Satan As A Hero In John Milton's Paradise Lost

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Satan as a Hero
Satan is often depicted as the ultimate antagonist, the undisputed enemy of mankind, however John Milton tells a different story in Paradise Lost where Satan is not exactly the hero but not the villain either. While the story is ostensibly about the original sin and the fall of man, Milton focuses mostly on Satan and his role in the story, making him the protagonist. Reversing the traditional perspective of good and evil, Milton’s Satan possesses many of the characteristics of a hero; superhuman skill, guile, and a divine origin, but is motivated by selfish intentions, lacks any moral compass, and is prone to hubris. Satan can thus be classified as the tragic antihero of Paradise Lost.
In the opening lines of Paradise Lost
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Satan admits, “pride and worse ambition threw me down”; he is prone to hubris (4.40). God describes Satan to his Son, “so bent he [Satan] seems / On desperate revenge, that shall redound / Upon his own rebellious head” (3.84-86). Satan’s prideful disposition leads him to making brash decisions that worsen his position instead of advancing it. When he is calling the fallen to retake heaven, Satan declares, “More destroyed than thus / … What fear we then? What doubt we to incense / His utmost ire?” (2.92-95). He is so blinded by his feeling of betrayal at the situation, “his look denounced / Desperate revenge”, that he fails to recognize the grace God has had for him (2.106-107). Belial answers Satan, “What can we suffer worse? / … when we lay / Chained on the burning lake? That sure was worse”, but Satan cannot hear the voice of reason (2.163-169). As Moore later describes, “For never can true reconcilement grow / Where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep” (4.98-99). Satan, like many tragic heroes never grows past his flawed ways and ultimately succumbs to…show more content…
When Satan returns eight days later, he faces the penultimate challenge, corrupting man, but more significantly, he faces himself, “the Evil One abstracted stood / From his own evil, and for the time remained / Stupidly good, of enmity disarmed, / Of guile, of hate, of envy, of revenge” (9.463-466). For a moment, Satan is faced with a spark of goodness, but true to himself and his mission, evil prevails. Satan goes on to complete his quest, corrupting humanity, exacting his revenge on God, and returns to hell a hero. Upon his return, Sin greets Satan, “thy virtue hath one / What thy hands builded not, thy wisdom gained / With odds what war hath lost, and fully avenged / Our foil in Heav’n” (10.372-375). Satan fulfilled his destiny, but, alas, as any tragic hero, Satan was doomed to fail, “he stood, expecting / Their universal shout and high applause / To fill his ear, when contrary he hears / … A dismal universal hiss, the sound / Of public scorn” (10.504-509). His hubris blinded him to the consequences of his actions. It is difficult to conceive Satan as a hero in any context, but Milton achieves this. Paradise Lost demonstrates how significant our frame of reference is to our perception of who a hero and who is a villain. While the personification of evil may never be recognized as a hero in everyday life, many other individuals might be considered a hero, or at least not a monstrous villain, if we consider their side of the
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