Julie Jentzen

ENG 320 A

Dr. O’Neill

April 19, 2003

Satan: Hero or Villain?

When picturing a heroic act, one would usually envision a feat that involves doing something courageous; such as rescuing a damsel in distress or single-handedly slaying an enemy army. The common element that links together the typical pagan epic heroes are these type of impressive public actions (5). In Paradise Lost, Milton depicted Satan as an almost praise-worthy figure.  Milton’s Satan bears many of the qualities similar to the classic Greek hero: he is strong, courageous, and charismatic (4).  In Paradise Lost, Milton’s character of Satan depicts the role of a hero in a non-conforming way.  

It is fascinating that Milton chose to begin his epic with the introduction of Satan, a figure who has been world-renowned for the prevalent representation of evil throughout history.  Traditionally in an epic poem, the first character to be introduced to the reader would be the heroic figure.  This is a bold move on Milton’s part because he is daring enough to break away from the traditional structure of an epic poem without knowing what his audiences’ response will be.  Due to the fact that Satan is the only character knowledgeable of the early events in the poem, he is by default proclaimed the heroic figure of Paradise Lost.

The opening scenes of Paradise Lost unveil Hell as a fiery and horrifying place that reflects the corrupted souls of Satan and his devils. Here Satan gives a brief synopsis of the story of how Adam and Eve fell, along with destruction of Earth as it was once known.  Satan pronounces that Adam and Eve were quick to disobey their Creator by eating from the Tree of Knowledge.  He feels all credit is due to him for transforming into the cunning serpent and seducing God’s newest creation, Adam and Eve.  He then explains that this was only revenge upon the tyrant God for casting him and his rebel angels out of Heaven.  Satan is blatantly boasting about the chaos that he and his devils have brought upon the universe with no remorse.  In his soliloquy, it is exemplified that Satan feels he has reached a higher pedestal because of his grandiose accomplishment.

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Say first, for heav’n hides nothing from thy view

Nor the deep tract of hell, say first what cause

Moved our grand parents in that happy state,

Favored of Heav’n so highly, to fall off

From their Creator, transgress his will

For one restraint, lords of the world besides?

Who first seduced them to that foul revolt?

Th’ infernal Serpent; he it was, who guile

Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived

The mother of mankind, what time his pride

Had cast him out from heav’n, with all his host

Of rebel angels, by whose aid aspiring

To set himself ...

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