The analysis of miltons satan in view of classical epic traditions

This dissertation investigates in depth the issue of whether Milton’s Satan from the poem Paradise Lost can be considered a classical epic hero. The research makes a major emphasis on the classical world context, uncovering the poet’s vision and comparing Satan with Achilles from Homer’s epic Iliad.

The received results show that, despite the fact that Milton utilises some classical allusions in regard to the figure of Satan, he changes these conventions by implementing his own historical vision and religious beliefs. Some findings of the dissertation are consistent with the previous researches on Milton’s Paradise Lost, but other findings provide opposite results with certain valid data.

1 Statement of the problem

The figure of Satan from John Milton’s epic work Paradise Lost is rather controversial. Contrary to Satan from the Bible, this character possesses an ambiguous nature that continues to raise hot debates among scholars as to the interpretation of Milton’s Satan. Some researchers maintain the idea that Satan is a classical epic hero that can be compared with Homer's Achilles, while other scholars consider this character as a non-traditional hero. The third group of researchers refuses to define Satan as a hero, pointing out that this character Isa simple negation of Creator. Overall, rising against oppression and God, Satan reflects a complex symbolic meaning that reveals Milton’s artistic viewpoint. In this regard, the researchers’ interpretation of Paradise Lost is mainly based on two contradictory visions: orthodox and heterodox.

2 Introduction

Any epic poem is characterised by the representation of history and cultural traditions of particular civilisations, as well as by the investigation of crucial issues of existence. The classical epic poetry mainly created by the Greeks and Romans usually applies to the theme of heroism, producing unusual epic heroes, like Homer’s Achilles or Virgil’s Aeneas, that are further utilised in Renaissance literature. As Lefkowitz claims, “Whether we are aware of it or not, our perception of reality continues to be defined by the ‘Greek experience’.

The plots of myths recur even in contemporary writing, only with the names, dates, places changed”1. Other civilisations also invented their heroes, such as Gilgamesh of the Assyrians, Siegfried of the Germans and Beowulf of the Anglo-Saxons, - the characters that reflected certain heroic periods. However, some poets and writers find it difficult to accept such definition of heroism and create their own heroes that, on the one hand, contrast with the classical epic heroes, but, on the other hand, adhere to certain epic conventions. One of such characters is Milton’s Satan from the poem Paradise Lost.

On the example of this character Milton greatly changes the issue of heroism, contributing to the destruction of the older epic genre and the classical epic heroes, instead introducing a new epic form of portrayal. As a result of such changes, the epic is gradually transformed into an artificial genre, as Hainsworth puts it, “The exciting turmoil’s of three decades of revolution in criticism have left the classic texts much as they were: the canonical exemplars that continue to organize our Western concepts of literature”2.

The aim of this dissertation is two-fold: 1) to analyse the figure of Milton’s Satan with the emphasis on the classical world, and 2) to discuss the writer’s attempts to integrate the classical world with his own artistic vision. The paper is divided into several sections. Chapter 1 provides a statement of the problem that uncovers the core of the research. Chapter 2 observes the issue in general terms, applying to classical references.

Chapter 3 analyses those works and researches that have been written on Milton’s Satan. Chapter 4 mentions the research methods that are utilised for the analysis. Chapter 5 discusses in detail the issue of whether Satan can be regarded as a classical epic hero and can be compared with Homer’s Achilles. Chapter 6 provides a summarisation of the received findings, and Chapter 7 points at the limitations of the research and suggestions for further investigation.

3 Review of the literature

John Milton’s epic work Paradise Lost attracts attention of various researchers who are especially interested in the figure of Satan. Gerald J. Schiff horst analyses symbolism, through which Milton creates such characters as Satan. As he points out, “because Milton’s personified characters and events stand for moral, religious, or political ideas, he was able to combine classical and Christian elements”3. Abrams also supports the idea that in this poem Milton applies to pagan and Christian elements in the characters’ portrayal4,while Martindale makes stress on Christian components that influenced the figure of Satan 5.

