Milton's Serpent and the Birth of Pagan Error

The allusions surrounding the serpent in Paradise Lost foreshadow certain classical values that were denounced by Christian apologists such as Lactantius. The serpent tempts Eve to self-deification, while allusions to Roman tradition presage a pagan view of heroism and divine wrath. The acrostic spelling Satan's name, imitating that of Mars in the Aeneid, is headed by the name Scipio, whose martial exploits Lactantius deplored. Thus Milton appropriates the rhetoric directed by the early church against imperial Rome, deepening the historical dimension of an epic vitally concerned with cultural origins.