literature, specifically the folklore character of Loki. One of the problems with this approach is that folklore often falls under the heading of anthropology, while the character of Satan has mainly been analyzed through literature. However, analysis of this issue quickly reveals that in Britain, the character of Satan is deeply rooted in folkloric material. My dissertation will build mainly on the work of Forsyth and Russell, examining not just the examples of Satan in English literature from the Anglo-Saxons to Milton, but will also historicize and analyze the significance of these representations. I argue that Milton’s Satan is the folkloric, and not the literary representation, and my dissertation will trace the evolution of this folkloric character.
Most of the work involving analyzing sources for Milton’s Paradise Lost was written in the first half of the 20th century. Some scholars have examined the character of Satan in general, not specific to Milton’s portrayal such as Le Bosquet’s “The Evil One: A Development” (1912), Caldwell’s series “The Doctrine of Satan: In the Old and New Testament” (1913), Kellogg in “Satan, Langland, and the North” (1949), and Stein’s “Satan: The Dramatic Role of Evil” (1950). During the second half of the twentieth century, scholarship has focused on Satan as an epic or anti-hero or on comparing Paradise Lost to Judaic and Biblical writings. The current trend of viewing Paradise Lost through a political lens has dominated scholarly work lately. An examination of the character of the devil from Christ and Satan, up to Milton’s portrayal has not been pursued.
Some individual scholars such as Lever, Woolf, Rohrich, and Potter have looked at singular sources for the devil. Lever examines the similarities between the characters of Satan in Christ and Satan and Paradise Lost; Woolf compares the character of Satan to Loki; Rohrich examines the character of the devil in the Germanic literary tradition; and Potter argues that the devil in English folktales is the same as was portrayed in drama. These individual examinations are valuable, but they do not give the big picture, and the big picture is what this project will produce.
Textual analysis between Milton’s characterization and previous characterizations of the devil are invaluable because they allow us to trace how the character evolved and allows us to analyze what the presented characterizations meant within their own context. Perhaps the closest comparison is between Milton’s Satan, and the Satan of Genesis B: Christ and Satan. Lever addresses this issue in “Paradise Lost and the Anglo-Saxon Tradition” (1947), where he spends the entire article addressing the similarities between Satan in Christ and Satan and Satan in Paradise Lost; however, he counters himself at the end by stating that the similarities are simply coincidence, as should be expected of something addressing common Christian themes, a statement he does not elaborate on. Lever argues that while Milton may have been familiar with the Genesis B text, this is an unimportant point, as the commonalities of language are simply due to the similar subject matter. Despite his contradictory theories, Lever’s work is important to mine for the textual analysis of Satan in Christ and Satan.
Woolf, on the other hand, in “The Devil in Old English Poetry” (1953) states that similarities in characterization between Satan and Loki are due to Loki myths and Satan (in Christ and Satan) emerging at the same time. He argues that the origins of Satan as a hero possibly began with the Anglo Saxons, as they would have seen his actions as heroic for how he dealt with his inevitable expulsion from heaven. Woolf also addresses the fact that Christian doctrine and Loki mythology would have coincided and compares the similarities between the two characters. His evidence of both characters acting as tempters, shapeshifters, and sly and cunning characters provides an excellent source for the character of Milton’s Satan.
Folklore provides some of the richest research into the character of the devil and in “German Devil Tales and Devil Legends” (1970), Rohrich argues that devil tales and legends have stopped being folklore and have become part of the historical record. He gives a detailed description of how these devil tales and legends evolved as well as makes a reference to connections to medieval sermons.. He ends his argument by citing Grimm’s fairy tales as evidence of the popularity of these tales and legends. While the Grimm brothers did not compile their tales until the early 1800s, the sources for their tales (the Germanic literary tradition) had been around for much longer and therefore these tales and legends are an excellent source for comparison to Milton.
While both Woolf and Rohrich’s focus on Germanic/Norse myths would seem to exclude their research from the scope of this project, it is important to realize that these tales would have been known to the Anglo Saxons and therefore are an important part of the literary tradition. The influence of the stereotypical characterization of the devil in folklore on Paradise Lost has not been examined in depth despite the similarities. For instance, in Book 9, when Satan goes to tempt Eve, Milton changes from referring to Satan as “the Enemy” and instead refers to him as “the Tempter”. In light of Loki’s reputation as a tempter, prankster and cunning creature, it’s hard not to draw a connection. When Milton uses words such as “the spirited sly snake” (613), “the wily adder” (625) to describe Satan and says he leads Eve “To mischief swift” (633) it becomes easy to recognize the parallels to Loki.