Analysing Milton’s character, Northrop Frye claims, “What Satan himself manifests in Paradise Lost is the perverted quality of parody-heroism…Consequently it is to Satan and his followers that Milton assigns the conventional and Classical type of heroism"6. Thus, providing Satan with some heroic actions, Milton implicitly criticises God that rejects those who do not want to follow his rules. However, Shaw cross doesn’t regard Satan as a real hero; contrary to other critics of Milton’s poem, Shaw cross states that “In Satan we have the antithesis of heroic action although he appropriates the language of that action. [The Son]becomes the exemplary hero, or prototype hero, for all men”7.

In this regard, Francis C. Blessing ton goes further in his analysis of Milton’s Satan; in particular, the researcher points out that Satan is “the perversion of the classical heroic virtues… [He is] not a classical hero but a classical villain who heroically defeats creatures furbelow him in stature”8. Martin Mueller pays attention to the epic conventions in representing the figure of Satan; according to him, “because Satan is the idol, or hideous double of Christ, he necessarily acts within the conventions of the epic tradition”9.

Neil Forsyth claims that Milton reveals sympathy towards the figure of Satan, but the poet moves the narrator away from this character; thus Forsyth suggests that Paradise Lost should be interpreted from an unorthodox perspective10. In particular, the researcher points out that at the beginning of the poem Milton demonstrates heroic features of Satan, uncovering the character’s viewpoint, because Milton doesn’t consider Satan to be fully wretched.

By creating the figure of Satan and applying to Satan’s vision, Milton opposes to Christian orthodoxy from time to time and contributes to the ambiguity of narration. Forsyth considers Satan as a self-divided creature, a portrayal of “our modern and divided selves”11. Michael Bryson goes even further in his analysis; he regards God as a tyrannical evil, while Satan “seems heroic because he is heroic”12. Contrary to the claims of some critics, Bryson doesn’t support the notion that Satan is bad from the very beginning; instead the researcher states that “Satan’s moral advantages that he does not begin as a tyrant”13.

According to Bryson, the tragedy of Satan is not in his revolt against God, but in his deliberate or in deliberate inclination to follow the structure that he repelled at the beginning of the poem. Thus, Satan “rejects the Son as king, only to aspire to be a king himself –aspiring to be like God in the wrong way”14. Stanley Fish, one of the principal researchers of Milton’s Paradise Lost, considers that Satan can’t be blamed for people’s fall, rather he prefers to regard people for their failure15.

On the basis of the analysed literary works, it is clear that Milton’s poem has been widely researched, producing a variety of interpretations. However, each critical study is restricted to the investigation of certain aspects, thus it is necessary to analyse different contradictory viewpoints in order to receive accurate findings in regard to the figure of Satan.

4 Research methodology

This dissertation utilises two principal methods of investigation: a qualitative research method and a discourse analytical approach. The qualitative research method allows to analyse the discussed issue on the basis of various interpretations, generating new findings that haven’t been received in earlier studies and researches.

As Ricoeur points out, “interpretation… is the work of thought which consists in deciphering the hidden meaning in the apparent meaning, in unfolding the levels of meaning implied in the literal meaning”16. This particular method is based on specific qualitative data taken from various researches that reveal contradictory views on the analysed literary work.

The discourse analytical approach provides an opportunity to investigate the historical and social contexts that influenced Milton’s artistic vision, investigating different aspects of the narration. Applying this approach to the conducted research, the paper reveals the reasons for the controversial nature of Milton’s character and the poet’s difficulties in integrating the classical world with his own historical world. Both methods present certain theoretical tools to evaluate the discussed issue in depth and to analyse various interpretations.

5 Discussion

5.1. Milton’s Satan as a non-traditional epic hero

Every epic poem reflects a destroyed historic civilisation and the existing virtues through the principal characters of the narration. Milton’s Paradise Lost created after the complex political and social events also applies to certain conventions that are utilised in such epics as Homer’s Iliad. As Martin Mueller puts it, “Milton himself drew attention to the thematic affinities between the central actions of Paradise Lost and the Iliad, for in his poem he followed the Iliad more closely than any other epic”17. With the help of classical allusions the poet reinstates these conventions, but simultaneously he greatly changes them in order to reveal his own artistic vision and his acceptance or rejection of various aspects.

