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Paradise Lost - John Milton'S Satan; Hero Or Not?

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Throughout time, John Milton's Paradise Lost has been studied by many people and comprehended in many different fashions, developing all kinds of new interpretations of the great epic. There have been many different interpretations of this great epic. Milton's purpose in writing the epic was to explain the biblical story of Adam and Eve. Although the epic is similar to the Bible story in many ways, Milton's character structure differs from that of the Bible's version. All through out the epic Milton describes the characters in the way he believes they are. In book II of Paradise Lost, Milton portrays Satan as a rebel who exhibits certain heroic qualities, but who turns out not to be a hero.

Milton's introduction of Satan shows the reader how significant Satan is to Paradise Lost. He uses Satan's heroic qualities to his followers, and his ability to corrupt to show the thin line between good and evil. Satan was one of the highest angels in Heaven and was know as Lucifer, meaning, light bearer. This shows he was once a good angel. Milton makes the reader see him as a leader and a strong influence to all in his presence. He best describes Satan's ways when stating, "His pride/ had cast him out from Heaven, with all his host. / Of rebel angels, by whose aspiring/ To set himself in glory above his peers" (Milton Book I). Satan's pride was the main reason that God banned him from heaven. Satan always tried to be number one and a leader, instead of following in God's shadow. He would of lived a life in Paradise forever, but he had to follow his feelings as he states, "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven" (Milton 31). This shows how strongly he felt about not being above everybody else.

Milton uses many events like the ones listed above to encourage the reader to view Satan as a hero. "Satan is described to be the brightest and most important angel" (McColley 32). These traits of Satan show how one might recognize Satan as the second in power right below God, who was the highest power of all. Before Satan decides to give up what he has and to rebel against God, he was one of the wisest and most beautiful of all the angels in heaven (McColley 24). Although Satan was beautiful, the most important trait that makes him fit into the hero category is that he was the most powerful angel in heaven. This helps him greatly in his rebellion, because the other angels would look up to him.

Satan's rebellion leads us to another one of his most noticeable skills. This would be his ability to give speeches. With this ability, Satan is able to persuade others to follow him in his rebellion. When Satan says, "to govern, not to serve" he emphasizes liberty and encourages the other angels in heaven to all join him and his rebellion (Revard 216). Milton uses the whole rebellion scene, when put together with the battle in heaven, ends up being one-eighth of Paradise Lost, to show heroic qualities in Satan. Devoting this much time to a certain scene, Milton makes it clear how important Satan is in his eyes.

Satan gives many speeches throughout the epic. Although, the speeches are very long and thorough, they are also very persuasive at the same time. Satan was able to persuade "one-third of all the angels in heaven" to join with him in his rebellion (Emerson 399). Satan would give speeches, that would raise the attention of his followers and make them feel more confident in him.

To suffer, as to do, Our strength is equal; nor the law unjust That so ordains. This was at first resolved, If we were wise, against so great a foe Contending, and so doubtful what might fall. (Milton 68)

In this fraction of Satan's speech, Milton shows how skilled Satan is in his choice of words. Also, this shows why the others look up to Satan as their leader, as Hamilton says, "Satan is seen as a prince of Hell, as Well as commoner and matchless chief". (Milton 21) After gaining followers, Satan is ready for battle against God.

The most observable trait given to Satan is his excellence in battle. "In the forefront of the battle, where we expect him, is Milton's Satan, the great rebel of Paradise Lost" (Hamilton 7). Hamilton also introduces the idea of an underdog, describing Satan as a person fighting against an inferior power, with extreme odds against a victory for his side (14). In the scenes around the battle in heaven, Milton shows how Satan is viewed as a leader by the other fallen angels.

There are other speeches of war in the epic that arouse the reader. One of the most significant is after Satan has made a meeting in the new Capitol of Hell, Pandemonium. "To have built Heaven high towers; Nor did he scape By all his engines but was headlong sent With industrious crew to build in Hell" (Milton 55). Following the rapid building, all the fallen angels gather for their meeting asking shall it be war or peace. "Their rising all at one was as the sound Of thunder heard remote. Towards him they bend With awful reverence prone, and as a god" (Milton 79). When his followers cheer Satan on, the reader notices how much he likes the attention. This is another sign of how Milton shows the significant role that Satan's pride plays in his decisions. In many different encounters Satan lets his pride interfere with his actions. In doing this, Satan begins to worry only about himself and the opinions his followers hold of him. Satan continues with the speech saying, "Should we again provoke Our Stronger, some worse way his wrath may find To our destruction" (Milton 63).

This speech seems to be one of Satan's highest moments in the eyes of his followers. They are all willing to cooperate with Satan, and Satan loves being in charge of his followers. "Satan except, none higher sat, with grave Aspect he rose and in rising seemed a pillar of state" (Milton 72).

Now that Satan has reached the peek of his greatness, he must start to decline in his heroic ways. The first sign is after his speech,

I should be much for open war, O peers, As not behind in hate, if what was urged, Main reason to persuade immediate war, Did not dissuade me most, (Milton 64)




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