Essay, Research Paper: Paradise Lost And Satan

Literature: John Milton

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The argument over who is the true protagonist of Paradise Lost, has been brewing
for centuries. One would gather that Milton, a Puritan, would have no problem
casting God as the hero, and Satan as the antagonist. But looking back in
history, Milton saw that most epic heroes had conflicts that prevented them from
accomplishing their goals. God and his Son have no conflict, and Adam’s story
doesn’t really begin until the Fall of Man. Therefore, Milton was forced to
select Satan as the hero of Paradise Lost because he adheres to the guidelines
of epic poetry set by Homer, Vergil and others. There many examples of how
Milton uses and edits the tradition of these previous epics in the formation of
the Devil as a hero. One of the most basic examples of heroism in epic poetry is
the exhortation of the leader to his followers. In The Odyssey, Homer lets
Odysseus give a speech that would convince anyone they could survive the journey
to the Strait of Messina, "Then we die with our eyes open , if we are going
to die, or know what death we baffle if we can.(ln.1243-1245)" After
passing the Sirens, the ship approaches the Strait, and the crew sees the twin
terrors of Scylla and Charybdis, they are mortified. Odysseus again lifts their
spirits with this speech, Garcia 2 "Friends, have we ever been in danger
before this? More fearsome, is it now, than when the Cyclops penned us in his
cave? What power he had! Did I not keep my nerve, and use my wits to find a way
out for us? … Heads up, lads! We must now obey orders as I give
them.(1294-1302)" Here Odysseus shows the true ability of a hero to lead in
the face of adversity. Of course Odysseus had the assurance that he would
survive the journey and his crew will not, but that does not stop him from
leading them. In Paradise Lost, this device is used in the opening scene. After
suffering a major defeat at the hands of the Almighty and his angels, Satan
awakens in a lake of fire. He first speaks to Beelzebub, his second in command,
telling him, "All is not lost, the unconquerable Will, and study of
revenge, immortal hate, and courage never to submit or yield: and what else is
not to be overcome?… Since by Fate the strength of Gods and Empyreal substance
cannot fail, Since though experience of this great event in Arms not worse, in
foresight much advance’s, We may with more successful hope resolve to wage by
force or guile eternal War irreconcilable, to our grand Foe, who now triumphs,
and in th’excess of joy sole reigning holds the Tyranny of
Heav’n.(106-109,116-124)" Beelzebub, perhaps showing signs of little
faith in his leader (like Odysseus’ crew), raises some important questions.
"What if he our Conqueror, (whom I now of force believe Almighty, since no
less than such could have o’erpow’r’d such force as ours) have Garcia 3
left us this our spirit and strength entire strongly to suffer and support our
pains, that we may so suffice his vengeful ire, or do him mightier service as
his thralls by right of War, whate’er his business be, here in the heart of
Hell to work in Fire, Or to do his errands in the gloomy Deep; What can it then
avail though yet we feel Strength undiminisht, or eternal being to undergo
eternal punishment?(143-155)" Satan, as any good leader would, quickly
allays his companion’s fear with more speech. During the speech, Satan casts
doubts about God’s supremacy and boldly states that they are better off where
they are, "Here at least we shall be free… Here we may reign
secure…Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.(258-263)" Beelzebub
is taken aback by Satan’s words and awakens all of the fallen angels. Once
Satan has their attention, he rouses these fallen angels with another speech,
asking "How such united force of Gods, how such stood like these, could
ever know repulse? For who can yet believe, though after loss, that all these
puissant Legions, whose exile hath emptied Heav’n, shall fail to re-ascend
self-raised, and repossess their native seat.(629-634)" Finally, at the end
his speech, Satan sets them all on their course of conflict, "Peace is
despaired, for who can think of Submission? War then, War open or understood,
must be resolved.(660-662)" The fallen angels respond with a rowdy
confirmation, waving their swords in the and hurling defiance at Heaven. Milton
has given you Satan in the tradition of the epic hero. Even though he knows
Satan is not the "good-guy", he does possess some of the qualities of
a hero. Garcia 4 He is the pinnacle of the assembled crew, hailed even by
