John Milton's "Paradise Lost". Can the Literary Satan be considered a Classic Hero?

Term Paper, 2013

14 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents


2.The character of Satan in John Milton's Paradise Lost
2.1.The Archangel of Heaven
2.2.The Prince of Hell
2.3.The Tempter of Mankind
2.4.Parallels between Satan and historical persons

3.The importance of fate considering Satan´s attitude
3.1.The definition of the classical hero
3.2.A Comparison between Satan and the classical hero




Paradise Lost, John Milton’s religious epic, has astounded and fascinated readers throughout time and as such may be one of the most highly discussed examples of English literature within living memory. The controversy of Paradise Lost began with its publication in 1674 by John Milton during the time of the Interregnum in England, and even nowadays its subject remains an essential fixture in Western literary canon as well as an important source of inspiration for numerous scholars and artists. Therefore it is interesting to analyze the reasons why a literary work that has been written more than three centuries ago, continues to be the topic and the central cause for scholars’ debate and countless essays and interpretations. One of the most significant reasons may be the different manners of interpretation, as several aspects may come into focus, while reading Paradise Lost. Determined the counterpart of God, Satan is commonly described as the embodiment of evil. Nevertheless, Milton presents the character depth of his protagonist, so that questions of Satan being a heroic figure arise. In consideration of Satan’s character traits, his downfall from an archangel of heaven to the prince of hell and lastly to the tempter of mankind as illustrated in Paradise Lost should be analyzed. As the historical reading is a further way of interpreting Paradise Lost, parallels between Satan and historical personalities of the British Revolution, namely Oliver Cromwell and Charles I, are examined. Furthermore the importance of fate in contrast to the belief of free will considering Satan’s attitude is put into focus. In order to compare Satan’s characteristics with those of a classical hero, it is necessary to give a brief definition of the classical hero firstly. In terms of the concept of heroism, Aristotle’s concept of tragedy, especially his definition of hamartia which refers to the tragic flaw of ancient heroes and is hence connected with the idea of the classical hero, serves as an important source. Due to these aspects, a conclusion whether the literary Satan can be regarded as a classical hero can be drawn.

2. The character of Satan in John Milton's Paradise Lost

The most complex character who is described best in detail, considering character depth and development, and thus regarded as “the best drawn of Milton’s characters” (Hamilton 1944:13) is Satan, the protagonist of John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost which deals with Satan’s rebellion against God, his and mankind’s fall. In order to make assumptions on possible interpretations, it is essential to be aware of the character traits the author has equipped his main character with. Therefore it appears to be appropriate to make an attempt in categorizing these traits, for instance in good and evil aspects. However, as the categorization of character features always depends on the person as well as the extern and intern circumstances, it is necessary to consider the individual case. With regard to the case of the literary Satan, it is nearly impossible to simply classify his characteristics in good and evil ones as there is not only black and white, but also many shades of grey. Hence attention has to be payed to his physical and psychological development. Being portrayed as a character in a constant progress of change, whether it is outward appearance or character features, Satan can be regarded not only as a round character, but even more precisely as a “trimorph” (Kastor 1974:15) which is composed primarily of the Archangel, secondly the Prince of Hell and thirdly the Tempter. These three roles that are within a single person form the “unholy trinity” (Kastor 1974:ebd.), are given different names throughout the story and are set according to their environment and functions: Firstly the archangel Lucifer serves in heaven, the highest sphere and throne of God, after his fall he becomes Satan, the prince reigning in the lowest sphere of hell and lastly he is named the devil presented as the tempter on his journey to paradise in order to seduce the human couple, Adam and Eve, in the Garden Eden and later mankind on earth (cf. Kastor 1974:48-53). The following chapters will put the different roles of Milton’s Satan which are, as mentioned, combined with different names as well as various settings and motivations, into focus by analyzing the importance of these positions in the story and by examining Satan’s physical and psychological transformation.

