Satan: the True Hero of Paradise Lost

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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,

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"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

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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...
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