Paradise Lost: Character Profiles
God, the Father
God is the One alone from all eternity, yet in three persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). He is just and compassionate, called by the Angels, “Father” but by the jealous Devils, “Tyrant.” God is portrayed as an ideal ruler. His divine will and grace uphold the universe. In His vantage point outside of time he foresees the fall of Satan and of Adam and Eve, yet his foreknowledge does not interfere with their free will.
God remains outside the action of the events, sending agents, his Son and the angels, to keep the evil forces in check. He allows Satan and his devils to exist and does not stop them from seducing humans, finding them no threat to his providence. Whatever the devils do, they unwittingly serve His purpose. He sits immovable but sets all the action in motion with his decree to elevate his Son to power. This begins the war in Heaven when Satan refuses to submit.
Christ, the Son
God says his only son is “begot” of Him, and constitutes his right hand, united with Him (“the filial Godhead”). He announces that His Son is Head of all angels and must be obeyed.
Christ is the active agent of God, the one who is sent on the most important errands, while God just witnesses from heaven. The Son is not quite equal to the Father.
In the battle in heaven between the good and evil angels, God sends Christ as the general on the final day to defeat Satan and cast him and the bad angels out of heaven. This Christ militant of Book 6 is contrasted to the creative Christ in Book 7. God declares he will repair the loss of the angels by creating the earth and humans, sending his Son (the creative Logos or Word) to perform it, overshadowed by the Holy Ghost.
When Satan tries to spoil God’s plan by seducing Adam and Eve, God once more creates good from evil by mercifully calling for a heavenly substitute to bear their punishment. The Son volunteers to uphold both the Father’s divine justice (the death sentence) and mercy (the redemption and resurrection).
Milton wanted to show in Christ a new sort of hero, a model of obedience to the will of God, who could carry out his plan for the universe. In this last sublime act, Christ becomes Man, thus infusing humanity with divinity and the hope of final reconciliation with God. He becomes a bridge between human and divine.
The Holy Spirit
This most elusive aspect of the trinity is portrayed as a sort of divine Muse, the Oracle of God, that the poet invokes at several points in the poem to inspire him with a true account of cosmic events. This Holy Spirit comes to “the upright heart and pure.” Along with Christ, it was the creative force that “Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss/ And mad’st it pregnant.” Similarly, the Holy Spirit is the Comforter sent to dwell in the hearts of human beings so they may feel the presence of God as a sort of spiritual armor.
Satan is God’s chief enemy, dwelling in his own evil place, Hell, after being cast out of heaven. He vows to thwart God. If God brings good from evil, then he will bring evil from good.
Originally, all the angels were good and dwelt in heaven with God. Satan was known as Lucifer (Light Bearer), one of the most powerful angels. When God chose his Son as the King of Angels, Lucifer became jealous and angry at being passed over. He speaks of his “injured merit” and lack of recognition by God.
In the war in heaven, Satan is matched only by Michael. After being wounded by Michael, he invents gun powder to wound the other angels. Only Christ is able to break the tie.
Satan’s fall is portrayed by Milton as the classic fall of the egotist who creates hell around him through his own illusions of ambition and power. Milton’s Satan was much admired by Romantic poets as the Arch Rebel who will make his own world, rather than serve others (“Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven”).
Satan’s many brilliant soliloquies remind the reader of Shakespeare’s self-doomed villains. His own introspective clarity about what he is doing makes him easily the most fascinating character in the poem. We watch him step by step descending into his own lies and self-created misery, unable to stop, though he has free will.
Satan is a smooth talker, justifying his behavior with noble ideas like “freedom,” and “justice,” a cover up for his desire for power. He argues that “obedience” to God is giving in to tyranny, yet he creates an autocratic state in Hell. He is pictured as the opposite sort of ruler to God: Machiavellian and manipulative. Satan is never free, no matter how much he claims to be, because wherever he goes, he is driven by revenge and jealousy: “Myself am Hell.”
In the Garden of Eden, Satan takes the form of a snake and tempts Eve with the forbidden fruit by using the argument that God is trying to keep humans down, forbidding them the knowledge that would make them gods. He flatters her, and the seduction scene has sexual overtones. He is ultimately defeated through Christ’s sacrifice.