2.1. The Archangel of Heaven

In concordance with the story, the first position to be dealt with is this of the former archangel, however this role only appears in flashbacks. Satan’s first name Lucifer is used before his fall and a reference to the mourning star, indicating his brightness. While in heaven, he is favored by God and therefore one of the highest angels having a leading role (cf. Milton 34, 170). Described as a being of high degree (cf. Milton 34, 170), he possesses great rhetoric skills and is a good politician, being able to smooth talk and to persuade others of his positive intentions, as well as to reawaken lost spirit in his fallen comrades (cf. Milton 20, 34, 167). These character features, in addition to his ability to gather knowledge from defeat and to draft new battle plans, underline the intelligence of Satan (cf. Milton 12, 33). However, the character trait which may be most important for the archangel is clearly ambition, mingled with pride and haughtiness (cf. Milton 9, 18) as well as his longing for absolute freedom. Ironically, by desiring absolute freedom, Satan imprisons himself, as he lets his emotions control his soul rather than his rationality (cf. Bidell 2003:45). Restricted in his freedom of decision determined by Christ, the son of God, and not able to cope with this situation, Satan chooses to rebel against God. Those characteristics can be considered the cause for his fall, the reason of his rebellion and tthus the origin of his doom. Being eager and having a great self-confidence, Satan decides to fall rather than to play the part of a servant and defy God’s prestige (cf. Milton 12). Moreover this character trait is shown in Satan’s outward appearance and posture: “He above the rest / In shape and gesture proudly eminent, /Stood like a tower (…)” (Milton 31). In general these character traits are the only things which never change, they remain the same whatever role Satan may be in. After his doom Satan is expelled to hell.

2.2. The Prince of Hell

The second role to be discussed is the prince of hell. This position of Satan is of more significance than the archangel Lucifer’s, for he is the character who guides the reader through the story and appearing the most throughout the epic, he has the strongest impact on the reader (cf. Kastor, 49, 57-58). Although the name Satan appears to be mainly used for the prince of hell by Milton , Frank Kastor is of the opinion that Milton applies this name primarily to emphasize the connotation of the word “-the Adversary, the Enemy” (Kastor 1974:53) in order to connect it to the three roles of Satan, except when he requires to stress other characteristics of Satan, for instance the Tempter who will be put into focus in the following chapter. With consideration of Paradise Lost “’Satan’ is the name of ‘the Adversary’, who is a trimorph: one name, one consciousness –three roles, three characters” (Kastor 1974:53). With regard to his condition, the prince of hell is characterized by “demonic disfigurement” (Kastor 1974:21) which includes not only his outward appearance, but also his extreme decrease in position from the archangel to the devil. As an effect of this fall his motivation and behaviour change. There are several character traits which play an important part for the prince of hell. The first one to be mentioned is obviously a strong, unrelenting will and perseverance. Satan is a character who neither gives in nor gives up, who is able to carry on even though he suffers and who can find positive aspects even in the greatest misfortune (cf. Milton 41, 17). Courage is the second aspect which comes along with his perseverance. He is fearless, even when standing against an equal, or stronger opponent (cf. Milton 65). Combining those two qualities with his ambition and leadership ability, it is obvious that Satan’s character concept is that of a warrior. A further aspect to be indicated is Satan’s good self-awareness. He recognizes his own misfortune, the reason for his fall and what he has become opposed to his former self: “(…)from what state/ I fell, how glorious once above the sphere, /Till pride and worse ambition threw me down (…)” (Milton 110). This self-awareness also enables him to feel remorse and grief about his fall, his action and his plan for humankind (cf. Milton 109.110). In addition it gives reason for his guile and fraud while planning to attack mankind. As he failed to rebel against God while using force, in conclusion he decides to achieve his aim by deceiving and masquerades (cf. Milton 104). In general, he feels no ill intentions towards humankind, just envy and pity. The sole reason for targeting them is the thirst for revenge against God (cf. Milton 122). This last aspect leads us to the character traits of the tempter.


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John Milton's "Paradise Lost". Can the Literary Satan be considered a Classic Hero?
University of Duisburg-Essen
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john, milton, paradise, lost, literary, satan, classic, hero
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Sarah Leenen (Author), 2013, John Milton's "Paradise Lost". Can the Literary Satan be considered a Classic Hero?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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