Humanity views Satan in different forms, having various ideas of his being. Each race and religion has different faces of what Satan is. However, the world universally associates him with one concept: evil. Lucifer – his alternative name – has been depicted in religious teachings, in films, in literature, and in music throughout the years. All of these depictions give him life, thus giving humanity a solid picture of what is evil.
The face of evil has been portrayed in two of the most prominent works of literature. Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus has Mephistophilis as the main character for the devil. It was followed by John Milton’s Paradise Lost which gave a detailed account of Satan’s background. These two literary works shared notable descriptions of the devil and became the basis of most people on how hell and Lucifer was viewed.
Doctor Faustus referred to the German academician, Faust, who sold his soul to Lucifer in exchange for power and knowledge. One of Lucifer’s trusted follower, Mephistophilis was summoned by the doctor’s practice of necromancy. Faust spent the remaining twenty four years of his life doing deeds that will acquire him power through Mephistophilis’ assistance. The doctor questioned about the world by having debates with the servant of Lucifer. The devil also acted as a guardian to the doctor to make sure that he will follow the oath.
The devil was portrayed in Marlowe’s work as the messenger of Lucifer. He generously shared with Faustus the truths of hell and willingly participated with Faust’s debates. From their first meeting Mephistophilis transformed into a Franciscan friar because Faust was unable to bear the devil’s original appearance.
I charge thee to return, and change thy shape;
Thou art too ugly to attend on me:
Go, and return an old Franciscan friar;
That holy shape becomes a devil best. (Marlowe)
It was more convenient interacting with the devil after Faustus asked Mephistophilis to change its hideous form.
Mephistophilis can be symbolized as an Angel of Death during his companionship with Faust’s last twenty four years. The devil aided Faustus in fulfilling every worldly desire. On the other hand, he watched the doctor closely to make sure that every move will only be faithful to the oath with Lucifer. The devil was with him until the very last day he lived on earth.
In the course of the story, some scenes may have given an impression that Mephistophilis was portrayed in a friendly manner with some of the conversation with Faust.
O, Faustus, leave these frivolous demands,
Which strike a terror to my fainting soul! (Marlowe)
Mephistophilis have been helping Faust because of the duty that was bestowed on him. On the other hand, the words that the devil uttered had an impression of allegiance with the doctor.
The very moment that Dr. Faustus repented by the end of the story, that was the time that Mephistophilis had taken his life. The devil may have become a servant of Faust however; its loyalty still remained with Lucifer. Mephistophilis was able to claim Faust’s soul and the devil made sure the pact will be accomplished.
This literary work of Marlowe became a model for the depiction of evil specifically in poetry. John Milton came out with an epic entitled Paradise Lost that has a brief similarity with Marlowe’s character. Milton’s work offered what the Catholic bible has forgotten to explain. He related a detailed account of Satan’s origin and how the formation of evil and hell came about.
The dearest angel of God had begun to take pride into him and desired to be as powerful as the Almighty. Satan gathered all the other angels who shared the same view or who were persuaded by him, until a battle erupted in heaven. Defeated by God, all of the rebels were thrown out of heaven and fell into a burning lake.
From this event, Satan took the role as the leader and started formulating strategies to defeat God.
More than can be in Heaven, we now return
To claim our just inheritance of old,
…Whether of open war or covert guile,
We now debate. Who can advise may speak. (Milton Book II)
The beginnings of Satan’s kingdom inflicted an inner conflict for the fallen angel. The defeat made him realized more of God’s superior power. The debates of whether to wage war or not, posed his hesitations of seeing his chances of winning but shortly, his pride and narcissism earned his confidence.
To battle Heaven directly, he knew that the chances were slim but he was able to find a possible target to fight God. In Book II of Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan was informed of the new world being built by God.
…There is a place (If ancient and prophetic fame in
Heaven Err not)—another World, the happy seat
Of some new race, called Man, about this time
To be created like to us, though less
In power and excellence, but favoured more
Of him who rules above; (book II)
He found the new world as a vulnerable environment. Satan saw the vision inside him that if this world will be destroyed, he can persuade man to join his forces to fight God.
This particular work of Milton showed an evolution of an important character in humanity. Satan was given an established identity by relating his origin. The rest of Paradise Lost narrated the fallen angel’s quest for the downfall of man. When he succeeded with his plans with Adam & Eve, he was able to create his own kingdom called Pandemonium. This place, in the eyes of the readers, became the physical location of hell.
The depiction of these two characters has made a striking impact on how people of today view evil. Mephistophilis and Satan shared attributes that made them identifiable with the concept of evil. Somehow, these fictional devils became real in the eyes of the people. Marlowe and Milton were able to create a solid image of the devil that prompted society to view evil according to what the authors made.
From the two literary works, the concept of hell was the first aspect that was discussed. Mephistophilis and Satan both narrated that hell cannot be found in a physical territory. Hell was viewed as a state of mind. A torture that cannot be determine unless it is felt.
