Saturday, January 21, 2012

Satan's Mirror Has Two Faces

Dear Reader, the following is an essay that I wrote for an English class in college in 2007. The reason I wanted to share it with you is because every time I read it, I am reminded that I had a firmer grasp on Narcissism before I met my husband than I had previously realized. I realize this essay is long and that many of my readers won't take the time to read it (I don't blame you, if you've no interest it will be quite dull!). I don't fancy myself the greatest writer in the world, but I know I do write well and I feel this is one of the best research essays that I did in my time as an English Major. I've re-read it a number of times since graduating, and I just have the urge to post it here. Perhaps I'll do a follow-up post later to share with you the connections I have made between Milton's Satan and DH's NM. I have found some rather striking similarities...and I do see the irony of such a statement. 

The piece also reminded me of a drawing I included on another of my posts that perfectly illustrated NM. HER mirror has two faces too. If you can get past the sort of tedious nature of this post, there are a couple of really great nuggets in here that pertain to all Narcissists, at least insofar as I can see. I'd be happy to hear criticisms, either on the writing itself or on the subject matter. It's all fair game to me!

Note: If you aren't interested in reading the whole thing (again, I don't blame you if you don't) I've highlighted some of the parts that I think can be related to narcissists in general, and to NMIL specifically.

Satan’s Mirror Has Two Faces: Using Satan’s Speeches
 In Books One, Four, And Nine To Prove 
That Satan Is No Epic Hero
by: Jonsi
            According to the traditional guidelines of classical epic, the hero is one who’s individual prowess both glorifies the deeds of men as well as represents self-sacrifice—before Roman rule, self sacrifice of the hero to suit his own needs; during Roman rule self-sacrifice for the good of the empire.  Readers were supposed to love the heroes of classical epics for their charisma and have faith in the valiant truth of their words.  In attempting to express his own beliefs that traditional epic heroism was not heroism at all, Milton used Satan’s character as a means to mock traditional epic values.  To accomplish the task of creating a pseudo hero, Milton created Satan’s character whose deceptive charm, false bravado, and ironic moral depth were all made clear through his powerful and effective public speaking skills, which could captivate even the most anti-Satanic audience.  Milton’s treatment of Satan as we know him from the Bible, in combination with his treatment of the classical epic hero presents a seemingly trustworthy and even likeable character.  Through the examination of several of Satan’s speeches through out Paradise Lost, it is apparent that Milton succeeded in writing a mock hero in whom audiences would be falsely lulled to trust and, at times, feel sorry for.  Satan’s speeches, however skewed in their logic, were meant to have this pacifying effect on audiences so that the narrator could eventually point out the dangers of trusting Satan in any context.
            One of Milton’s first attempts at making audiences and fellow characters feel sympathetic towards Satan’s plight is through the use of expressions which give Satan a highly humanistic quality.  Directly following Satan’s fall from Heaven, the band of fallen angels find themselves in the fiery pits of Hell where Satan addresses Beelzebub with his first speech.  Given that the epic begins immediately after the fall of the angels, the reader only has access to the description of Hell’s horrors and to Satan’s tormented thoughts at this point in time.  In his first soliloquy, Satan takes on the traditional role of rebel leader where he makes it clear to Beelzebub that the war has only just begun between the neo-rebel angels and the tyrannical God.  Satan tells Beelzebub “that fixed mind/ And high disdain, from sense of injured merit” are his reasons for rebellion (1:98).  According to Douglas Bush, “it is perhaps a fair guess that among the general reading public three out of four persons instinctively sympathize with any character who suffers and rebels…because in such cases the sinner is always right and authority and rectitude are always wrong” (Bush 66).  An audience is, in fact, very likely to sympathize with Satan because of empathetic feelings which reveal that one should not bow to a source of power that is tyrannical.  Tyranny is, after all, a highly unfair practice.  Milton’s first step in securing the sympathies of his audiences comes in part from the placement of this speech—being the first speech of any major character he ensured that the reader has only one side of the story—Satan’s.  In addition, he made certain to have Satan express emotions that most readers would feel if they found themselves in a similar situation —“We [fallen angels] may with more successful hope resolve/ to wage by force or guile eternal war,/ Irreconcilable to our grand foe,/ Who now triumphs and in the excess of Sole reigning holds the tyranny of Heaven” (1: 121-124).  Satan argues well. After all, he points out that God’s “excess” of power should not fit in a world where equality reigns; he also implies that though God “now triumphs,” later, he may not.
