Satan: Hero or Villain?

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When thinking of a heroic deed, one often imagines an act that requires courage, such as saving a woman in danger or defeating an entire enemy army. The characteristic shared by traditional heroes in pagan epics is their ability to perform remarkable and public feats. In the epic poem Paradise Lost, Milton portrayed Satan as a figure deserving of admiration.

Milton’s portrayal of Satan in Paradise Lost displays characteristics reminiscent of the ancient Greek heroes: strength, courage, and charm (4). However, his depiction of Satan as a hero deviates from the traditional norm. It is intriguing that Milton, in his epic, decides to introduce Satan first, a figure widely known for embodying evil throughout history. Typically, epic poems begin by introducing a heroic character to the reader.

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Milton’s daring decision to break away from the traditional structure of an epic poem, without knowing how his audience will react, is a bold move. This makes Satan the heroic figure of Paradise Lost, as he is the only character who knows about the early events in the poem. The opening scenes of Paradise Lost reveal Hell as a fiery and terrifying place that mirrors the corrupt souls of Satan and his devils. In these scenes, Satan provides a short summary of the story of Adam and Eve’s fall, and the destruction of Earth as it was previously known.

Satan boasts about his role in persuading Adam and Eve to disobey their Creator by eating from the Tree of Knowledge. He takes credit for transforming into a cunning serpent and seducing God’s newest creation. This act of revenge is directed towards the tyrant God who had cast Satan and his rebel angels out of Heaven. With no remorse, Satan proudly acknowledges the chaos brought upon the universe by him and his devils.

Satan believes he has achieved a higher status due to his great accomplishment. He questions why our ancestors, who were highly favored by Heaven, chose to disobey their Creator and fall from their blissful state. Who tempted them to rebel? It was the cunning Infernal Serpent, driven by envy and revenge, who deceived the mother of mankind after being cast out of heaven with his rebellious angels. With their help, he aspired to surpass his peers and rise in glory.

After being banished to Hell by God, the rebel angels, led by Satan, discuss the possibility of creating a new and more equal society. Satan claims that in Hell, everyone will have freedom. However, his true intention is to create a distorted version of the hierarchical structure in Heaven. Despite not having enough strength to rule in Heaven, Satan is powerful enough to become the ruler of Hell.

Despite feeling that he was the second angel in command to God and later leader of the rebel angel army, Satan believes that he can achieve his goals only in Hell. He declares, “Here at least we shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built here for his envy, will not drive us hence: Here we may reign secure, and in my choice to reign is worth ambition though in hell: Better to reign in hell, than serve in heav’n” (1. I:259-263). In this passage, Satan acknowledges that Hell will never be as magnificent as Heaven, but he sees potential in transforming it into a place where beauty can exist as long as he is in charge.

Satan and his followers believe that with effort, Hell has the potential to become something great. As a result, Satan and the other devils create their own hierarchy. Despite their endeavors, they remain the lowest ranked in the overall hierarchy of the universe. Satan is frequently observed engaging in deception and falsehood.

Satan, who often exhibits cowardice by avoiding confrontation with God, resorts to guile and trickery to manipulate and harm others within his control. He specifically targets the weak, understanding the limits of his power. Consequently, he is the ultimate embodiment of self-loathing and misery, fully aware of his wretchedness across the universe.

Me miserable! which way shall I fly Infinite wrath, and infinite despair? Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell; And in the lowest deep a lower deep Still threatening to devour me opens wide, To which the hell I suffer seems a heav’n. (1. IV:73-78)

That is why Satan is filled with nothing but hate toward anything beautiful, and has vowed to set forth ruining all that he can. Since Satan will never be able to directly harm God, he avenges through God’s creation: Adam and Eve.

The text explains that Satan believes he should expand his empire in Hell since he cannot avoid his miserable existence. These qualities make him almost undeserving of being considered a classic epic hero. Throughout the story, Satan’s qualities diminish from a brave anti-hero to an angry, jealous, and desperate being. As he spoke, his face showed various emotions such as paleness, anger, envy, and despair, which ruined his false appearance and exposed his true self if anyone saw.

