Inthe historical background of critical debates regarding Milton`sSatan, some critics argue for the protagonist`s heroics, while othersare against it. Still, there are some who view it as merely a uniquemethod or approach to Milton`s projection of Satan. Either way, it isclear that Milton`s literary work carries with it numerous moralimplications coupled with the ambiguity of Satan`s heroism, and thus,continue to a debatable issue to date. At least, one criticalargument portrays Satan as a hero. In "Paradise Lost,"Milton`s epic form, overall tone, and his direct allusions, inexplicit scenes place Satan – the Arch Angel – as the ultimatehero (Milton, 2001). For critics like John Gross, this serves as anelevation of Satan`s immorality, total defiance of God, his intentionto reclaim Heaven, and the hatred towards the Achillean response tobruised merit. Therefore, the paper seeks to answer the questions: IsMilton`s Satan the hero of "Paradise Lost" in any way otherthan simply being the compelling protagonist? Is it possible tosympathize with him?
Milton`s Satanas the Hero of "Paradise Lost"
The 21st-century readers may argue against Milton`s overallportrayal of Satan in "Paradise Lost" compared to criticismfrom notable critics like John Gross and C.S Lewis. The 21st-centuryreaders may argue that there is little debate over what Satan is, andthat interests arise from the implications slapped on the paritybetween the protagonist`s morality and heroism (Milton, J., &Teskey, 2005). Those against Satan`s heroic portrayals, hismotivations, and deeds, still view them as morally evil. From theircriticism, which also forms the basis of human history, Satan broughtsin and death to the world, causes the ultimate fall of humanity, andstarted the eternal war with the Supreme Being (God).
The simple conclusion that the 21st readers draw from thisdifferences is that Milton`s "Paradise Lost" offers heroicinstances of Satan considered by many as an evil character. Accordingto Milton, and the majority of critics agree they are, Satan`s evildeeds are juxtaposed upon his description of heroism. Based on this,critics have taken completely different paths of discussion. Forinstance, a critic like John Gross argues that Satan`s deeds (in awider sense) show an incompetence, which contradicts his perceivedheroism. Others, most notably C.S Lewis debates that Satan`s evilwork and bravery are both in the competition. Lewis (1961) famouslyargued that with the continued decline of the protagonist heroism,we, the 21st-century readers have failed to keep in touch with ourprior attraction with Satan reflects, in a way, the ultimate fall ofAdam and Eve, and in turn, we the readers realize our falling.
Like Milton in "Paradise Lost," the "Miltonist"readers welcome controversy surrounding the whole issue. Thecontroversies are far more intertwined and complicated than just thepure antimony of what Satanist or anti-Satanist would suggest. Thesecontroversies on Satan are argued against by outstanding views byWilliam Blake and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Here, and for the sake ofthis discussion, William Blake was an English painter, poet, andprintmaker. He was a seminal figure in the history of visual arts andpoetry during the Romantic age (Poole, 2003). On the other hand,Percy Bysshe Shelley was a notable Romantic poet regarded by some asthe finest lyricist of his time.
The 21st-century readers` understands C.S. Lewis` 20th-centurybureaucrat Devils and John Gross` critics, but identifies withMilton`s Satan as the hero of "Paradise Lost." WilliamBlake`s arguments are those of the Romantic age in a similar mannerPercy Bysshe Shelley`s arguments are. Milton & Teskey (2005)argues that the Romantics preferred sensationalism for arguments`sake, especially on matters morality. And for the good of thesearguments, what is more, sensational apart on the basis that Milton`sSatan is the hero of "Paradise Lost?" Of course, theauthor, at the very least and on a more conscious level, did notintend to portray him as such, but to justify the ways of the SupremeBeing to man (Lewis, 1961). However, the 21st-century readers wouldsubconsciously recognize that Milton having detested tyranny debatedthat perception of Satan best fulfills God`s mandate – and Miltonseeing himself have been sanctioned by God – had to suggest anadmiration for Satan having dared to assault the structures ofHeaven.
Based on Romanticism, Shelley and Blake`s arguments portrayed Satanas the hero in Milton`s literary work, which is a fit that makes the21st-century readers sympathize with him (Satan). In her words, theonly imaginary being that resembles Prometheus in any level isMilton`s Satan. Shelley`s supports her sentiments that in addition tomajesty, courage, firm, and patient disregard to omnipotent force,Satan is susceptible of being described to being exempt of envy,ambition, desire, and revenge for personal aggrandizement (Milton,J., & Teskey, 2005). Here, Satan`s character engenders andresonates in the mind with a pernicious casuistry that results in the21st readers to weigh his wrongs and faults, while excusing theformer since the latter surpasses all measure.
The heroes of the Greco-Roman have established the foundation alreadyto focus on heroism. Therefore, when Milton`s Satan is presented, itbecomes easier to relate him to the actual knowledge that assists inthe determination of him as the ultimate hero other than only acompelling protagonist in "Paradise Lost." For instance,Milton argues that in his words that Satan managed to "Stir upwith revenge and envy" (Milton, 2001), while "he aspires toplace himself up in glory above his legions," (Milton, 2001)yearns for exaltation, fame, and success. He did this like Achilleswanted for assets during "The Trojan War" and Aeneas duringthe "creation of Rome."
Blake voiced a sentiment that had troubled readers over the yearsregarding Milton`s literary work in "Paradise Lost" andwent ahead to defend it ever since. Having noticed that books 1 and 2appear to be more absorbing than book 3, William Blake concluded thatthe reason Milton wrote of "Angels and God" was that he wasat liberty since he was a true poet of the Romantic age (Lewis,1961). Whatever Milton`s intentions are – and here, William Blakeagrees that the eventual effect was not a deliberate move – thepower of "Paradise Lost" glamorizes Satan`s figure as beingthe hero at the expense of God. Shelley went ahead – ignoringMilton`s framework on theological constraints – to consider thediabolic and the divine as poetic characters, and opted that Satan`sheroism came out much better.
In my opinion and having studied the Romantic poets – Blake andShelley – it is evident that Satan`s noble existence strives moreagainst adversities. In this case, Blake`s valorization of the personexudes greater appeal more than what Shelley argued regarding God`scold execution of the Devil`s preordained destruction plan. That kindof impression, Shelley projected, could not have occurredaccidentally. Based on Shelley`s beliefs, this bold abandonment of adirect purpose of morality is the most striking proof of the Satan`sheroism.
The author also depicts unrelenting emotions of suffering and deepsorrow, which introduces the mournful and pitiable features ofSatan`s fall from heaven. The choice of words and the use of languagebid help to identify with the protagonist and develop sympathytowards Satan having been banished from heaven to hell. Lewis (1961)argues that from our first perception of Satan and the impressionprovided, which is also reinforced by a succession of debates, thereaders can anticipate deception and manipulation along with acertain recklessness, enormous endurance, and remarkable efforts ofrising to an occasion. This, being the first instance whereby Satanis debated on, Milton appeared to sum up Satan`s perception andcharacter to catch the reader`s full attention and also to continuereading. It is here that the reader unknowingly finds himselfcheering and supporting the fallen hero who has to dwell in theconfines of that appalling environment from then henceforth.
Serious objections to Milton`s method and his undisputed place in thecanon by critics were not sustained in depicting Milton`s Satan as ahero in "Paradise Lost." However, the years that followedsaw the emergence of a new argument regarding past disputes over thedepiction of the protagonist in "Paradise Lost" by criticslike C.S Lewis and John Gross. The poem was considered a great workof art, but it was contested, primarily by this perceived greatness(Poole, 2003). However, William Blake argues that Satan`sappreciation is undeniable every time his physical stature isdemonstrated to elicit his heroism. Once considered as the mostbeautiful and brightest angel, Satan`s general beauty is now blocked,but his brightness and size are not.
Reasons toSympathize with Satan
Milton`s ruling of Satan in "Paradise Lost" might prove toohazardous to live for in his words, "… Chaos Umpire sits andmore embroil the fray, by the decision" (Milton, 2001). Theconnection between the reader and Milton`s Satan begins at thebeginning of "Paradise Lost." It is here that Satan`scharacter is established even before any preceding soliloquy. At theepic onset, and following the war in heaven, the reader finds himselfin hell unknowingly among Satan and his legions engaging in a heatedargument. First, Milton`s introduction of Satan with certaincharacteristics that mirrored Greco-Roman heroes such as the Aeneasand Achilles, he managed to personalize the experiences of the readersince he was able to relate the protagonist with past heroes.
"Paradise Lost" describes hell as "a dungeon horrible…as one massive furnace flamed," which makes "regions ofsorrow" and the "sights of woe" to be made visible,and also where "rest can never dwell" (Milton, 2001). In myopinion, while I find it a challenge and difficult to picture hellsince there is no way I would go there and come back to record myfindings, the author`s choice of words and elaborate descriptionclearly shows the actual scene of the place. Milton succeeds in thisby connecting his reports to common understandings, for example, thechoice of words such as "furnace," "Dungeon," and"flames."
Inmy opinion, Satan – regarded as the chief protagonist – in"Paradise Lost," deserves sympathy despite the critics`efforts of terming him and the author as sympathetic. Affirming thissentiment is C.S Lewis`s book titled "A Preface to ParadiseLost," which is a quick antidote to these views. Lewis`s work,apart from regarding Satan as a hero, projected Satan as a laughablefool instead, yet it should be known that Satan is fundamentally eviland tremendously vain (Milton, 2001). For instance, Satan leadsothers including angels and Eve into temptation, which resulted inmassive pain and suffering for all.
Milton`s Satan deserves sympathy since he never sought for mercy orforgiveness from the Supreme Being (God), nor did he ever acknowledgehis wrongful deeds. Most importantly, he never showed sympathy to anyother person. However, one exception to this latter argument was whenhe sympathized with Adam and Eve. Again, he opted to proceed with hisquest to corrupt both of them and ensured they suffer. Satan neveraccepted personal responsibility for his choices, but insteadattempted to blame God for making such decisions (Lewis, 1961). Thenarrator in "Paradise Lost" recounted "so spark thefiend with necessity/ the tyrant`s pleas excus`d his evil deeds"(Milton, 2001).
Additionally, "Paradise Lost" presents itself well enoughto methods that use historical criticism. Any individual familiarwith the theology and literature of Milton`s era, which includes hiswritings both in verse and in prose, may experience difficulty inbelieving other claims from different critics interested in the sameliterature. For instance, William Blake affirms that reasons, whyJohn Milton wrote "Angels and God" in fetters and "Devilsand Hell" in liberty, was because he was a real literary geniuswithout any realization. In my opinion, even with these assertions,there is no suggestion that Milton did not sympathize with Satan.Instead, it implies that he (Milton) felt more imaginative libertywhen he depicted Satan than he did with God.
John Milton`s "Paradise Lost" forms the basis for thispaper. The paper focuses on Milton`s Satan as the hero other thanonly the protagonist. Other than the findings illustrating this,there are also some critics who are against it. For instance, C.SLewis and John Gross dispute the findings as highly Romantic notionsfrom the Romantic age poet. However, the paper found out Milton`sSatan as the hero of the poem, "Paradise Lost." Thesearguments are back up by William Blake and Shelley. The paper alsoillustrated and provides reasons as to why we, the 21st-centuryreaders, should sympathize with Milton`s Satan. Some of the reasonsgiven include Satan`s temptations towards Eve and other angels, hisrefusal to seek forgiveness from God, him being an antichrist andensuring that Adam and Eve`s descendants suffer.
Lewis,C. S. (1961). A preface to Paradise lost. London: OxfordUniversity Press.
Milton,J. (2001). Paradise lost. Raleigh, NC: Alex Catalogue.
Milton, J., & Teskey, G. (2005). Paradise lost: Authoritativetext, sources and backgrounds, criticism. New York: W.W. Norton.
Poole,W. (2003). The Early Reception of “Paradise Lost”. LiteratureCompass, 1, 1