Sin and Death
Sin is Satan’s daughter, with whom he mates to produce his son, Death. Sin and Death are discovered by Satan sitting at the closed gates of Hell. Sin is a woman down to her waist and a dragon below. She is a snaky sorceress who has the key to the gate, addressing Satan as “Father.” She describes to him her birth in heaven, when she sprang from his head, as Athena did from Jove’s. Sin is turning away from God.
Satan convinces her to open the gate because if he succeeds in seducing humans, Sin and Death will have ample food. Once Adam falls, Death is allowed by God to enter the world.
Adam is the first human being, describing his memory of being created as awakening from sleep on the grass of Eden. Like a child, he runs around in joy learning his powers, such as naming all the creatures he sees, and thereby understanding their natures. He is able to commune with God directly.
God pledges him to obedience: he may not taste the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, on pain of death. This is his only restriction. Lonely, Adam asks God for a companion. God is pleased with Adam, who is made in His image, and promises a mate who will be his “other self.”
While Adam sleeps, God extracts a rib and creates Eve, a beautiful woman with whom Adam falls in love. The first humans are naked but noble in appearance, living in a bower, and eating the fruits of the garden. They are given the dominion of the Garden of Eden where nature’s beauty and abundance supports them without harsh labor or climate. They are in harmony with all creatures and with God, “Lords of all.” In due time they will propagate the human race.
Angels guard the garden, and Adam can converse with them. Anticipating Satan’s arrival in paradise, God sends the angel, Raphael, to educate Adam and warn him of his danger. Yet, Adam gives in to Eve’s demand to be separated at the moment of greatest danger, thus shirking his responsibility as the head of the family.
He falls, not because of Satan’s lies, but because he is overly attached to Eve, wanting to please her and afraid to lose her after she sins. He eats the apple from the forbidden tree that she offers him in order to be with her.
The fallen Adam and Eve lose their nobility, become ashamed of their nakedness, afraid to meet God. They argue and blame one another. They give in to passions and lose their Reason.
Adam laments their fall, first afraid of death, then afraid that it will not come, for he does not want to continue suffering. He feels guilt that all his progeny will suffer for his sin. When Adam and Eve, unlike Satan, repent and pray for forgiveness, God sends his Son to judge them with mercy.
They will have to leave Eden and live hard lives, but Eve’s seed (the future Christ) will defeat Satan, and humankind will be reconciled with God. Adam is given a vision of the future history of the human race, culminating in Christ’s redemption, so he can finally affirm the “fortunate fall” that so much good comes from evil.
Adam’s wife is praised at her creation as “Mother of Mankind,” a sort of goddess of the Garden of Eden, tending to all living creatures. She is beautiful and humble and respectful, a fit companion for Adam; she is his worthy soul mate.
They are spoken of as equals, though Adam is given sovereignty of the family, and therefore she is bound to obey him. Before the fall, they address one another in noble epithets, such as “My Guide and Head,” “Fair Consort.” Milton believed in the innocence of their married love in the Garden (“Hail, Wedded Love!”)
She is the more emotional of the two, a fact that Satan notes, and therefore, first attempts to seduce her in a dream to plant the suggestion of eating the forbidden fruit. Eve is stubborn in insisting on separating from Adam when they should be careful, and he does not want to disappoint her.
Nevertheless, even Satan is amazed by her radiance, forgetting his evil intention for a moment and believing he is back in heaven with the angels (“fit Love for gods”). She thinks she will be more appealing to Adam if she has more knowledge than he does, so she eats. Once Eve sins, she becomes selfish and suspicious, wanting to pull Adam down too.
Eve regains her nobility after the fall when she takes the lead in repentance. She offers to take the sole blame, or stay celibate or even commit suicide to save their children from their punishment. Softened, he begins to repent and turn to prayer. Here, she proves his worthy partner in their exile, content to bring forth children, as long as her line of progeny will lead to the birth of the Messiah, as God promises. She is compared to Mary (“Second Eve”) as Adam is compared to Christ (“New Adam”).
A third of the angels in heaven fell with Satan and became devils. Their names are erased in heaven. They can make themselves large or small, or any shape at will. They can be wounded but do not die. They serve God despite their plans, as He permits them to exist and turns all their evil to good.
