The Significance of Satan: Eikonoklastes as a Guide to Reading the Character in Milton's Paradise Lost



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Eikon Basilike, meaning “the King’s Image,” was written in defense of King Charles I, who was executed in 1649 following disputes and charges from his parliament. As he was perceived by his English opponents to be a political tyrant, Eikon Basilike is noted for being a self-serving piece of work defending Charles’ errors as a monarch while promoting royalist propaganda to instill the concept of divine kingship in its readers. Efforts to preserve his kingly image included the circulation of Eikon Basilike shortly after Charles’ execution, which enjoyed immense popularity. Hence, Milton took on the task of writing Eikonoklastes (1649) as a response to the king’s text following its wide circulation. As the Greek word for “iconoclast,” which refers to the breaking or shattering of an image, Eikonoklastes was Milton’s textual intent to deconstruct Charles’ attempts at self-defense and political misrepresentations in Eikon Basilike. A close reading of Eikonoklastes enables an understanding of how Milton persuades his readers by integrating political references and biblical scripture to achieve his goal, and understanding the contrasting stances between Eikonoklastes and Eikon Basilike add a deeper and whole other dimension to interpreting the character of Satan in Paradise Lost (1667). While Satan and the events surrounding him in Paradise Lost do not mimic the two political texts, the tracts can be seen as aids to understanding the reasons behind Satan’s multiplicity, and thus the possible basis for shaping his character. My study involves the possibility of the politics behind Eikonoklastes as the origins of Milton’s development of Satan, as seen through Satan’s thoughts, speech and actions. By delving into Eikonoklastes and Eikon Basilike, one is able to better comprehend Milton’s intentions for portraying Satan as thus, for it is in all likelihood that Milton intended for the events surrounding Charles to shape Satan and consequently Paradise Lost as a whole.



Paradise Lost, Satan, Eikonoklastes, Milton