The identity of the true protagonist in Paradise Lost is a mystery. One would gather that Milton, a Puritan, would have no problem casting God as the hero, and Satan as the antagonist. However, looking back in history, Milton saw that most epic heroes had conflicts that prevented them from accomplishing their goals. God and his Son have no conflict, and Adam’s story does not really begin until the Fall of Man. Therefore, Milton was forced to select Satan as the hero of Paradise Lost because he adheres to the guidelines of epic poetry set by Homer, Virgil and others. There are many examples of how Milton uses and edits the tradition of these previous epics in the formation of the Devil as a hero. One of the most basic examples of heroism in epic poetry is the exhortation of the leader to his followers. In The Odyssey, Homer lets Odysseus give a speech that would convince anyone they could survive the journey to the Strait of Messina, "Then we die with our eyes open, if we are going to die, or know what death we baffle if we can. (Ln.1243-1245)" After passing the Sirens, the ship approaches the Strait, and the crew sees the twin terrors of Scylla and Charybdis, they are mortified. Odysseus again lifts their spirits with this speech, "Friends, have we ever been in danger before this? More fearsome, is it now, than when the Cyclops penned us in his cave? What power he had! Did I not keep my nerve, and use my wits to find a way out for us? … Heads up, lads! We must now obey orders as I give them. (1294-1302)" Odysseus shows the true ability of a hero to lead in the face of adversity. Of course, Odysseus had the assurance that he would survive the journey although his crew would not, but that does not stop Odysseus from leading them. Milton utilizes the same device in the opening scenes of Paradise Lost. After suffering a major defeat at the hands of the Almighty and his angels, Satan awakens in a lake of fire. He first speaks to Beelzebub, his second in command, telling him, "All is not lost, the unconquerable Will, and study of revenge, immortal hate, and courage never to submit or yield: and what else is not to be overcome?… Since by Fate the strength of Gods and Empyreal substance cannot fail, Since though experience of this great event in Arms not worse, in foresight much advance’s, We may with more success...
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...nowing (Satan is just hunk of mass with no free will) and that Satan is our epic hero (Satan is head the rebel angels). Satan also loses because of the fact that due to his trickery he would be a snake forever, and that The Son was going to come down to earth and die to save Adam & Eve, so that Satan’s action would be eliminated. Break down Paradise Lost to it bare essentials, removing all religious overtones, and all that remains is an epic poem. The hero of this poem is a man named Satan who is banished for challenging the leadership of the clan. This man Satan makes a vow to destroy or corrupt anything created by the clan. This Satan was resourceful, making the best of what he had, very little, and accomplishing his goal. Satan may just be the nonconformist who could not abide by what was considered normal. In any case, one must show their admiration for Satan in his unwillingness to serve in Heaven, and then in the way he accepted his resulting role in Hell.
MacCaffrey, Isabel. "Satan’s Voyage". Modern Critical Views: John Milton . Bloom, Harold, ed. Chelsea House Publishers: New York, 1986.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Signet Classic: New York, 1982.
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