            Despite Satan’s carefully navigated speech about staging a revolt together as angels who had been wronged by their oppressive God, the narrator warns us not to be fooled.  In his brief but loaded two lines directly following Satan’s soliloquy, the narrator dictates, “So spake the apostate angel, though in pain, vaunting aloud, but wracked with deep despair” (1: 125-126).  One must first set her gaze on the simple term “apostate” which, according to Webster’s Deluxe Unabridged Dictionary, means “abandonment or falling away from what one believed in,” with synonyms including “traitor,” “renegade,” and “fugitive” (Webster’s Deluxe Unabridged Dictionary 88).  Immediately this term is supposed to bring to mind the idea that if Satan is abandoning an ideology he once believed in then there may be something inherently wrong with his logic rather than the process against which he is rebelling.  And directly following a particularly moving speech from Satan we have a narrator who is subtly giving clues to indicate that Satan is not entirely what he appears to be.  It should be worrisome that, however faint the connections, the word “apostate” is related to the word “traitor.”  The latter of these two words implies that Satan was not being completely honest in his first speech but also that he had more-than-likely, abandoned principles he had once believed in simply because he was not truly honorable enough to remain loyal to them.  Through the use of this one word, the narrator implores the reader to question Satan’s accountability.  Furthermore, despite his brave façade, we are supposed to be enlightened with the knowledge that Satan, the rebel leader, is actually wracked with “deep despair.”  Certainly, no leader can lead effectively if the ethics of his wars are based solely on his troubled conscience.  According to Murray Roston, “we are lulled momentarily into a genuine admiration of Satan’s prowess [and] only when we reach the authorial comment a little later with its reminder of his villainy do we realize with a guilty start that we ourselves have been seduced by Satan’s wiles” (Roston 55).  So, after the audience has read Satan’s first speech and has been lulled by it, the narrator attempts to point out what he knows is obvious: one should not be pacified by the poetic words of a traitorous liar, particularly if that liar is Satan.
            However, even though the narrator is so careful to warn us against Satan’s deceit, suffice it to say that by book four many readers will still feel empathetic towards Satan’s plight.  And, that attachment only grows stronger due to the self-reflective depth and vulnerability Satan portrays in book four, much to the chagrin of the narrator who seems to expect such a reaction from his readers.  By the time we get to book four, a council in Hell as well as a surprisingly similar council in Heaven has already taken place.  Respectively in regards to the outcome of each council, Satan reaffirms his self-appointed role as leader of the plot to destroy mankind; and the Father and Son establish the need for divine justice and mercy in the universe.  The reader arrives at Satan’s next major soliloquy with the knowledge of man’s creation (though not yet of his fall) and with a deeper understanding of all that Satan has lost by leaving Heaven.  Book three introduces the principle of free-will—an important assertion where all creatures are concerned, no matter where their standing in the social totem pole.  In a soliloquy with only the readers as an audience, Satan admits, “…from what state/ I fell, how glorious once above [the sun]/ Till pride and worse ambition threw me down” (4: 38-40).  By admitting his faults and fears, thereby re-establishing the human qualities he shares with his readers, Satan once again (or perhaps simply continues) to capture the trust of his audience.  Satan, it seems actually acts as a voice of conscience.  According to Diana Trevino Benet, “Satan’s extended moral struggle belongs with the admirable qualities he sometimes exhibits, actions and attributes that serve the poem’s thematic contrast between epic and true, Christian heroism” (Benet 3).  In essence, Satan is such a complex character with his self awareness and candor that readers can’t help but believe him.  It is intriguing too that Satan would refer to his fall from Heaven in terms of having been “thrown” as though to imply that it was not a voluntary removal that led him to his current state.  And yet, he contradicts this implication earlier in the very same line by admitting that his own pride caused his downfall.  And here’s yet another contradiction: only a few lines earlier, he claimed to hate the beams of the sun because it reminded him of the light of Heaven where he used to live.  In these lines, however, he explains how glorious it felt to live above those very same beams of light.  Satan is a walking contradiction, and because of that he seems no different from so many of the people who make up his audiences.  Humans tend to believe that there is truth in things that are reminiscent of the complexities within themselves.  All of these complexities in Satan’s character “give us the impression that Milton, whether intentionally or not, went far beyond the needs of his theme in developing Satan’s character” (Wheeler 99).
