Paradise Lost


In the poem Paradise Lost, John Milton speaks of Satan’s rebellion in Heaven and the resulted exile into hell. With his rebel angels, Satan declares all out war on God because he truly believes that it is “Better to reign in Hell than Serve in Heaven”. Since the poem was written it has been reflected upon and understood in a number of ways. Interpretations as to whether or not Satan is a true Epic Hero have been argued back and forth for the simple reason that Satan does possess the characteristics of an Epic Hero. Although Satan exhibits the qualities and characteristics of a hero, it is the way he uses these traits that takes the title of Epic Hero away from him. Everything Satan does is to further himself and to seek revenge on God and the angels that follow Him.


One characteristic of an Epic Hero that Satan is associated with is beauty. In the beginning Satan is known as Lucifer, meaning light bearer. Lucifer appears to be a very powerful angel under God’s command, but also a very beautiful angel. His beauty and power are two factors that give him the ability to reach out to the angels that no longer want to serve in heaven. Satan is also a very proud angel. He is too proud to be simply a follower. He takes it upon himself to begin the war in heaven that ultimately results in his banishment to Hell along with the other rebel angels that decide to follow him. In Book I Satan lures the angels to his side by making them believe that to follow him is to rise above God and that if they do not, they will be fallen angels, “Awake, arise, or be for ever fall’n…” (330). Ironically, they follow Satan and still become fallen.


Satan’s most important characteristic that allows him to be an effective and powerful leader among the rebel angels is his ability to persuade them to do his bidding:


Who first seduced them to that foul revolt?


Th’ infernal Serpent; he it was, whose 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 in glory above his peers… (I, 33-39).


Satan makes his rebel angels believe in his cause; they no longer want to serve God in Heaven, but they are tricked into serving Satan in the war against Heaven and again in Hell. They believe that they should not have to be servants, but because Satan is such a powerful leader in their eyes, and he has the ability to make his fight sound necessary in order for the angels to be free, they do not even realize that Satan is now dictating to them.


Satan’s ability to amaze the rebel angels through his many speeches in Paradise Lost is portrayed in the following excerpt:


And to the fierce contention brought along


Innumerable force of spirits armed


That durst dislike his reign, and me preferring,


His utmost power with adverse power opposed


In dubious battle on the plains of Heav’n,


and shook his throne…


And courage never to submit or yield:


And what is else not to be overcome? (I, 100-109)


Satan uses this speech to appeal to the wishes of the rebel angels. They do not want to serve God; they want to overthrow Him and to take his power. This speech reminds the angels of their plans, and gives them the confidence they need to follow Satan in revolt.


Satan uses the same method of flattery on Eve to gain her trust in Book IX: “…and thy celestial beauty adore/With ravishment beheld…/Where universally admired…” (540-542), along with forms of flattery such as: “A goddess among gods, adored and served…” and “ Fairest resemblance of thy maker fair…” (IX, 547,537) Satan makes Eve believe in him, which results in the fall of humankind. Satan has a “gift” for using flattery to gain trust in others to do his bidding; a very powerful gift that when used for evil results in complete mayhem.


Another factor that makes him appear to be a hero is Satan’s willingness to give up the comforts of Heaven to become