Envy in ‘Paradise Lost’

In Paradise Lost, Satan’s ambition was fueled by envy, not jealousy. There is a great difference between the two. Jealousy is the desire to have or get something someone else has that is better, while envy seeks to destroy that which is better than it, not to acquire it. Envy is far more evil than jealousy, and it was the primary motivation for Satan’s deeds.

In Paradise Lost Satan called together a council of other powerful devils to try to determine their next course of action after being thrown out of heaven. Some believed that they should bide their time, others believed they should engage in a suicidal battle with God and his angels. Still others said that they should become totally autonomous from the kingdom of God, and begin a new kingdom of their own. All of these suggestions were rejected in favor of a final one by the devil Beelzebub. He stated that they should try to hurt God by destroying his most beloved creation, man. They would achieve this by causing mankind to rebel against God for the same reason that Satan rebelled against God. This strategy was centered on envy. It was not the reclaiming of God’s kingdom, or the institution of a new kingdom, but the destruction of God’s most beloved creation.

Jealousy is bad, but envy is a far greater evil. Those who are jealous want to improve their own condition. They see the benefits of others and have a desire to achieve those things for themselves. This jealousy can fuel great ambition, which can lead to great things. However, envy does not seek to gain that which it does not have. It seeks to destroy the goods of others, and fuels hatred rather than ambition. Jealousy can be a constructive force, inciting men to better themselves, but Envy is a solely destructive force that may even go against self-interest. Satan was envious of God, because he knew he would be unable to defeat him, or gain that which he desired.

Satan did not have the ability to defeat God, but he did have the ability to destroy some of His most beloved creation. If Satan had attempted to make his kingdom autonomous, as was suggested by one of the other devils, then he would have been succumbing to envy. However, he sought instead to cause God pain by destroying what He loved. Envy was Satan’s motivating force in Paradise Lost, not jealousy.

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