This class will approach the long and lively literary tradition in which Satan figures as both spiritual antagonist and co-conspirator. During the term, we’ll track the figure of Satan in the Western literary tradition, from Genesis to Karl Ove Knausgaard—with substantial time dedicated to discussions of Milton’s epic poem about the Fall, Paradise Lost. We’ll begin with some of the world’s oldest texts containing the story of Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve; these scriptural and apocryphal works span the Judeo-Christian, Islamic, Gnostic, and Manichean traditions. The remainder of the semester will provide you with opportunities to read some of the English canon’s most powerful responses to these originary stories about humankind’s Fall from divine grace. Our exploration of the figure of Satan in British and American literature will culminate with discussions of several works in English translation from the Russian, Turkish, and Norwegian.
We’ll discuss the implication of the reimagined Satan’s role as an avatar or mouthpiece for the religious, sexual, political, or racial anxieties of his specific historical epoch. In the process, we’ll ask how Satan—as archetype and personae—contributes to each of these literary meditations about human shortcoming, erotic longing, the quest for knowledge, and unbridled ambition. Whether as arch-enemy, Vice figure, Machiavellian villain, tragic hero, romantic idealist, intellectual skeptic, or as a facet of oneself, Satan—reimagined in two millennia of works—embodies the qualities that strike us foremost as distinctly humane.