Event Title

Satan and Ahab: Milton's Influence on Melville's Greatest Work

Session Title

Religion and Philosophy

Document Type

Oral Presentation

Faculty Mentor

Matthew Fike, Ph.D.

College

College of Arts and Sciences

Department

Department of English

Description

Herman Melville’s annotations of Paradise Lost reveal an underlying theme that Ahab shares with Satan – a tendency to tie their misfortunes to the concept of fate. Whereas John Parke and Robin Sandra Grey deal with the theme of Providence and Satan/Ahab as tragic figures, the present essay develops the theme of Providence and examines Satan’s attempt to place blame on God with Ahab’s consistent anger at the universe. Not only did Milton inspire Melville’s character, but Melville also applied Milton’s idea of predestination to Ahab’s mistaken belief that fate is the same as Providence. Many of the lines Melville comments on in his volumes of Paradise Lost are reflected in Moby Dick through major symbols connected to Captain Ahab, such as his lightning-shaped scar and its similarity to Satan’s scars from the battle in Heaven. Ahab’s journey from the loss of his leg to the sinking of the Pequod parallels Satan’s role in his own demise – by corrupting the garden, he brings about his own transformation into a snake and ultimately Christ’s mission to redeem mankind. In the end, Ahab refuses to acknowledge his own failures, and arrogance leads him to fall into the depths of the sea in much the same way as Satan falls from Heaven. Ahab’s error in judgment is to confuse fate with Providence, which suggests that Melville shares Milton’s theological beliefs and explains the allusions to Paradise Lost throughout his novel.

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Apr 24th, 12:00 AM

Satan and Ahab: Milton's Influence on Melville's Greatest Work

Herman Melville’s annotations of Paradise Lost reveal an underlying theme that Ahab shares with Satan – a tendency to tie their misfortunes to the concept of fate. Whereas John Parke and Robin Sandra Grey deal with the theme of Providence and Satan/Ahab as tragic figures, the present essay develops the theme of Providence and examines Satan’s attempt to place blame on God with Ahab’s consistent anger at the universe. Not only did Milton inspire Melville’s character, but Melville also applied Milton’s idea of predestination to Ahab’s mistaken belief that fate is the same as Providence. Many of the lines Melville comments on in his volumes of Paradise Lost are reflected in Moby Dick through major symbols connected to Captain Ahab, such as his lightning-shaped scar and its similarity to Satan’s scars from the battle in Heaven. Ahab’s journey from the loss of his leg to the sinking of the Pequod parallels Satan’s role in his own demise – by corrupting the garden, he brings about his own transformation into a snake and ultimately Christ’s mission to redeem mankind. In the end, Ahab refuses to acknowledge his own failures, and arrogance leads him to fall into the depths of the sea in much the same way as Satan falls from Heaven. Ahab’s error in judgment is to confuse fate with Providence, which suggests that Melville shares Milton’s theological beliefs and explains the allusions to Paradise Lost throughout his novel.