Sunday, October 11, 2009

Milton's Satan

Satan As A Serpent, Enters Paradise In Search Of Eve, by Gustave Dore 1832-1883

"... Then from his loftie stand on that high Tree
Down he alights among the sportful Herd
Of those fourfooted kindes, himself now one,
Now other, as thir shape servd best his end
Neerer to view his prey, and unespi'd
To mark what of thir state he more might learn
By word or action markt: about them round
A Lion now he stalkes with fierie glare,
Then as a Tyger, who by chance hath spi'd
In some Purlieu two gentle Fawnes at play,
Strait couches close, then rising changes oft
His couchant watch, as one who chose his ground
Whence rushing he might surest seize them both
Gript in each paw..." (Paradise Lost Book Four)

In order to get closer to Adam and Eve, Satan momentarily embodies a number of animals that already exist in the garden. Initially he surveys Eden from his “lofty stand” on a “high tree” (4.395). Then he decides to get closer, so he “alights” from the tree and starts to mingle with the “four-footed” beasts (4.396-397). He does this primarily by taking on the shape of any animal that “serve[s] best his end” to spy on “his prey” (read Adam and Eve) (4.398-399). What is intriguing is how the behaviour of the animals change as he possesses them. Once Satan enters the lion, it starts to “stalk with fiery glare” (4.402). As he takes on the form of the tiger, it “couches close… watching” two fawns at play (4.405-405). The pattern shows that each animal he embodies starts to prowl, stalk, and monitor their prey. This picture is markedly different from the one shown before Satan entered Eden. In the pre-lapsarian garden, those same animals were initially found “frisking” (4.340), playing, and gamboling in Eden. Here Milton is showing how Satan’s blood-thirsty nature still shines through as he possesses any one of those animals, who now behave with intent to kill. It reveals a similar transformation to those found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Numerous episodes in that work show how an essential characteristic, be it Io’s beauty or Lycaon’s bestial nature, shines through after transformation takes place. In Satan’s case, his evil tendencies never leave him. He retains his essential nature, even when he shape-shifts into an animal. This is significant because it reveals his true character, which is evil.

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