            Equally important to Satan’s self-reflections in book four is Satan’s defiant courage, also evident in book four.  Shortly after declaring his regret and remorse at having lost his seat in Heaven as well as admitting to the wrongs he committed Satan inquires, “Hadst thou the same free will and power to stand?/ Thou hadst.  Whom hast thou then or what to accuse,/ But Heaven’s free love dealt equally to all?/…/Nay, cursed be thou, since against his thy will/ Chose freely what is now so justly rues” (4: 66-72).  In this shameless lament, Satan makes a brave assertion: he feels that he was cursed because God willingly gave him free will and yet punished him for using it.  By posing his thoughts as questions Satan yet again appeals to his audience even if we don’t know for sure that he is asking these questions of us.  At first glance it would appear that this is indeed his intention to invoke a sense of injustice amongst his readers so that they might better understand why he chose to reject God’s power in the first place.  But furthering the notion that Satan is employing the readers’ support one might suggest that Satan’s questions are a direct challenge to God.  After all, while it is true that the only beings who can hear Satan’s words are the readers, it goes without saying that the ever-present and omniscient God must surely hear them too.  This means that in both actions and words Satan is openly defying God even after admitting that “behind the impressive façade of defiance and ambition, Satan knows that he is wrong…his pride is wrong…his ambition is wrong: everything that defines him is wrong” (Wheeler 102).  And yet, Satan believes that he is displaying great courage by defying the God who could give him free-will and then punish him for using it.
            Following this speech by Satan, the narrator once again steps in as though to say, “I’ve shown you what Satan has alleged; the following reasons are why you shouldn’t believe him.”  It seems interesting to point out now that this particular method: that is, of Satan’s speeches being followed by the narrator’s disapproving rebuttal, is effective mainly because the separation of voice allows for a distinct boundary to be created between truth and lies, good and evil, God’s will and Satan’s rebellion.  Without said distinction, it would be a great deal harder for the narrator to show how easily one can fall prey to the dangers of trusting the Satanic Voice.  That being said, after Satan’s soliloquy the narrator explains, “each passion dimmed his face,/…which marred his borrowed visage and betrayed Him counterfeit” (4: 114-116).  In just a few lines, we hear that Satan is “counterfeit”—a word denoting a loss of merit or value through deceit; and also that he has a visage which is not merely borrowed but marred as well—so that the features which are not even his to begin with are imperfect and unreal.  As his marred physical features betray him as being a fraud, so he betrays his audience with the mark of deceit.  According to Harold E. Toliver, “communication is a complex act, at once an exchange of information and a labeling of identity…the complicity of voice in Paradise Lost is thus reflected…in the ironies invented by the father of lies” (Toliver 134).  So in saying, every word that Satan speaks is a direct reflection upon his being.  By this critic’s opinion Satan is referred to as the “father of lies” because the words he speaks are so complex and contradictory that he creates a dialectical web of lies within his speeches. 