Devils do not lose all their virtue, and that is why they can fool others. They have the memory of heaven within, thus making their grief deeper. They only count strength and power as virtues among themselves. In Hell, they construct a capitol, Pandemonium, and hold epic games, like heroes.
Beelzebub’s name means “god of the flies.” He was traditionally known as “the chief of devils.” Beelzebub is Satan’s right hand, the first comrade he saw as he awoke chained on the burning lake. Satan’s shocked recognition of the bright angel in heaven, now darkened and suffering (“O how fall’n! how chang’d”), reveals in a stroke what they have lost. Beelzebub plays the loyal sidekick of Satan, flattering and encouraging him. In the Stygian Council, he asserts that the only possible plan is slow revenge by attacking humans. This sets the stage for Satan’s “heroic” mission to Eden.
Moloch is associated with anger and blood sacrifice, worshipped as a pagan god on earth. In the Council of Hell, he advises the devils to continue fighting God (“open War”).
Belial is lewd and sensual, associated with atheism, lust and violence. He reigns in courts and palaces and luxurious cities. He seems fair, gracious, and humane in his council to the devils to accept exile, for he fears further punishment.
Mammon is the devil of greed, a materialist, whose looks and thoughts are downward bent. He inspires men to dig in the bowels of their mother earth for riches. He finds the riches in hell so the devils can build a beautiful capitol, Pandemonium. He advises the devils to build and enjoy their own magnificent kingdom.
The name Azazel means a scapegoat, one who carries the sins of others. He is a former Cherub who sets up Satan’s standard in Hell. He is the standard bearer in Satan’s army.
Astarte is a female devil but a goddess in Phoenician culture. She and other pagan gods are called devils by the Christian tradition and their names included in the roll call of Hell: Thammuz, Adonis, Baal, Dagon, etc.
Angels have ethereal bodies and eternal life with God in heaven. They do His errands willingly because they are perfect in “obedience,” or union with God’s will. They are pictured as choirs, singing praise and playing golden harps in a celestial realm of nectar and bliss. Nevertheless, they can be fierce in combat, as Satan learns. In war, their wounds are instantly healed.
They can eat human food and make love by intermixture of spirits. Their appearance is beautiful, youthful, and full of light. Angels who are faithful evolve to be more like Christ and closer to God. Before humans fell, there was a ladder between heaven and earth on which angels could come and go freely.
Michael is the most powerful Archangel and captain of God’s armies, portrayed as fierce in aspect. Equal to Satan in strength. Michael wounded Satan, the first injury in heaven. Their battle ended in a draw, a tie broken only by Christ. Michael is the angel sent to evict Adam and Eve from paradise with his fiery sword, and he instructs Adam on the history of mankind from the fall to the crucifixion.
Raphael is “The affable Archangel” who is sent by God to warn Adam and Eve of their danger from Satan. He is the divine historian, instructing Adam about the creation, God’s purpose, the war in heaven, and the life of angels. In turn, Adam tells him the story of his beginning. He is called Adam’s friend.
Abdiel is the faithful seraph in the war in heaven, full of love, loyalty and zeal, praised by God for his Right Reason. Originally part of Lucifer’s group of angels, he alone refuses to go along with the rebellion against God. He argues with Satan about the virtue of “obedience.”
Uriel is the glorious Archangel stationed in the sun. He is one of the seven eyes of God who sit nearest to God’s throne. Uriel watches Eden from on high and questions Satan in disguise as he passes. Satan puts on the guise of a young angel who wants to see Eden and asks the way. Once on earth, Satan’s face changes in envy and despair, and Uriel sees and calls the guard.
The chief angelic guard of the Garden of Eden, Gabriel sits at the East gate. Uriel warns him about the entrance of Satan. Gabriel debates with Satan, when the guard catches him, calling him a liar and hypocrite. He readies to fight Satan to expel him from the Garden, but looking up in the sky, points out the omens are favorable to the angels, so Satan leaves.
Uzziel, Itthuriel and Zephon
Uzziel, Itthuriel and Zephon part of Gabriel’s angel guard stationed in the Garden of Eden. They tell Gabriel how they found and chased Satan away in the form of a toad at Eve’s ear, giving her bad advice in a dream. Itthuriel touched him with a spear, making him appear as he was. The guard takes him to Gabriel for questioning.