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January 4, 2023

Dr. Grieser on Milton's Satan

A Sample Class

Does the greatest long poem in the English language portray Satan as a hero?

In this sample class, Dr. Jayson Grieser, Fellow of Literature at New Saint Andrews College, walks us through a brief lesson on Milton's Paradise Lost and the character of Satan.

Grieser begins by working through the importance of poetry and how to read it. He says that poetry is visual, imaginative, and always musical, coming to us through the ear.

Grieser then looks at the way Milton has constructed Satan. In this epic character, we see the psychology of fallenness: Satan is smart and brilliant, but he is flawed. Satan is not everything he seems to be.  

Through this epic, Milton reveals Satan’s role in the story of redemption. Why is Satan free to act in this world? Milton says God allows this because it heaps more condemnation on Satan’s head. Ultimately, God uses Satan’s evil deeds for good ends in the redemption of the world. 

Grieser looks at William Blake’s argument that Milton actually makes Satan the hero of this epic because Satan is the most interesting character in the work. 

Grieser pushes back on Blake’s point. While Satan is an interesting character, Milton has made Satan out to be like the old hero from the classical world, similar to Achilles. This kind of hero is moving and interesting but ultimately futile. Milton, instead, offers us a better and more noble hero in Jesus.  

So what is Milton’s purpose with Satan? 

Milton is training us to understand Good and Evil. He shows us the wily ways of Satan so we can see through the traps of evil and learn to resist and fight. Milton is not trying to get us to like Satan; he is teaching us to disarm and defeat Satan. 

This course is representative of NSA's CCS Program: The low-residency M. St degree is designed to accommodate busy professionals by combining the flexibility of online education with the connectedness of in-person education.

Want to learn more? Read more about our Classical Christian Studies program here: