An epic hero is a brave and noble character in an epic poem. Multiple arguments can be made on whether or not Satan is the true epic hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost. There are readers who think that Satan is the true hero purely based off of the first two chapters of this epic poem. In these first two chapters, Milton portrays Satan as a heroic figure, which possibly could have mislead readers into thinking that Satan is truly good and an epic hero since Satan is technically still an archangel at this point of the poem. Readers later learn that Satan is not the true hero of the poem as they read further and further into the poem. The previously held honor and respect Satan had is lost by the end of Paradise Lost because his pride and hatred towards God and his creation control his actions throughout the book. It can clearly be stated that Satan is not the true hero in Paradise Lost based off of Milton’s intentions for this epic poem and by the steady deterioration of Satan’s characters as the poem progresses.
In the first two books of Paradise Lost, Satan is portrayed as the hero in this epic poem. He is described with striking qualities in both mind and heart, setting him apart from the rest of the characters in this poem. Milton describes with such great stature. Satan is described as selfless, noble, and superior in his leadership skills and is pictured to stand as high as a tower carrying a massive shield. As defined earlier, an epic hero is generally a brave and noble leader and warrior. Therefore, some readers conclude that Satan is the true hero based off of what Milton was describing about Satan’s role in a position of authority and stance. After Satan falls, he gathers all of the other fallen angels in Hell. He stirs them up with an exceptional speech. He acts as a true leader by speaking of their shame in falling from Heaven, but he goes on by urging them to gather and fight back. If once they hear that voice, (their liveliest pledge of hope in fears and dangers) they will soon resume new courage and revive (Milton, 1.274-279). Satan’s voice and its effect is mentioned and described multiple times throughout this epic, but this, specifically, is the first description of how his voice affected the angels. In this moment, Milton describes Satan’s voice and how Satan was able to renew the hope and the courage of the fallen angels simply by the actual sound of his voice. Satan continues to urge on his men. And this empyreal substance cannot fail, since through experience of this great event in arms not worse…We may with more successful hope resolve to wage by force or guile eternal war Irreconcilable (Milton, 1.117-122). He convinces his men, and possibly himself, that if they rise up stronger and united in battle, they may win next time.
Throughout this speech, he connects with the fallen angels through the humility they share from falling from Heaven, which forms a more personal connection with his men and makes him seem more relatable, and he lifts up their spirits with the hope of being the victors in the upcoming battles. After reading his speech, a reader could conclude that Satan is a true hero based off of how he has acted towards his men. He acted as a true leader by calming their fears and despair and by encouraging his men to unite and to not lose hope. Immediately after Satan gives his speech, he opens the floor to others. Many of the fallen angels express their ideas and opinions, but the advice of Beelzebub strikes a significant amount of support from the rest. Beelzebub suggests that they seek revenge by corrupting the new loved race. Before acting on this plan, they needed to send a scout to learn more about the new world, and Satan, in attempts to paint himself as a hero and liberator in their eyes, volunteers to go. By volunteering himself, he gains more respect, trust, and admiration for his bravery.
This epic poem starts off painting Satan as a prominent leader and epic hero, but slowly shows how Satan is not the true hero of the poem. After analyzing Satan’s heroic qualities, he does not perform any heroic actions, except in his speeches. Though his speeches are impressive on the outside, they are misleading, filled with exaggeration and lies. After truly reading and understanding what Milton was writing, Satan’s first speech is actually terrifying and horrific. Filled with empty words, Satan’s egotistical pride and arrogance shine through. Satan is not an epic hero, but he makes himself out to be one. From hero to general, from general to politicians, from politician to secret service agent, and thence to a thing that peers in at bedroom or bathroom window, and thence to a toad, and finally to a snake-such is the progress of Satan. (C. S. Lewis). Immediately after falling from Heaven, he assumes the position of leader. He encourages the other fallen angels to not dwell on their lose and humility, but to rise up and fight. Satan’s arrogance is so great and blinding in this moment for he believes he can overpower God and His army of angels. At this point he is simply a fallen archangel. When Satan is trying to find paradise, he turns into a cherub, which is a low-ranking angel, to deceive archangel Uriel. He approaches the archangel and lies effortlessly. His speech was done so perfectly that Uriel could not see through the ruse and he gives Satan the directions gladly. When Satan finds God’s beloved creations, he grows angry and jealous. Going through with his plan to ruin God’s race, he turns himself into a toad and whispers into Eve’s ear. Milton describes Satan as the Devil for the first time in the poem proving that he is actually the personification of Hell. The poem advances, and Satan returns to finish his missions after failing the first time. This time, Satan transforms into a serpent and approaches Eve. Look on me! Me who have touched and tasted yet both live and life more perfect have attained than fate meant me, by vent’ring higher than my Lot (Milton, 9.687-690). Eve easily is manipulated because he used his eloquent speaking to make sinning seem irresistible and appealing. In the end, Satan is punished for his sins and is condemned to a life as a serpent, along with all the other fallen angels. Because of Satan’s rage, arrogance, pride, and jealousy, all mankind has had to suffer. In succeeding to manipulate Eve to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree, Adam and Eve were exiled from paradise, and Sin and Death were released from Hell into Earth. If Satan had not been so prideful and jealous, mankind would have been better for it. Because Satan expresses a wide range of human emotions and characteristics throughout the book, one can see the changes in his character going from a prideful and mischievous fallen angel to an angry and deceitful devil.
Even though Milton paints Satan as the hero and liberator to the fallen angels, Satan is not the hero of Paradise Lost. Satan is undoubtedly a character of great prominence, but he is not a hero. Milton mercilessly reveals Satan as a prideful, egotistical, vengeful devil, but some readers get stuck in the superficial heroisms of Satan. We need not doubt that it was the poet’s intention to be fair to evil, to give it a run for its money—::to show it first at the height, with all its rants and melodrama and ?Godlike imitated state’ about it, and then to trace what actually becomes of such self-intoxication when it encounters reality. (C. S. Lewis). Lewis captures exactly what Milton was doing with Satan’s character in Paradise Lost. When reading this epic poem, one should keep in mind that Milton was a Puritan. Anything flashy, extravagant, and flamboyant was seen as evil in the eyes of the Puritans. One can infer after reading this poem, Milton was writing through the views of a Puritan. Milton describes Satan so lavishly that it is clear that he is not the hero of the poem, but is the devil filled with malicious intents. The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it. (Blake). William Blake is suggesting that in Paradise Lost Satan is the embodiment of deception and desire. Any reader can conclude that Milton goes into immense detail about Satan’s character, in such a way that it cannot be compared to the rest of the characters in the epic. A question is posed on how Satan can be portrayed as such a grand character of Milton’s poem. That is, as C. S. Lewis also says, because Satan is incomparably the easiest to draw. To make a character worse than oneself it is only necessary to release imaginatively from control some of the bad passions which, in real life, are always straining at the leash;… (C.S.Lewis). Lewis is saying that to make a character worse than oneself, he or she has to take the worst personal qualities he or she keeps hidden and under control and to release all of it into that character. Milton used his own worst qualities and portrayed them into Satan’s character resulting in the most impressive character in this epic poem. As C. S. Lewis so perfectly put it, The Satan in Milton enables him to draw the character well just as the Satan is un enables us to receive it. Milton is described as a fallen man, which in many ways is similar to a fallen angel. For one who has many dark secret, he can create the worst kind of characters. It can be inferred that Milton was a part of the devil’s party. It is therefore right to say that Milton has put much of himself into Satan (C.S.Lewis). With all these things having been considered, it can be concluded that a reason for such in-depth descriptions could be that Milton was portraying parts of himself in Satan. Milton wrote Satan’s character in great detail to show the extent of Satan’s wickedness. He uses Satan’s beautiful speeches, but then reveals Satan’s true intentions; he presents Satan in such an exposing way to gain pity and sympathy; and then he later shows how through these things he is able to trick his readers into sympathizing with Satan. By doing these things, Milton was showing the steady deterioration of Satan.
Satan can not be the hero of this epic. Even though there are some who believe he is the true hero, they have been mislead by Milton’s writing and did not understand the true meaning of Milton’s work. Though it is true that Satan is a prominent figure, this does not mean he is the hero of the poem. He is a prominent figure in the poem in order to show how Satan is able to deceive and manipulate people. Satan took advantage of the fallen angels by using their despair to get what he wants most. Driven by his pride and arrogance, he was determined to bring all doom to God’s new beloved creation. By his own will he becomes a serpent in Book IX; in Book X he is a serpent whether he will or no. (C. S. Lewis). From being an archangel to being a serpent against his own will, Satan can not be categorized as a hero. A hero does not drive to ruin God’s work because he is jealous and too prideful. Therefore, Satan is not the hero of Paradise Lost.
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