            Although by book nine most members of the audience no longer feel pity and sadness for Satan’s situation, they still must recognize that his speeches are a force that humans must reckon with.  Perhaps not for God, but certainly for mankind.  Leading up to book nine, the reader learns about life in Paradise and Adam’s love for his proposed equal, but supposedly inferior partner, Eve.  When Satan sneaks into Paradise the first time, he is struck by jealousy at the sight of Adam and Eve together.  He uses his opportunity to sneak into Eve’s mind while she sleeps and create within her a sense of unease, discord, and envy over the idea that she may in fact be unequal to the man from whom she was created.  Moreover, by recognizing a sense of egotism and narcissism within Eve that he himself contains, Satan makes the choice to target her, rather than Adam in order to destroy mankind.  After morphing into several creatures and finally, a serpent, Satan finds Eve alone in the Garden of Eden and tells her, “Fairest resemblance of thy maker fair,/ Thee all things living gaze on, all things thine/ By gift, and thy celestial beauty adore/ With ravishing beheld, there best beheld/ Where universally admired” (9:538-542).  Perhaps what stands out the most during this part of Satan’s dialog with Eve is his careful attention to that which interests Eve the most: her own personal appearance.  Satan knows that he can win a moral battle with Eve and set her up for a fall by appealing to the one thing that the two of them have in common, their narcissism.  It could be that Satan is able to recognize narcissism in others because he contains it in himself, which is why he also knows exactly the right things to say.  And, a bit later he explains to Eve that after eating the forbidden fruit, “ere long I might perceive/ Strange alteration in me to degree” (9: 598-600).  This phrase, followed by a description of all the changes he acquired, including the power to reason came at a time when Eve just a few hours before had to convince Adam that she was a perfectly rational, reasonable person and that she would be fine on her own.  Thus, the idea of having more reasoning skills, and more rationality, in short to just be superior to her partner greatly appealed to Eve.  Satan recognized this about Eve, and just as anyone would who was offered their greatest wish, she took the offered apple in exchange for that which she desired most. 
            Once again, the narrator comes to the rescue, having already proven Satan’s deceitful conduct but hoping to expose all the holes in his logic so that there is no doubt he is a fraudulent coward.  The narrator’s voice is dispersed through out Satan’s entire conversation with Eve, coming in short bursts in between nearly every exchange between woman and serpent.  After one particular section of Satan’s speech, the narrator says, “So glozed the tempter and his proem tuned;/ Into the heart of Eve his words made way” (9: 549-550).  The word “glozed” as David Scott Kastan defines it is, “flattered, lied.”  The word itself sounds like and resembles “glazed” and reminds one of being told a sugar-coated lie.  Somewhat desperately it seems, the narrator drives in the notion that Satan is deceitful many more times through out book nine.  More importantly however, he is finally able to render Satan’s true cowardice when he describes in candid detail Satan’s reasoning and approach for attacking his prey.  He explains, “[Satan sought them both but wished hap might find/ Eve separate” (9: 421-422).  Satan’s logic that Eve would be easier prey contrasts wildly with Eve’s argument from earlier that because she was technically created inferior to Adam, Satan would never come after her alone.  Doing so would have to mean that the “heroic” archangel is cowardly.  Here, the narrator says, is a fatal mistake for Eve, since Satan does take the easy fight rather than the challenge of attempting to defeat Adam.  Furthermore, the development of “spite” in Satan’s character, says Wheeler, is very appropriate.  Spite is “the shriveled, small-minded, weak man’s form of revenge…God is indeed omnipotent; consequently evil has no power of its own.  The angel who fought in heaven can no longer contend with a mere man” which means he must go after the weaker sex, woman (Wheeler 105).  This realization of his loss of power, this huge hole in the logic of Satan’s greater plan to destroy mankind…ends up being the very key to his cowardice.  Satan, the narrator has explained, is no hero; he is merely a cowardly deceiver in disguise.
            In conclusion, although Satan is portrayed at first as the classic epic hero, with time and plenty of hints from the narrator, we eventually see the truth behind the deceit.  It is true that Milton has created an in-depth and, at times, fascinatingly human character out of Satan, but he is not and never will be a true hero according to Milton.  Milton’s attempt to mock traditional roles of epic heroes, however, is highly successful—the Satan of Paradise Lost puts on such a false show of courage and skill that one can not help but laugh at Milton’s parody of the “heroes” of his time.  Indeed, Satan’s mirror has two captivating sides; on the one side, we have a character so richly developed with human qualities that it proves difficult for nearly everyone to abandon him at the end of the epic.  On the other side, there is the Satan we all know: evil and deceitful to the point where his jealousy binds him to his well-deserved fate.  Yet, without the two-sidedness, and without the contradictions, there would be no way for Milton to warn his readers of the dangers lurking behind Satan’s mirror.

Works Cited:
Benet, Diana Trevino.  “Adam’s Evil Conscience and Satan’s Surrogate Fall.”  Milton Quarterly, Vol. 39 (2005). 15 pages.
Bush, Douglas.  Paradise Lost in Our Time. Massachusetts: Cornell University, 1957.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. David Scott Kastan. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. 2005.
Roston, Murray.  Milton and the Baroque.  New York: The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1980.
Toliver, Harold E. “Complicity of Voice in Paradise Lost.” Ohio State University: 2002. 
Webster’s Deluxe Unabridged Dictionary. 2nd Ed. Publishers Dorset and Baber. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979.
Wheeler, Thomas.  Paradise Lost and the Modern Reader. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1974.

Works Consulted:
Barbeau, Anne T.  “Satan’s Envy of the Son on the Third Day of the War.”  (2002).  14 pages.
Benet, Diana Trevino.  “Adam’s Evil Conscience and Satan’s Surrogate Fall.”  Milton Quarterly, Vol. 39 (2005). 15 pages.
Bryson, Michael.  “That Far be From Thee: Divine Evil and Justification in Paradise Lost.” Milton Quarterly, Vol. 36, issue 2. (May 2002). 19 pages.
Bush, Douglas.  Paradise Lost in Our Time. Massachusetts: Cornell University, 1957.
Cooley, Ronald W.  “Reformed Eloquence: Inability, Questioning, and Correction in Paradise Lost.” University of Toronto Quarterly, Vol. 62. (1992). 42 pages.
Emma, Ronald David and John T. Shawcross, eds. Language Style in Milton: A Symposium in Honor of the Tercentenary of Paradise Lost.  New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co, 1967.
Lieb, Michael.  The Dialectics of Creation: Patterns of Birth and Regeneration in Paradise Lost. Massachusetts: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1970.
McColgan, Kristin P.  “The Way to Pardon: ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ in Paradise Lost.” Christian Brothers University. (2002).
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. David Scott Kastan. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. 2005.
Schaar, C.  “Satan as Deconstructor.”  English Studies.  Swets & Zeitlinger, 1989.
Toliver, Harold E. “Complicity of Voice in Paradise Lost.” Ohio State University: 2002. 
Webster’s Deluxe Unabridged Dictionary. 2nd Ed. Publishers Dorset and Baber. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979.
Wheeler, Thomas.  Paradise Lost and the Modern Reader. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1974.