Within the bowels of these elements,
Where we are tortur’d and remain for ever:
Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscrib’d
In one self-place; but where we are is hell,
And where hell is, there must we ever be:
…Ay, think so still, till experience change thy mind. (Marlowe)
The Hell within him; for within him Hell
He brings, and round about him, nor from Hell
One step, no more than from himself, can fly
By change of place: Now conscience wakes despair. (Milton Book IV)
The above citations from both books pertain to the same views of the two devils regarding the concept of hell. It can be said that this particular notion of hell suggested that to see hell is to be emotionally tormented.
The devils both interacted closely with humans with the intent of man’s destruction. It was seen from both literature that man was seen as a weapon to battle God. Man as God’s creation was made vulnerable to temptations. This was used by the devil to lure man to commit sin and to disobey God.
Both of the devils’ pursuit to lure man into disobedience was accompanied in the form of disguise. The transformation of Mephistophilis into a friar can symbolize Faustus’ desire to mock religion. Faustus was portrayed as a highly ambitious man who excelled in all academic areas and disregard religious laws. As Mephistophilis changed, this helped Faustus to interact with the devil without feeling intimidated and even gaining a sort of camaraderie in some of their outtakes.
MEPHIST. …Here, take this book, peruse it well:
The iterating of these lines brings gold;
…Pronounce this thrice devoutly to thyself,
And men in harness shall appear to thee,
Ready to execute what thou command’st.
FAUSTUS. Thanks, Mephistophilis, for this sweet book:
This will I keep as chary as my life. (Marlowe)
On the other hand, Satan changed into a serpent to blend with the nature of Adam and Eve’s habitat. It was easier for him to tempt Eve in the form of a creature that was made by God as well.
God created the world and placed Adam and Eve in paradise, where animals were created to aid the couple in taking care of the land. The serpent being part of that creation, posed no threat to Eve. From Milton’s Book IX, it was easy for Satan to tempt Eve in the form of a serpent to serve as evidence that the beast did not die after eating the fruit. Thus, it made his lie more convincing.
Whose rigid threats of Death; ye shall not Die:
How should ye? by the Fruit? it gives you Life
To Knowledge, By the Threatner, look on mee,
Mee who have touch’d and tasted, yet both live,
…Shall that be shut to Man, which to the Beast
Is open? or will God incense his ire
For such a petty Trespass, and not praise
Rather your dauntless virtue. (Book IX)
In the course of events from both literary works, Mephistophilis and Satan shortly expressed a desire to re-experience the joy of heaven.
Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it:
Think’st thou that I, that saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven, Am not tormented with ten thousand hells, In being depriv’d of everlasting bliss? (Marlowe)
Mephistophilis described to Faust that heaven is an eternal joy. The devil was completely aware that by being damned together with Lucifer, it entailed a never ending unhappiness of the spirit.
Me miserable! which way shall I fly
Infinite wrath, and infinite despair? Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell; And, in the lowest deep, a lower deep
Still threatening to devour me opens wide,
To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heaven.
O, then, at last relent: Is there no place
Left for repentance, none for pardon left?
None left but by submission; (Milton Book IV)
On the other hand, Satan shortly reflected of his previous stature from heaven. It can be considered that the particular text above gave a shadow of regret from Satan’s rebellious action. This desire of wanting to go back to heaven was depicted in the two literatures very briefly. In the end, both devils were overpowered by their decision to do evil deeds and battle God.
Mephistophilis and Satan were associated in the same concept of evil. However, both of them were shaped and portrayed differently in the development of each story. They differed in creating impact and affecting changes in the flow of events. Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus already had an existing concept of evil where his characters and plot revolved around it. But it was Paradise Lost by John Milton who related the origin of evil.
Taking that into account, it can be seen why Satan was portrayed as a political leader and Mephistophilis as Lucifer’s messenger. Milton made Satan navigate the direction of events in Paradise Lost. Being the central character, Satan’s actions created huge effects on other characters. On the contrary, though Mephistophilis was only described as a follower, he was the cause of the downfall of the central character when he ended Faustus’ life.
The story of the origin of evil provided Satan’s character with depth. It entailed that evil has a reason why it exists, that somehow it can be justified. Unlike Mephistophilis who interacted with Faustus out of sheer pleasure for doing evil, Satan had progression with his character. The approach with evil was more personal and Paradise Lost showed the inner workings of Satan’s mind which was beyond unimaginable in Marlowe’s poetry. Satan can be seen either as a protagonist or a villain. He was bounded with a purpose, his character behaved as such because of that purpose.
Mephistophilis’ dialogue was similar to the evil angel urging Faust not to repent. He was consistently persuasive and encouraging to Faust in fulfilling every worldly desire and denouncing God. Satan, on the other hand, exuded more of an emotional tone in his words. His despair and anger reflected the vengeance that he wanted to achieve against God because of his downfall.
Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice,
To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. (Book I)
Centuries have passed after Marlowe and Milton created these notable literary classics. The modern society still perceives evil as similar from the characters that were drawn in the poetries. Mephistophilis and Satan became prominent figures especially in the aspects of religious issues. These two created recognized features of the devil which were once incoherently described by religious entities. The devil may have been derived from fictional creations but it became part of human reality.