When Satan enters the Garden of Eden, the angel Uriel is able to identify him as a disguised cherub because his mind is filled with animosity, unlike the peaceful minds of angels. This is evident in the quote, “For heav’nly minds from such distempers foul are ever clear” (1. IV:114-119).

Satan is tormented when he first sees Adam and Eve. He exclaims, “Oh hell! What my eyes witness with sorrow. These creatures of different nature, maybe from the earth, not spirits, yet they shine like heavenly spirits, somewhat lesser. My thoughts are filled with wonder and I could even love them…”

(1. IV:358-363) Enraged by their joyful and magnificent lives, which starkly contrasts his own, Satan devises a plan to harm the two individuals. What a repulsive and tormenting sight it is to see these two beings wrapped in each other’s arms, experiencing the delightful paradise of Eden, reveling in one blissful moment after another. Meanwhile, I am condemned to the depths of hell…

. (1, IV:506-509) Satan is amazed by the innocence of these new creatures of God to the point where he almost feels love towards them. Despite being wronged, he secretly admires them and expresses gratitude towards the one who made him reluctant to seek revenge.

And should I at your harmless innocence melt, as I do, yet public reason just, by conquering this new world, compels me now to do what else though damned I should abhor. (1. IV: 386-392) Therefore, Satan explains that his intentions are not to harm Adam and Eve directly, but rather to harm God. Satan indirectly communicates to Adam and Eve that he is not responsible for their mistreatment, but rather it is God who is to blame.

The ironic aspect of the situation is that Satan has brought himself to a point where he is unable to fully experience the pleasures of Eden. He made the decision to adopt the role of a bringer of destruction for both life and happiness. As the poem progresses, there is a noticeable transformation in Satan’s appearance and essence. He initially starts as an archangel but then gets demoted to a lower rank as an angel. From there, he undergoes additional changes, taking on the forms of a bird, a lion, a tiger, and eventually ending up as a “homely frog”.

The animal shapes Satan has taken on represent the real decline in both his physical appearance and moral character (6, 37). In fact, when asked to reveal his true form as a frog, Satan has transformed so dramatically that he is barely identifiable. Numerous literary critics have suggested that Milton sympathized with Satan unknowingly. This belief is supported by the fact that Milton delves much deeper into Satan’s character than he does God’s.

Milton has created a captivating portrayal of Satan that is more intricate than his portrayal of God. In essence, Milton’s Devil is morally superior to his God, persisting in his excellent purpose despite adversity and torture (3). Although Satan is evil, Milton has imbued him with certain qualities that make it difficult for readers to dislike or even admire him. When reading this epic poem, one cannot help but find themselves almost cheering for Satan to triumph over God.

Satan embodies the concept of morality-free power. His soliloquies resonate with every individual, stirring something deep within. Through his speeches, Satan effortlessly portrays God as a tyrant and casts himself as an innocent victim of God’s oppression. Essentially, Satan represents unrestricted freedom.

Despite being expelled from Heaven, Satan’s fate is inconsequential. Living under God’s rule is not desirable anyway. By dissecting Satan from his original context and perceiving him as an extension of ourselves, we can revere him as a hero. Satan’s tragedy lies in his “romantic” act of defying society (2. 34-35). His rebellion against God is driven by self-interest.

Satan’s sense of injustice from God is the motivation behind his desire for revenge. In order to view Satan as an epic hero, we must believe his rebellion against God was justified. Additionally, it is important to acknowledge the justice Satan brought to humanity by tempting Adam and Eve. Instead of remaining blissfully unaware, they gained knowledge about the forces of good and evil through this act.

Given these reasons, it is clear that Satan conforms to the archetype of the traditional epic hero.

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Satan: Hero or Villain?. (2017, Dec 22). Retrieved from

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