During the Romantic period, the concept of man as a godlike-being began to develop in literature. During the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, European intellectuals had questioned the validity of Christianity and religion in general. Though Romanticism is often seen as a reaction against the rational thinking of the Enlightenment (also often called the Age of Reason), it can also be viewed as an outgrowth, or an extension, of it, especially of its secular thinking and values. With secularism—the disbelief in organized religion—came this concept of man himself as divine, without the limitations and strictures religion had imposed upon him.
In scripture and mythology, Satan and Prometheus are two figures engaging in rebellion against God or the gods: Satan by thinking himself capable of usurping God's place as master of the universe, and Prometheus by "stealing" fire from the gods and giving it to man. For the Romantic poets, these were acts of heroism, because they were a defiance of the higher power or powers in which the nineteenth-century mind no longer believed. In the English-speaking world, Milton's Paradise Lost, at least since Dryden's time over a century earlier, had been regarded as an epic poem equalling or surpassing the works of Homer and Virgil. Paradoxically, though the Romantics continued to revere Milton, the conservative religious message of Paradise Lost was now regarded as obsolete. Poets such as Blake and Shelley thus began to see Satan as the actual "hero" of Milton's epic. Satan, to them and others, was a surrogate, or emblem, for man's unlimited, unfettered spirit as well as their own rejection of religion. Prometheus was regarded similarly, and Shelley in Prometheus Unbound celebrated the mythical figure's defiance of authority and essentially reversed the message contained in the myth regarding the punishment of that defiance.
Both Satan and Prometheus became prototypes of a new kind of hero in literature, one who strives for the impossible or devotes himself to an individuslistic, human cause in opposition to God and to the traditional constraints imposed upon man. Examples of this new heroic figure are Goethe's Faust, Byron's Childe Harold and Manfred, Mozart's Don Juan (as interpreted by the Romantic generation), Emily Bronte's Heathcliff, and many others.