Another source for comparison is the portrayals of the devil/Satan in drama. In “Three Jacobean Devil Plays” (1931), Potter argues that it was the devil of English folklore that was represented on the English stage, a devil that was instantly recognizable by his physical appearances and starred in comedies of the time. The devil of these plays did not depend upon a magician to conjure him up; the action of the play begins in Hell and despite the fact that it is accepted that the devil can change his shape, he is recognized by his eyes, animal-like sounds, and the thunder or lightning that accompanies his appearance. These devils were self-possessed characters of their own merit and not dependent upon humans, although humans were often the butt of the individual devil’s jokes. These dramas served not only to show the devil of English legend and folklore but also to forward the life of the character. Which characteristics of the devil were forwarded and which weren’t is also of interest. When looking at the evolution of the character, many of these characterizations are similar to how Loki is portrayed in folklore. Cawley points out that Loki is characterized as defying Odin’s order, sly and treacherous, known as a shape shifter, as well as a tempter who possibly heralds the end of the world, Ragnarok. Milton’s Satan defies God’s order, is sly, treacherous, changes his shape so that he won’t be recognized by the angels guarding Earth and tempts Eve in the Garden. Due to these similarities, these dramas, as well as the folktales that inspired them, are worth examining.
While the above scholarship gives detailed information on devil characterizations in individual sources, what is not present in the scholarship is a comprehensive examination of the evolution of the character of Satan since Genesis B, how the character culminates with Milton’s new fusion of characteristics in his portrayal, and that Milton’s character is the folkloric Satan. This is important because it opens up a whole new set of questions in regards to examining Paradise Lost and the character of Satan. Some of these questions are: how is the character used to personify a particular religious or political figure of the time (pope, anti-royalist)? How does the author of any given source or analogue use the character of Satan (as a figure to be feared, a moral lesson, as an anti-hero) and how seriously does the author treat the character of Satan? What role did the character play in nationalistic arguments? How was the character of Satan used to mask dangerous political positions in literature? How did the character evolve as time went by?
In not addressing these questions, scholars have failed to be able to fully place Milton fully in context. Examining classical and biblical sources Milton may have used only goes part of the way. To appreciate Milton’s new creation with the character of Satan, one must understand that he took the flat, stereotypical character as seen in folklore and early literature and made him a dynamic and compelling character that became the modern definition of Satan. In neglecting this course of study, scholars are also deprived of a course of study in examining the devil in literature that came after Milton and was influenced by Paradise Lost.
In my dissertation, I will look at the major characterizations of Satan in literature from Genesis B to Paradise Lost in order to trace the evolution of this folkloric character. This project will have four chapters, as well as an introduction and conclusion., each focusing on a specific topic: physicality, actions and personality as seen chronologically within the following works in order to show how the character evolves and how each portrayal builds on its predecessors. My introduction will give a brief history of the Anglo-Saxon movement into England, and examine how they brought their mythology and folklore with them that then becomes the basis for English folklore. In particular I will focus on the character of Loki, and his similarities to Satan as a tempter and shape-shifter. Chapters one, two, and three will each examine the same texts covering medieval and early modern literature from different perspectives. Chapter one will focus on the personality of Satan, chapter two will focus on the physical attributes of him, and chapter three will examine his actions. I chose these three markers because they are the main qualities for recognizing Satan. For each of the texts, I plan on historicizing the character/example and examining how they are used and their impact.
Chapter one “Dark Suggestions” will argue that Satan’s characterization as a tempter, who uses words and rhetoric to seduce and convince has it’s basis in the mythology of Loki, and is one of the main features that marks Satan as folkloric. I plan on using Foucault to examine these examples, specifically how Satan uses words to manipulate and gain power.
Chapter two ““Our Enemy” will argue that Satan’s physical characteristics, both as having animal traits, and as a shapeshifter, are proof of his folkloric nature. I will also use Said’s theory of Orientalism to examine in which ways the character of Satan is used to “Other” marginalized groups or figures in literature, and the ways in which Said’s theory breaks down in certain examples. I also plan on using Bakhtin’s theory of the grotesque to examine how the animal nature of Satan is used rhetorically in these texts.
Chapter three “Dark Designs” will argue that the actions of Satan, as a tempter, seducer, and trickster figure is also proof of his folkloric nature. I will specifically focus on the language of pacts or contracts that is used by Satan, using a Foucaultian lens as well as examining Bakhtin’s theory of carnivale.
Chapter four “Among the Nations round” will pull all of these examples together and build on them to argue that Milton purposely chose the folkloric representation in order to achieve his original intent of writing a national epic. I will examine how Paradise Lost contains the elements of a national epic, as well as historicize the text by examining the scholarship on Milton’s original intent to write a national epic, and explain how the folkloric representation of Satan presents a Paradise Lost as a text aimed at the people. As Milton’s characterization of Satan becomes the basis for modern representation, it is key to understand not only the evolution of the character, but also how Milton contributes to folklore with his characterization.
My argument focuses on the folkloric character of Satan, so I am restricting my text choices to literature that clearly and specifically mentions Satan. For the purposes of this research, the term Devil, devil, Satan, and Lucifer are interchangeable, as they were often used in this way. Likewise, while church documents, strictly religious writings, and polemical/political writings all make reference or use of the devil figure, I am excluding them from my dissertation as their impact on the populace, and thus as a reflection of popular culture/folklore of the time cannot be gauged in the same way that it can in literature.
