Righteous Determination Forges a Pathway to God’s Kingdom

Illustrious Ideas and Illustrations: The Imagery of Gustav Doré

Righteous Determination Forges a Pathway to God’s Kingdom
“In with the river sunk, and with it rose Satan” (IX. 74, 75), 1866, by Gustav Doré for John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” Engraving. (Public Domain).

Our environment is filled with things that test our character. Sometimes, we successfully overcome these things, and other times, we fall short and fail. Yet failure isn't necessarily the end of the road; through determination, we can still find ourselves favorable to God.

We continue our story of John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” Raphael has finished describing the heavens to Adam, and Adam has shared what he remembers about when he was created. Then Raphael returns to heaven.

 <span style="font-weight: 400;">“</span><a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paradise_Lost_36.jpg"><span style="font-weight: 400;">In with the river sunk, and with it rose Satan</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">” (IX. 74, 75), </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">1866, by Gustav Doré for John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” Engraving. (Public Domain)</span>
In with the river sunk, and with it rose Satan” (IX. 74, 75), 1866, by Gustav Doré for John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” Engraving. (Public Domain)

Satan Returns

As Adam continues to speak to the archangel Raphael, Satan flies around the earth waiting for his moment to reenter Eden. Earlier, Gabriel may have cast him from the Garden of Eden, but this wasn't enough to deter him, or the anger that fueled him. He's going to have to find a secret way of entering.
Thence full of anguish driven, The space of seven continued nights he rode With darkness ... In with the river sunk, and with it rose Satan involved in rising mist; then sought Where to lie hid ...” (Book IX, Lines 62–64, 74–76)
Satan, with watchful eyes, circles Earth for seven days until he finally sees an opportunity to land where the Tigris River (before Sin changed it) shoots underground before coming back up as a fountain in Eden. Satan, covered by a mist, follows the river into Eden and looks for where to hide.
In his illustration “In with the river sunk, and with it rose Satan,” Doré depicts Satan calmly perched upon a craggy rock, looking down at the crashing waters of the Tigris River. Satan’s calm demeanor shouldn't deceive us, however, for he only appears still on the outside, amidst the rolling waters; inside, he is seething with anger. His inner turmoil is reflected in the turmoil of the river and fuels his desire to endure that river’s onslaught. This one image reveals the determination that evil has when it's intent on destroying good in the world.

Satan Possesses the Serpent

Satan makes it into Eden and looks for a place to hide. He wants to avoid being found by the archangels again, so he carefully looks at all of the animals in Eden to see which one will serve best to hide his deceptive and vengeful intentions.
With narrow search; and with inspection deep Considered every creature ... ... and found The Serpent subtlest beast of all the field. ... Fit vessel, fittest imp of fraud, in whom To enter, and his dark suggestions hide From sharpest sight: for, in the wily snake, Whatever sleights, none would suspicious mark ... (Book IX, Lines 83–86, 89–92)
Satan considers the serpent to be the best for his purposes. He thinks that no one will think otherwise if the serpent acts with ill intent. The serpent’s movements are naturally subtle and deceptive. Satan continues to move throughout Eden, enveloped in a mist in order to get closer to a snake and possess it.
... thus wrapped in mist Of midnight vapour glide obscure, and pry In every bush and brake, where hap may find The serpent sleeping; in whose mazy folds To hide me, and the dark intent I bring. ... ... at his mouth The Devil entered ... (Book IX, Lines 158–162, 187–188)
After finding the serpent, Satan possesses it by entering through its mouth and inspiring it to act intellectually. Even though it’s not a human. Satan possesses it. This provides a deeper understanding of the saying “You are what you eat” by suggesting that we become what we let into our minds and hearts—however it enters, we ingest it.

In his illustration “Him, fast sleeping, soon he found in labyrinth of many a round, self-rolled,” Doré shows Satan looking at a pile of intertwined serpents. Here, Satan truly looks sinister: His large, bat-like wings; black disheveled hair; and dark, downward-angled eyes conjure a darkness that sets the mood of this scene. He even seems to have found the only place in Eden that isn’t overwhelmed with foliage and life.

The darkness of the snakes matches the darkness of Satan’s wings, and our eyes can’t help but bounce back and forth between the two. This compositional element helps us equate Satan with the snakes, which are best suited to his character.

Satan’s Woes

Earlier, Satan’s inner turmoil was compared to Doré’s depiction of the raging river, and it was suggested that his turmoil served as Satan’s furious intent to destroy God’s creation—and later, Satan states as much:
O foul descent! that I, who erst contended With Gods to sit the highest, am now constrained Into a beast; and, mixed with bestial slime ... But what will not ambition and revenge Descend to? ... (Book IX, Lines 163–165, 168–169)
By trying to be the highest in heaven, Satan is forced to be the lowest. According to Satan, however, he's willing to stoop low in order to realize his revenge against God, so low that he will mix his once-angelic spirit with the slime of the serpent. This is how his determination manifests itself.
He knows he cannot defeat God directly, but he believes he can destroy God’s creation:
To me shall be the glory sole among The infernal Powers, in one day to have marred What he, Almighty styled, six nights and days Continued making ... (Book IX, Lines 135–138)
Satan is determined to destroy human beings, God’s new love, in one day, in one moment of temptation. Milton repeatedly refers to the one commandment of being obedient to God. The commandment is true for Adam, Eve, and all of the angels in heaven. Yet one cannot be obedient to God and follow Satan’s temptations, and herein lies the difficulty of being human.

We humans, as creations of God, can also be determined, despite our shortcomings. How will our determination manifest itself? If we're to be obedient to God and resist Satan’s temptations, we must pay attention to what we “ingest.” We must become the opposite of what Satan represents.

Pride is the reason for Satan’s attempt to elevate himself higher than everyone else, and for this, he is forced to go down—to crawl on the earth as the very lowest of the low. Could it be that in our obedience, our subservience to God, our way of bowing to Him is by intentionally going down so that we can be raised up in the glory of God?

 <span style="font-weight: 400;">“</span><a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paradise_Lost_38.jpg"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Him, fast sleeping, soon he found in labyrinth of many a round, self-rolled</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">” (IX. 182,183), </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">1866, by Gustav Doré for John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” Engraving. (Public Domain)</span>
Him, fast sleeping, soon he found in labyrinth of many a round, self-rolled” (IX. 182,183), 1866, by Gustav Doré for John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” Engraving. (Public Domain)
Gustave Doré was a prolific illustrator of the 19th century. He created images for some of the greatest classical literature of the Western world, including the Bible, “Paradise Lost,” and “The Divine Comedy.” In this series, we’ll take a deep dive into the thoughts that inspired Doré and the imagery those thoughts provoked. For the first article in the series, visit “Illustrious Ideas and Illustrations: The Imagery of Gustave Doré.”
Eric Bess is a doctoral candidate at the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts (IDSVA) and assistant professor at Fei Tian College in Middletown, N.Y.