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Milton's 'Sataneid': The Poet and the Devil in 'Paradise Lost'

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posted on 2012-08-31, 11:30 authored by Neil Harris
In this thesis I study two themes: first the influence of the Italian chivalric epic on the figure of Satan; second Milton's use of Dante and Ariosto in the figure of the narrating poet. I explore how within Paradise Lost the Archfiend acts out a 'Sataneid' modelled on a series of traditional epic encounters and exploits. Satan's encounter with Sin and Death at the gates of Hell hints at a reversal of the epic catabasis. When the episode is related to its Virgilian model, the guardians of Hell appear as a Cerberus and a Charon, but the analogy also shows Satan's virtus to be modelled on Aeneas. Therefore Milton hints at a Herculean descensus to be undertaken by the Son. A study of the Commonplace Book shows that Milton did not know Boiardo's text of the Orlando Innamorato but used Berni's rifacimento. Milton's use of this poem in the 'Fontarabbia' (1.587) and the 'Albracca' (PR. III. 337) similes identifies Satan's armies with chivalric exemplars, but deliberate 'errors' also expose weakness and Satanic untruth. I compare Milton's 'Great Consult' and his War in Heaven to episodes in the Orlando Innamorato. Milton's simile of the 'Tuscan Artist' (1.587) identifies astronomy not with Galileo but with Catiline and other types of Satanic rebellion which seek forbidden knowledge and power. Milton's 'Vallombrosa' (1.303) simile, drawing on conventions established in Virgil, Dante, and Ariosto, alludes: first to the OT Tophet and Gehenna; second to the Psalmist's 'valley of the shadow of death' (23.4); finally, through Dante's identification of Florence in his encounter with Brunetto Latini as a type of the biblical Sodom, to the 'great city that spiritually is Sodom and Eygpt' (Revelation 11.8). If Satan's entry into the Limbo of Vanity signposts a transition into a chivalric role, then the enchanted gardens of Alcina, Armida and Acrasia in the chivalric epics, which all rework the classical account of Ulysses finding Achilles in the court of king Lycomedes, serve as models for Milton's treatment in a brilliant vue renversee of the intruder, the couple and the garden in Paradise Lost. Allegorical criticisms of the gardens in Ariosto, Tasso and Spenser indicate a more complex allegorical pattern in Milton.

History

Date of award

1985-01-01

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD

Language

en

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