This class will explore the long and lively literary and artistic 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 world, from Genesis to Roman Polanski’s films—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 and Islamic traditions. The remainder of the semester will provide you with opportunities to read some of the most powerful responses to these stories about humankind’s Fall from divine grace—with a focus on authors and artists from England, America, and Russia. 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 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 visual art, literature, and culture—embodies the qualities that strike us foremost as distinctly humane.
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