One important way in which Milton develops a picture of Satan is through epic similes, lengthy and developed comparisons common to many epics. When Satan lies on the 'burning lake', Milton compares him to the Titans who waged war upon Jove in Roman mythology. Then, at greater length, he compares Satan to a Leviathan, or giant sea creature, so huge that sailors mistake it for an island and fix their anchor to it. In other epics, these sorts of similes establish the great size or strength of characters, and on the surface these similes seem to do the same thing. At the same time, however, these similes have an unsettling effect, for they remind us that we really do not know Satan's true size. No one knows how big the mythical Titans were, because they were defeated before the age of man. The image of a Leviathan confuses, too, for the Leviathan's size generates deception and confusion. Whatever Satan's true size, he is never again likened to such enormous objects. He assumes many shapes, and Milton compares him to numerous creatures, but the size of these creatures steadily diminishes, reflecting the steady diminishment of Satan's moral stature. The similes used to describe Satan also make us aware that we do not know the size of anything in Hell—not the burning lake, the hill, Pandemonium, or the fallen angels themselves.
Milton attempts to plant hellish images and pictures, to conjure up a vivid portrait of what the fallen angels are experiencing. He speaks of 'sulphuric hail' and 'livid flames', however this is only Milton's perception, as it is arguable as to whether hell exists at all, regardless of these precise details, and the fact that what he is describing is inexperiencable, detracts from its realism.
His use of paradox is a recurring theme thus far in the epic, Milton uses phrases such as 'darkness visible' and 'solid fire', which although appearing to be a direct contradiction, give added emphasis to the macabre, alien and exotic ambience in hell. Whether hell for the fallen angels is a physical reality, or rather a state of mind is also controversial.
The sexual characteristics applied to Lucifer are intruiging, and alien to the reader. Milton speaks of his 'frozen loins', which is somewhat paradoxical, inferring he is the father of sin and mortality. The dramatisation of this occurs in sexual terms, with reference made to Lucifer's 'promiscuous crowd', engaging in 'wanton rites', and partaking in 'lustful orgies.' The ability of the devils to change gender is also a foreign concept to the reader, as they can 'either sex assume', an ability which they use to seduce and corrupt. Milton refers to numerous exotic and remote places for the reader, such as 'Abarim' and 'Hesebon', and this contributes to the remote and distant picture of hell that he seeks to paint.
The poem's realism is that of a myth, and its credibility dependent on the outlines of Christian belief, rather than specific historical details. The entire concern or major theme of Paradise Lost is to refute predestination and justify the freedom of will. However Satan is portrayed as an almost romantic, recognizable character with whom we have shared every twist and turn his thinking takes throughout his physical and mental journey thus far. Satan can easily be perceived as the bold colonist, not lacking the courage of his convictions, be it at the expense of being exiled from the realms of heaven. With the strength of classical precedents, the introduction to Paradise Lost refracts a seemingly incomprehensible description of fantastic proportions, utilising allusive language, epic similies, literary devices such as paradox, emotive language and vivid descriptions to apparantly describe the indescribable, be it the message of god, or the extent of torment in the vaults of hell.