The thesis of this paper is to search for evidence in book I of John Milton’s Paradise Lost that proves that Milton made Satan a more attractive and sympathetic character, and to answer whether we can consider the Devil as a fallen hero, as Milton apparently depicts him. If we are to consider the possibility that Satan is hero in Milton’s Paradise Lost, then we must also consider his own politics too. According to William Hazlitt, Satan is “the most heroic subject ever chosen in a poem” (Hazlitt 107) of course he is referring to Milton’s poem. Milton starts to refer to the monarchy and throne of God” (Milton I. 42) from the very of the beginning. Milton’s beliefs are revealed from the fact that he describes God in his poem using the word “monarchy.” Milton was never a fan of monarchy, in fact, he intensely opposed it. Milton’s intention and perception for the rest of his poem can be deduced from the fact that he refers to God’s rule using the term “monarchy.”
It can be deduced that Lucifer is the protagonist of the story because of the authenticity and complexity of his highly dissenting character. This can be easily observed if the difference between Milton’s descriptions of Satan and God are compared. Milton describes God as an omnipotent and omniscient being, in a rather monochromatic manner. To emphasize this idea, Gen Ohinata says that it is Satan’s misery that makes him more appealing (Ohinata), even more appealing than God. Throughout the story, especially in book I, it does not seem that Milton has revering views about God. For instance, he refers to God’s throne “upheld by old repute” (Milton I. 639) and “the tyranny of Heav’n” (Milton I. 124). If readers for a second disregard the biblical implications while reading Milton’s Paradise Lost, they cannot help but see Lucifer as the unfortunate hero of the story who was oppressed by tyranny.
In book I of Paradise Lost, Milton introduces an unexpectedly new notion of Satan, and perhaps that is why his account is regarded as so influential in English Literature. It has been noted that Milton’s Paradise Lost is a story in which he tries to “[justify] God’s way to man” (Milton XVI). It is obvious that Milton is defending “God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil” (“merriam-webster.com”), which makes his poem more of a theodicy. However, despite his stated purpose for writing the poem, Milton portrays the beauty and the more humane side of Satan’s character as he writes his story in book I. Right from the beginning of the poem, Milton shows the readers the heroic traits of Satan as he describes the fall of the rebellious archangel, and portrays the character of Lucifer in its full angelic form. The fact remains, Lucifer was once God’s highest, most beautiful and trusted archangel, and readers cannot help but admire his magnificence as described by Milton.
Milton’s Paradise Lost is indeed an epic poem, and a well informed reader will know what to expect from an epic poem. When reading an epic poem, the attention of the readers is always centered on the hero, and in the book I of Paradise Lost, Satan has been placed at the very core the readers’ imaginations and right in front of them. Moreover, the character of Satan portrayed by Milton in the poem can be compared to other heroes of the classic epics. As Neil Foster in The Satanic Epic writes that Satan “is a variant of Achilles He is Odysseus and Jason ” (30). The character of Satan that Milton portrays also contains elements of a classical tragic hero. Satan has no self-knowledge; he is unable to recognize his own limitations. Satan is arrogantly proud and self-confident, which is characterized as hubris, one of the six key traits of a tragic hero.
Milton again makes Satan seem heroic in lines 600-612 in book I, where describes the “Millions of spirits” who followed him with utter devotion and faith. Milton represents the anguish and struggle that Lucifer suffered while defending his beliefs and followers through the “Deep scars” that he mentions are “on his faded cheek.” Here it must be noted that Satan’s face depicts the feeling of revenge he holds within his heart. At this point Satan is both revengeful and remorseful because his only desire is to overturn God but he feels sympathy towards the fallen angels fighting by his side. Again if readers disregard biblical connotations, while examining the description of Lucifer’s face, they will admire his courage for opposing God, even though he barely stands a chance of succeeding. By demonstrating “a fixed mind and an unconquerable will” (Steadman 291), Lucifer again outshines as a heroic character, and the readers are reminded that his rebellion was for the greater good.
It can be further argued that Lucifer is indeed the hero of Milton’s epic poem because of how strongly he depicts him. In fact, it seems Milton had intended to characterize Satan as a hero. It has been argued that Satan deserves the status of a tragic hero. If not a hero, then he is at least “a parody of the epic hero” (Forsyth 30), and even then readers cannot help but admire him. If not a hero at all, if readers even regard Milton’s Paradise Lost as an anti-epic and that would make Satan the anti-hero. In Greek tradition, the anti-hero always had a tragic flaw in his character that would lead to the hero’s downfall. Satan’s ultimate fatal flaw that leads to his downfall is that he is unable to recognize that he is a sinner and he does not accept the forgiveness that God readily offers him. However, in whatever way readers consider Milton’s poem, they cannot ignore the heroic nature of Satan’s character as portrayed by Milton.
In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, William Blake writes about Milton that he “a true Poet, and of the Devil’s party without knowing it” (Blake and Keynes). So, maybe we can assume that Milton did not intend on having Satan, the Devil, as the hero of his story. Maybe Milton intended to destroy Satan’s character; perhaps it is his failure that led to portraying Lucifer in a heroic light. Eustace Tillyard presents a more moderate perspective as he points out Milton’s deliberate and unwitting intentions of portraying Satan as the hero. According to him, Milton indeed intentionally wanted his Satan to be a personification of unbridled passions. He wanted readers to despise him and inspire horror, and in turn, make them sympathize with him (Tillyard 193). Milton intended Satan to become an incarnation of the ill passions that entered into mankind at the fall, so that his readers could feel the same sympathy for him that they feel for their own souls.
In conclusion, above all the evidence presented, it is the non transparent nature of Satan’s character, which is not exhibited by any of the other characters, which proves that Lucifer is the hero in book I of Paradise Lost. Milton’s depicts God, Adam and Eve leading extremely simple existences. However, Satan’s deceptive behavior and nature can be referred to as “art de vivre.” John Carey agrees that the character has far more “depth” than the others. The way Milton has presented his Satan, readers cannot help but feel admiration and sympathy for him. As Rostrevor Hamilton states, it is because Satan is “ultimately real, while the inhabitants of Heaven are remote and strange” (Hamilton 39) that he is admired as an unlikely hero.
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