I plan on examining the following works:
- Medieval Texts
- Poetic Edda
- Genesis B
- Morality/Mystery Plays (York, Castle, Mankind, Marian plays)
- Margery Kempe
- Sir Gowther
- Robert the Devil
- Prose Merlin
- Layman's Brut
- Early Modern Texts
- Witch of Endor
- Barnes, Barnabe. The Devil’s Charter.Merry Devil of Edmonton.
- Dekker, Thomas.
- Heminges, William. The Fatal Contract.
- Marlowe, Christopher. Doctor Faustus.
- ----. The Jew of Malta.
- Rowley, William, Thomas Dekker and John Ford. The Witch of Edmonton.
- Webster, John. The White Devil.
- -----. The Devil’s Law Case.
- James I: Demonologie
- Doctor Faustus
- Theosophilis legend
Achinstein, Sharon and Elizabeth Sauer. Milton and Toleration. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Archetypes and Motifs in Folklore and Literature: A Handbook. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2005.
Achinstein, Sharon. Milton and the Revolutionary Reader. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.
"Arnold Stein." PMLA, Vol. 65, No. 2 (1950): 221-231.
Ayto, John. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable. New York: Collins, 2005.
Bailey, Michael D. “From Sorcery to Witchcraft: Clerical Conceptions of Magic in the Later Middle Ages”. Speculum 76:4 (Oct., 2001): 960-990. Print.
-----. “The Feminization of Magic and the Emerging Idea of the Female Witch in the Late Middle Ages”. Essays in Medieval Studies 19 (2002): 120-134. Print.
Bosquet, John Edwards Le. "The Evil One: A Development." Harvard Theological Review Volume 5 (1912): 371-384.
Bryson, Michael. The Tyranny of Heaven: Milton's Rejection of God as King. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004.
Caldwell, William. "The Doctrine of Satan: I. In the Old Testament." The Biblical World Vol. 41, No. 1 (Jan 1913): 29-33.
Cawley, Frank Stanton. "The Figure of Loki in Germanic Mythology." The Harvard Theological Review Vol. 32, No. 4 (1939): 309-326.
Dubruck, Edelgard. “Thomas Aquinas and Medieval Demonology”. Journal of the Minnesota Academy of Science Vol. 7 (1974): 167-183. Print.
Edden, Valerie. "Devils, Sermon Stories, and the Problem of Popular Belief in the Middle Ages." The Yearbook of English Studies Vol.22 (1992): 213-225.
Encyclopedia of Folklore and Literature. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1998.
Forsyth, Neil. The Satanic Epic. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.
Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1949-1950.
Kellogg, Alfred L. "Satan, Langland, and the North." Speculum, Vol. 24, No. 3 (1949): 413-414.
Knoppers, Laura Lunger and Semenza, Greg. Milton in Popular Culture. Palgrave Macmillon. New York. 2006. Print.
Kors, Alan Charles and Edward Peters ed. Witchcraft in Europe 400-1700: A Documentary History 2nd Edition. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 2001. Print.
Lander, Jesse M. Inventing Polemic: Religion, Print, and Literary Culture in Early Modern England. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Laoire, Lillis O. "That Be't banagher and Banagher Be't the Devil. An International Devil Tale in Irish Tradition." Bealoideas Vol 62/63, Glortha on Osnadur: Paipeir a cuireadh i lathair ag an Siomposium Nordach-Ceilteach (1994/1995): 189-198.
Lever, J.W. "Paradise Lost and the Anglo-Saxon Tradition." The Review of English Studies (1947): 97-106.
Lieb, Michael. Theological Milton: Deity, Discourse and Heresy in the Miltonic Canon. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2006.
Lowenstein, David and John Marshall. Heresy, Literature and Politics in Early Modern English Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
McGinn, Bernard. “Evil-sounding, rash, and suspect of heresy”: Tensions between Mysticism and Magisterium in the History of the Church”. The Catholic Historical Review Vol. 90 No. 2 (2004): 193-212. Print.
Moulton, Susan. “WITCHCRAFT: creation of the “evil other””. A presentation for the Office of Resources for International and Area Studies (ORIAS). July 2011. Web. 15 November 2013.
Potter, Russell. "Three Jacobean Devil Plays." Studies in Philology Vol. 28, No. 4 (1931): 730-736.
Rohrich, Lutz. "erman Devil Tales and Devil Legends." Journal of the Folklore Institute, Vol. 7, No. 1 (1970): 21-35.
Russell, Jeremy Burton. Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages. Ithaca: Cornell University Press , 1986.
-----. Lucifer. Cornell University Press: Ithaca, 1986. Print.
-----. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Cornell University Press: Ithaca, 1972. Print.
Stanley, Lynn ed. The Book of Margery Kempe. Norton & Company: New York, 2001. Print.
Steinfirst, Susan. Folklore and Folklife: A Guide to English-Language References Sources. New York: Garland, 1992.
Thompson, Stith. Motif-Index of Folk-Literature: A Classification of Narrative Elements in Folktales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Mediaeval Romances, Exempla, Fabliaux, Jest-Books, and Local Legends. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1955-1958.
Woolf, R.E. "The Devil in Old English Poetry." The Review of English Studies (1953): 1-12.