Paradise Lost is an epic 17th Century poem by John Milton. The poem that consists of more than ten thousand lines that tell the story of man's removal from Eden. It also narrates about Satan's fall from heaven and his rebellion. Therefore, it is a religious poem about Satan's rebellion, the temptation of Adam and Eve, the fall of man, and the desire for redemption. Milton's Paradise Lost has two narrative parts, one about Adam and Eve and the other about Satan or Lucifer. The poem begins with the story of Satan and the other angels who rebelled against God. It states how they were defeated and sent to hell or as Milton writes it "Tartarus." Milton was inspired to write the religious poem by his worldview that was advanced by the political struggles of his time. Milton was a dedicated Republican who strongly abhorred dictatorial rule. Milton became well-known in Europe for his protest against the radical regime in England. Paradise Lost was a reflection of the kind of rule Milton detested and the kind of moral society he advocated. People criticize the poem in different ways regarding Satan heroism in Paradise Lost. In the poem, Satan embodies the aesthetics and virtues that describe the ideal hero. However, critics argue that Satan's heroism is false because of his struggle to fight God. Hence, there has been heated debates on the contentious question on who is the hero in Milton's Paradise Lost. While earlier critics suggested that Satan's heroism went against the Christian norms, modern critics suggest Paradise Lost is a work of Satanism, but Milton intended for Satan to come out as the hero in Paradise Lost.
The Debate Over Satan's Heroism in Paradise Lost
A lot of debates has led the discussion around the question of who is the hero in Paradise Lost. Critics such as Thomas Arnold suggest that Satan is the hero because a considerable part of the poem is all about Satan and his actions. Adam and Eve are only introduced in the fourth part of the poem, which is the fourth book. Indeed the book does center of Satan a lot, and even after Adam and Eve are introduced, he still plays a major role. The story of Adam and Eve is told while referring back to Satan. In the first two books of the poem, Satan is depicted as a glorious figure, endowed with qualities that raise him above an almost equal level as that of God. Although it does not represent the kind of power God has, the qualities Milton bestows on him are higher than that of the other figures in the poem. A hero has always been depicted as a brave and selfless leader in any writings, either fictional or non-fictional. Satan in Paradise Lost is brought out as selfless as he takes on the responsibilities accorded to him. Although he defies and fights God, his leadership qualities are clearly out of pure selflessness. Satan's defiance is due to a need to be free of the rule of God, which he sees as dictatorial. Hence, to overcome God's tyrant rule, Satan sets out to fight for himself and the other angels. It is a true mark of a leader, one who fights for the rights and liberty of others. Many literary works have focused on making the hero a great leader and warrior. Satan in Paradise Lost fulfills these qualities. Thus, it is evident that he is the hero in the poem.
Contradictions and Controversies Surrounding Satan's Heroism
Religious literary works such as that in Paradise Lost can be contradicting and controversial. Satan's heroism in Paradise Lost has faced many contradictions from early and modern critics. According to Stedman, the problem in Milton's depiction of Satan as the hero is made difficult by the ambiguous terminology of a hero (254). The term represents different meanings for a Christian theologian and a Homeric critic. The definition of a hero may also be different from a cultural anthropologist and a person cultivated on watching films. While a Christian theologian's meaning of a hero is a person, who has selfless qualities such as patience, a Homeric critic's definition of a hero is a warrior. Hence, modernists analyzing Paradise Lost often regard it as "Satanist" (Stedman 254). Their understanding is based on the idea of the Homeric epic perception of a hero as a self-derived and morally upright character. Satan is Paradise Lost is the opposite of the Homeric type of hero because he disguises himself and lies to man. Accordingly, the qualities Satan exhibits are viewed by the modern critic as customary to false and secular heroism because he is a corrupted hero (Stedman 255). There is no doubt whatsoever that Satan appeals to modernistic views as a tragic figure as characterized by characters such as Shakespeare's Macbeth. According to Stedman, Paradise Lost may have answered people's questions on religious events, but it also violated their expectations. It maintained the style and form of literary writing of the classical period, but it violated the norms of the era (Stedman 256). The classical or Renaissance period was a time of great affluence of religion, especially of the Catholic Church. The ideas of religion during this period were solely conservative as people respected God's image and the Bible. Christians believed only in the powerful supernatural being, God, and heaven. Hence, Paradise Lost brought with it new ideas about hell and pandemonium. These ideas were not received well by Milton's earliest readers. These ideas show the conflicting views about Satan's heroism in the poem.
Milton was able to arouse a reader's perception of Satan in the first part of Paradise Lost. In an attempt to seek revenge for being cast into hell, Satan tempts God's most precious creation, man. The act makes many critics of Milton's Paradise Lost disregard Satan as the hero. Many suggest that if there should be a hero in Paradise Lost, then it should be Messiah, He was the actual hero both in action and in the principal episodes of the poem (Stedman 257). However, if truly Messiah was the actual hero in Paradise Lost, then why did Milton concentrate so much on Satan's actions and words? The hero in any work is usually faced with a conflict whereby he/she must make a decision. The conflict is mostly a dilemma, such as in the case of many Shakespeare's works, that needs to be solved. Christ was never faced with any conflict in Paradise Lost. Rather He is seen as the highest being unable to be contradicted by anything or anyone. However, in Satan's case, a conflict can be established from his rebellion and yet the desire for revenge. Satan's revenge might be a result of emotion inflicted by his longing for redemption. Throughout the first part of Paradise Lost, Satan is described as majestic and one of Messiah's most beloved angels. Although he is banished to hell, Satan's keeps reflecting heaven, as if he wants to go back but is conflicted by the tyranny he once disdained.
In conclusion, for readers who have critiqued Paradise Lost very well, it appears that Satan is the hero in the poem. Even though Stedman identifies that early readers of Paradise Lost did not appreciate because of its neglect of Christian norms, the contents in the poem depicted the events of the period. Religion in the Renaissance period was marked by greed and corruption. The Roman Catholic Church that held all the influence all over Europe was faced with problems when its religious leaders began getting rich and living extravagantly. Therefore, Milton tried to capture these rotten religious ways in Paradise Lost because people chose not to raise their voices to point out the wrongs in the religious system. Some of the renaissance critics may view Satan as the ultimate tragic character, but he represented a hero not afraid to go up against the religious order. Satan rejects the idea of having to bow to another being, and even in his defeat he scornfully rejects to conform to the idea. Therefore, he represents a brave character because he is not afraid to go up against a higher force than himself, God. It is evident that Milton intended for his readers to recognize the kind of resilient Satan showed. It is an act of rebellion for sure, but then again bravado is what characterizes heroes in literary works.
Steadman, John M. "The Idea of Satan as the Hero of" Paradise Lost"." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 120.4 (1976): 253-294.
Cite this page
Literary Analysis Essay on Satan's Heroism in 'Paradise Lost'. (2022, Nov 02). Retrieved from https://proessays.net/essays/literary-analysis-essay-on-satans-heroism-in-paradise-lost
If you are the original author of this essay and no longer wish to have it published on the ProEssays website, please click below to request its removal:
- Dissertation Chapter Example: A Survey of Rita Dove's Poetry of the 1980s and 1990s
- Bartleby Character Analysis Essay
- Sylvia as Hero in Sarah Orne Jewett's A White Heron
- Essay Example on The Character of Richard III in Shakespeare's Play
- Essay on Modernist Dramatic Works: Meta-Theatre & Porosity of the Stage
- Beowulf: Courage, Heroism, and Respectability of a King - Research Paper
- Essay on Aylmer's Obsession: Nathaniel Hawthorne's 'The Birthmark'.