Who is the most compelling Satan in world literature? Take your pick.

A one-way ticket: Luca Signorelli’s masterpiece in Orvieto Cathedral

Who is the most magnetic bad guy in world lit? BigThink comes up with a number of candidates here. The article considers several for the personification of evil: Dante‘s Satan, Goethe‘s Mephistopheles, and Bulgakov‘s Woland in Master and Margarita. Perhaps you can come up with a few names of your own.

From the unsigned article:

“In her book, The Origins of Satan, religious historian Elaine Pagels argues that Satan did not become a true antagonist to God until the 1st century. Looking to unite the Jewish followers of Christ during their relentless persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire, Gospel writers adopted an us-versus-them narrative that depicted their oppressors as incarnations of the Devil himself.”

The eternal skeptic on the side of the…

“As the personification of evil — be it mindful or mindless — Satan soon began appearing in nonreligious writings. Placing this larger-than-life figure outside of the scriptures in which he was first introduced, these storytellers not only influenced our thoughts on the nature of sin, but also taught us a thing or two about the religious institutions that have claimed to protect us from it.”

But it looks like BigThink will plump for Lucifer in Paradise Lost.

From the unsigned article:

Lucifer, the antagonist of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, is often considered as one of the most striking characters in all of British literature. As far as depictions of Satan in modern media are concerned including the titularly titled Netflix show as well as series such as Breaking Bad and Peaky Blinders, Milton’s version of the character – mobile and full of personality – has proven to be far more influential.

As with Dante, Milton’s poetic genius was so great that he was essentially able to add his own chapters to a religious narrative that had been passed down for centuries. In the poem, he attempts no less than to offer an alternative version to the book of Genesis, built around the theme of “Man’s disobedience, and loss thereupon of Paradise.”

Spending considerable time and effort on developing the personal motivations behind Lucifer’s rebellion, Milton speaks concretely about things the Divine Comedy had only hinted at. Milton’s take on the character likewise wants autonomy, but this desire is made to seem all but pathological. “Better to reign in Hell,” this Lucifer famously speaks, “than to serve in Heaven.”

The Satan found in Paradise Lost became especially popular among western readers. Writing for The Atlantic, editor and literary critic Ed Simon proposed that this particular iteration had an “independent streak that appeals to the iconoclasm of some Americans.” His need for freedom, even if it would lead to chaos and suffering, perfectly matched the spirit of a developing capitalist economy.

Read the whole thing here.

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