enemies as the strongest of the lot. All the angels face a bad situation (exile
in Hell) and yet Satan exhorts them all with a speech. He recounts how they
survived some bad encounters in the past, and then says they will survive their
present predicament. His speech also spurns the angels into some positive
action. The action of war against God sets a task out in front of Satan. This
quest allows Satan to fulfill another quintessential element of the epic hero.
In almost every epic ever written the hero has to overcome obstacles that stand
in their way to complete their daunting task. In The Odyssey, Odysseus is away
from his home 20 years, 10 fighting the Trojan War and another 10 years trying
desperately to get back home. Odysseus quest or journey is to travel against the
will of Poseidon to get back home to Ithaca. The invocation of the muses,
describes most but not all of the trials and tribulations of Odysseus.
"Tell me the story of a man skilled in all ways of contending the wanderer,
harried for years on end after he plundered the stronghold of Troy. He saw the
townlands and learned the minds of many distant men, and weathered many bitter
nights and days in his deep heart at sea, while he fought only to save his life,
to bring his shipmates home. But not by will or valor could he save
them…(1-10)" Odysseus’ obstacles can be traced back to a mistake he
made when he blinded Polyphemos and let his pride get the best of him,
announcing to the Cyclops his real name. This allowed Poseidon to enact
Polyphemos’ wrath on Odysseus, vowing that he Garcia 5 would never see his
home again. But Odysseus does conquer those obstacles and finally makes it home.
Satan can be said to have the same flaw as Odysseus. He, in part, is the cause
of his own demise. Had Satan served God willfully, the war never would have
raged in Heaven, and Satan and his Army never would’ve been thrown in the
fiery pits of Hell. However, without that action Satan would not be a hero. His
being in Hell leads to him realize his purpose, to corrupt the new type of being
God has created on Earth. Satan’s journey can be said to be some of Milton’s
most "original" piece of writing, because nobody had ever written
about Satan’s journey so intricately as Milton. To quote Isabel MacCaffrey,
"The voyage of Books II and III is Milton’s greatest "original"
creation. There was precedent for the journey motif in epic tradition, but no
real parallel to a voyage by Satan in the Christian literature on which Milton
drew.(29)" Unlike most epic heroes, Satan does not necessarily come out on
top at the end of his journey/quest. This is where many are quick to judge and
point out that since Satan losses, he can not be an epic hero. Milton intended
for Satan to lose, after all, the epic is based on the Bible and is meant to
"justify the ways of God to man.(26)" Milton was merely explaining
that Satan both won and lost. He won in the hero sense by completing his task of
corrupting Adam & Eve, which allowed Sin and Death to enter the world. But
he lost in more ways than one. One of Milton’s central themes is that God
knows what Garcia 6 Satan will do before he actually does it. This is where
Milton’s poetic side and his religious side clash. It creates a hypocritical
division because Milton wants to show that God is All-Knowing(Satan is just hunk
of mass with no free will) and that Satan is our epic hero(Satan is head the
rebel angels). Satan also loses because of the fact that 1)due to his trickery
he would be a snake forever and 2)The Son was going to come down to earth and
die to save Adam & Eve, so that Satan’s action would be eliminated. Break
down Paradise Lost to it bare bones, removing all religious overtones, and you
have yourself an epic poem, plain and simple. The hero of this poem is a man
named Satan who is banished for challenging the leadership of the clan. This man
Satan makes a vow to destroy or corrupt anything created by the clan. This Satan
was resourceful, making the best of what he had, very little, and accomplishing
his goal. Satan may just be the nonconformist who couldn’t abide by what was
considered normal. In any case one must show their admiration for Satan in his
unwillingness to serve in Heaven, and then in the way he accepted his resulting
role in Hell.

Anderson, Robert. Ed. Elements of Literature: Third Course Holt,Rinehart and
Winston, Inc. and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.:Austin,1993. MacCaffrey,
Isabel. "Satan’s Voyage". Modern Critical Views: John Milton .
Bloom, Harold, ed. Chelsea House Publishers: New York, 1986. Milton, John.
Paradise Lost. Signet Classic: New York, 1982.
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