The great debate whether Satan is the hero of Milton’s Epic Poem, Paradise Lost, has been speculated for hundreds of years. Milton, a writer devoted to theology and the appraisal of God, may not have intended for his portrayal of Satan to be marked as heroic. Yet, this argument is valid and shares just how remarkable the study of literature can be. Milton wrote his tale of the fall of man in the 1674. His masterpiece is an example of how ideas of a society change with time. This is because it wasn’t until the 1800’s during the Romantic era, that people no longer saw the hero of literary works as perfect in every way. It started to become more popular to develop the flawed character similar to the ones written in the classics. A literary criterion that is based on a protagonist, who undergoes conflict on the outside and from within and is prevented by a specific flaw to accomplish their main goal, creates an epic Hero. In Paradise Lost, God does not face conflict because he is perfect and all-knowing, and Adam’s conflict is not presented from the very start, Satan’s is. Because Satan is the main character of the work and possesses qualities that would deem him heroic, such as his determination against tough odds, his ability to lead, and his human-like nature to error, he can be seen has the Hero of the famous poem.
Hero can be distinct as an individual who is accepted or idealized for bravery, exceptional accomplishment, or dignified traits. On the other hand, Satan is known as the leader of all wickedness. With these descriptions in mind, one can determine that John Milton’s character, Satan, in Paradise Lost, is in fact the epic’s hero. Although non-traditional, one can determine that Satan is the epic hero because of textual evidence found in all twelve books of Paradise Lost. The implications implied throughout the twelve books of Paradise Lost entail Satan as the hero because of the information Milton provides to the reader about Satan’s actions and results thereof.
Since Paradise Lost is an epic, the reader is instinctively drawn to the search of deeds typical of a heroic figure that could be either legendary or based on real historic personages. However, Milton displays several characters that could perform that role, as all of them prove their heroic courage by accomplishing deeds of great valour. Satan is portrayed as a rebellious lord displaying energy and drive. That contrasts with the fact that he is the enemy of God and mankind, as his name in Hebrew indicates; ‘adversary’ (Loewenstein, 1993, p.58). In turn, God’s Son is the expected hero, responding to the admirable quality of classical heroes (Bradford, 2001, p.98), who redeems the world God had created from sin and sacrifices himself for mankind. Similarly, Adam and Eve heroically face the struggle of living in a fallen world infested by sin.
As a period rift with anxiety over changes in faith and the subsequent loss of it, political climate of the time permeates in Milton's writings. Even though Satan is residing in hell, he is free to not worship God. Satan's mind is not only unconquerable and unconditionally opposed to God, but he also influences other minds to use their free will to oppose the will of God. This concurs with my claim that Satan's sinful acts are intentional, God's other creations, Adam and Eve made a mistake but they are repentant, whereas Satan's actions are calculated and meaningful. He is an eloquent orator; his power of persuasion is compelling. The two major events in the poem would never take place if not for his forceful sermons, he persuades the angels to rebel against God and he tempts Eve to eat the fruit. One leads to the damnation of all the angels who follow into his footsteps and the other leads the whole human race astray. Therefore evil is not an essential attribute, something existing in itself. It is not independent and exclusive from that which is good. Evil is rather something chosen, acting through free will in conscious opposition to God's
John Milton divided the characters in his epic poem Paradise Lost into two sides, one side under God representing good, and the other side under Satan representing evil and sin. Milton first introduced the reader to the character Satan, the representative of all evil, and his allegiance of fallen angels that aided in his revolt against God (Milton 35). Only later did Milton introduce the reader to all powerful God, leader and creator of all mankind (John). This introduction of Satan first led the reader to believe acts of sin were good, just like Eve felt in the Garden of Eden when she was enticed by Satan to eat the fruit off of the Tree of Knowledge (Milton 255). The later introduction of The Almighty had the readers change their feelings towards sin, as the ways of God were introduced to them and these ways were shown to be the way to feel and believe. This levy of good vs. evil carried on throughout the poem with the interaction of Satan and his fallen angels with God and his son in Heaven.
