Why is Satan considered the hero in Paradise Lost?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The poet William Blake once famously said—or infamously, depending how you look at it—that in his portrayal of Satan, Milton was of the devil's party without knowing it. The Romantic generation, taking its cue from Blake, hailed Satan as a hero because they saw in him a proud, defiant individual with a strong personality, battling against the seemingly arbitrary forces of authority in the shape of the Judeo-Christian God. Romantics like Shelley, who developed a similar theme in Prometheus Bound, believed that Milton's Satan epitomized their constant struggle against the authoritarian structures of society which they felt held them back, stifling the creativity of the individual artist.

It is important to recognize that this portrayal of Satan in Paradise Lost is by no means universally accepted. Indeed, the general consensus among literary scholars is that Satan is more of a parody of a tragic hero rather than an actual one, not least because he isn't a fundamentally decent character brought low by hubris. In fact, as portrayed by Milton, he was never a decent character in the first place.

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Whether or not Satan is a hero is open to debate. Milton had no intention of turning Satan into a hero.

However, there are several reasons Satan has been considered a hero. The Romantic poets embraced Satan as, like themselves, a supremely talented and flawed individual, crying out against convention and stifling religious orthodoxy. They, too, wanted to shake a fist at God and his tyrannies. They took to Satan's idea that it is "better to reign in hell than serve in heaven." It was better, they thought, to go down fighting than to remain servile. Today, too, there is a strand of admiration for the figure who dares to take on God himself.

Second, Milton's depiction of God—which should be differentiated from the God of the Bible, as the two are not the same—is an unpleasant creation. One tends to want to root for Satan against this vengeful...

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