  1. Having not read Milton, I don't feel qualified to comment on the paper in particular, but found the subject fascinating. I did read Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series, and this is reminiscent of his book regarding Satan. Instead of frightening, he is appealing and highly charismatic, even enticing. In the Bible, he was called son of the morning. Interesting read. Makes me wonder who Milton knew. :-)

  2. Judy - I would be interested in reading Incarnations, sounds like an interesting read. I've been very fascinated with the idea that Narcissists can be so closely related to depictions of Satan. It's almost like I get a sense of déjà vu when reading this stuff, which says to me that Narcissists are about as close to being fully evil as any human being can get. And, aren't most narcs highly charismatic and enticing? It's part of how they trick people! They are the ultimate tricksters, just like Satan.

  3. Dear Jonsi,

    I'm your faithful reader the one who asked you to write about the loss of friends.

    Once again your spot on!!! Great paper!!! So many times DH and I have compared NMIL actions to those of pure evil, some of her actions towards us and others have been so deeply twisted and evil that if I had not lived through it I would have a hard time believing someone could be this evil in real life. Cowardice is another word that describes NMIL, NFIL and the rest of the N in DH's family.

    I have meant to write you as I would like to ask you when possible if you could please write a post about something I have been struggling lately with, I would love your perspective on it as you and your blog have been the main thing giving me any hope of recovery.

    The thing I have been struggling so much with is "Justice" do we children or spouses of ACON ever get justice for what was done to us by the Ns????? Does the karma bus ever stops on their street? Either from the religious perspective or not there is any hopes of justice being made????

    DH and I have suffered horrors at the hands of his NParents, vicious stalking for three years that included PI searching for us, restraining order, lawyer fees, court hearings, let down by law enforcement and the courts, constant moves and fear for our lives, financial loss to the point of poverty, isolation, loss of friends, loss of professional goals and career, character assassination, identity theft, I been struggling with depression and PTSD because of all this and cant even afford counseling, our marriage is deeply wounded and as I speak I don't know if we will make it, while all this is going on NMIL/ NFIL and the rest of the N on DH NFOO keep their status in their communities living a lavish lifestyle with everyone thinking they are this wonderful people who love to do charity and help others while their ungrateful son and daughter in law refuse to have anything to do with them! One book wouldn't be enough to write everything this sick people have done to us and where is justice?????? How can I get any sense of peace or closure???? Will the karma bus/God/justice ever catch up with them???? How we spouses and ACON find justice in the all that we go though? There's justice at all? I would love to hear your take on this.

    Jonsi, thank you for your blog, thank you for helping me and so many like me, thank you for giving us a voice!

    Big Hugs

  4. Hello Faithful!

    I'm so very sorry to hear the depth of your painful struggles. In particular, I wish that there was more I could do to ease your heartache - "your blog have been the main thing giving me any hope of recovery." I so, so wish that I wasn't your main source of hope! But, I will try to live up to my role and help you as best I can, even if it's just continuing to tell my story here and talk about the questions that you bring up from time to time.

    I think your question about "justice" is such a perfect question to have asked and I would love to address it in a post. Stay tuned!

    Thank YOU for reading, for as validating as it is to you that you can come here and read my story, it is just as validating for me knowing that there are people out there who are in the same boat, who know how I feel too.

    "“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one”" - CS Lewis

  5. That's interesting. You know what I think, well, since I'm not much of a fundamentalist. I'm open to the idea that religion and everything else is interlaced. They inform each other. I think those people who wrote about God and wrote the Bible or whatever, must be talking about something or someone out there, in their lives and experiences. I don't think the Devil only informs the narcissist, I think narcissists and dumb fuckheads inform the Devil as well.

  6. Lisa - I agree with you. I think Milton must have known some Narcs in his time, and maybe that's who he was writing about. Paradise Lost is definitely a piece containing tons of social commentary.

    You're right - it's a partnership between the Devil and the Narcissist.

  7. Very interesting read!

    I only read Paradise Lost, but I really liked it. I, too, felt empathy towards Satan. I identified with his anger at being treated badly by God, a father demanding worship and obedience and gave Satan conditional love. But I felt his actions to get revenge were so wrongheaded. I just wanted to give Satan a hug and tell him his plots would not make him happy in the long run. My feeling was that Milton's version of God created a sociopath. Funny, but God never said he was sorry.