Critics of the Romantic Period have claimed that John Milton was unconsciously allied with the forces of evil. In Paradise Lost Milton’s accounts of “Devils & Hell” are much more elaborate and awe inspiring than those of “Angels & God.” Hell and Satan are portrayed extensively whereas the reader is given brief and inconclusive glimpses of Heaven. The apparent dichotomy is explained by William Blake: “The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & Gods, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s Party without knowing it.”
Readers of John Milton’s Paradise Lost generally have early preconceptions of Satan’s character that differ from their final judgement. The consensus is that Satan has either become more evil or readers gradually realize that they have been ensnared by Satan’s honey-coated words. However, has he truly become more evil as many say? Milton takes advantage of his readers’ preconceptions about Satan’s character by developing an unexpectedly charismatic, admirable and wholly relatable character; Milton’s Satan is nothing like the bedside story, ram horned and prong tailed, blotched red devil in popular culture. As “a living, thinking being, who plots and contrives, and hates and suffers” (Preston, 710), the sly devil languidly lures his readers
In order to support John Milton’s characterization in Paradise Lost of Satan as a fallen angel “Stirred up with envy and revenge…” but also “…racked with deep despair,” Gustave Doré’s Satan is Wounded portrays Satan in his weakest state and illuminates Satan’s facial features to show his despair and how it fuels his wrath (1.35,126). When scrutinizing Satan’s facial features in Doré’s portrait, the emotions of despair, disbelief, and rage are clearly shown in his expression, supporting Milton’s claim that, “…the thought/Both of lost happiness and lasting pain/Torments [Satan],” and he allows his despair over those losses to fuel his hatred (1.55-56). Doré’s depiction of Satan’s face shows the fallen angel with furrowed brows, a crestfallen frown, and an aghast yet enraged expression. This depiction of Satan clearly shows that although he is wracked with disbelief and despair at being hurled from Heaven, Satan also exhibits
The exploration of Satan's character, in addition to his own twists on the original story of Genesis make Paradise Lost an ingenious work of creativity and intellectual fortitude. It would seem folly that one of the greatest pieces of the English literary canon has been referred to as "a monument to dead ideas," a mere reflection of times and themes which no longer exist. However, considering the secularization of the age, the emphasis on heresy and irreligiousness seem to have become the prerequisites of intellectual virtue. While transcending dogma and doctrine in order to embrace all art is something a true aesthete must do, to go so far as to declare Milton's Paradise Lost outmoded and irrelevant can be nothing short of outrageous and irreverent. The method, form, and lyrical intensity of the poem are what entered it into the canon initially, and are what will preserve it there, in its proper place, for all time-after all, it was conceived in and takes place in Eternity-or so Milton claimed. In the modern day, in the company of those who regard the Bible and its contents as no more than legend, religious propaganda, or literature, Paradise Lost sits well and holds its own as a great piece of literature should, for as Milton himself wrote in "Areopagitica,"
Milton uses this deceptive notion of the truth in Paradise Lost in order to construct a theory of morality that is based upon the individual doing the action rather than the action itself. With the character of Satan, Milton offers many instances of deception, only one of which is the temptation of Eve by Satan. Many of the events in the poem to show how easily we are deceived. Eve's temptation of Adam is only one example. Her ulterior motive of having Adam eat the fruit, and thus die, so that he would never be with another woman, is questionable at best. Yet her attempt at deception fails, since Adam takes the apple for different reasons. This example suggests that deception, no matter to what end, is immoral. The many examples of Satan's deception not working adds to this idea. Like Dr. Evans says, Satan turns into a serpent for the sole purpose of it being discreet. Yet the fact that he turns into a talking serpent is precisely the thing that grabs Eve's attention and would have foiled Satan's plans if it were not for what Dr. Evans called Satan's improvisational work. Throughout the book, Satan's "infernal logic," as we call it in section, appears in his speeches. Two examples are, "The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven" (Milton 240) and, "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven" (Milton 240). As Dr. Evans said, Milton is taking the position of a moral extremist. He is saying that evil beings can only do evil things; conversely, good people can only do good things. Morality, then, is shaped by the individuals doing the action rather than a coherent philosophical ideology.