According to Kates, this is especially true in regard to one of the principal characters of Milton’s narration – Satan18. In general literary terms, Satan is presented as a character who is engaged in various intrigues in his courageous struggle against God. However, Satan is not a complete antagonist, but rather a figure that, to some extent, can be compared with a classical epic hero. As Ralph Condee points out, “I propose that Satan is not the hero of Paradise Lost, but that he is in a very significant way one of the heroes”19.

In this regard, Milton rejects a stereotypical representation of the hero that possesses only positive features. Milton’s Satan is portrayed as an opponent to the despotic power of God. The poet reveals the flaws of Satan, presenting him as a heroic and detestable character that can be admired for his struggle, but is supposed to finally lose because of his deeds. According to Schiff horst, “Milton defines heroism negatively by contrasting it with what it is not.

The very fact that Satan is given some traditional heroic attributes reveals Milton’s dissatisfaction with the heroic tradition of the epic”20. Milton’s vision of the hero contradicts the portrayal of a hero in classical literature, that is, his hero is someone who rises against any stereotype, religious dogma or established norms.

As Collet states, combining pagan epic elements with Christian traditions, the poet creates his own truth that is based on historicalpast21. Such unusual artistic viewpoint can be also explained by the social and historical context that shaped the way Milton presented Satan. Milton lived in the period, when England was involved in the severe political and religious struggle. On the one hand, the Anglicans made constant attempts to influence people of various religious beliefs and, on the other hand, English government utilised its power to implement certain laws that were not accepted by some members of society.

Milton supported any struggle against oppression, either religious or political. As Lowenstein claims, “Writing in the English Revolution and the Restoration, Milton places great emphasis… on the freedom and responsibility of human agents to choose”22. The figure of Satan reflects this particular viewpoint, expressing the necessity of free will. As Satan claims, “And what I should be, all but less than he/ Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least / We shall be free”23.

These words prove that God possesses divine power to prohibit any expression of free will, that’s why Satan opposes to this power. Contrary to a classical epic hero who is rather fictitious and unbelievable, Satan is a hero who, according to Hamilton, “wins our admiration the more firmly because he is intimately real, while the inhabitants of Heaven are remote and strange”24. This is only one side of Satan’s character; however, he possesses many other contradictory features.

As the narration progresses, Satan appears to reveal certain heroism that, to some extent, reflects the classical understanding of heroic actions. In particular, Hamilton states that “Satan’s heroic qualities are enhanced by this strain of something approaching tenderness in his character… His courage and will-power are not the expression of nature irrevocably hardened or incapable of gentle emotion”25.

Thus, Milton makes an attempt to distinguish real heroism from the classical representation of heroism, depriving a classical epic hero of its heathen nature and providing him with new features. According to Lowenstein, “virtue for Milton cannot simply be taken for granted, but must be continually tested”26.

Satan is presented through specific epic similes that allow the poet to intensify the figure of Satan and reveal his epic characteristics, comparing Satan with the Son who appears less heroic. In this regard, heroism of Achilles from Homer’s Iliad contradicts Milton’s understanding of heroism, because Achilles’ heroic actions are inspired by the hero’s rage and wish to take revenge.

According to Michael Silk, Achilles embodies the heroic ideal of Greek people; he is the principal epic hero that shapes the portrayal and understanding of classicalheroism27. However, drawing a parallel between Satan and Achilles, Milton can’t accept Achilles’ heroism without reserve; instead he expresses his own vision on the example of Satan and regards the epic poems as “spasms of a dying tradition”28.

Achilles who is usually called as ‘the man breaker’ applies to heroic actions to perform his duty, but the hero’s rage results in many negative consequences. Achilles’ heroism doesn’t go beyond the fortune assigned by Gods, as he claims at the end of the epic narration, “Such is the way the gods spun life for unfortunate mortals, that we live in unhappiness, but the gods themselves have no sorrows”29.

Contrary to Achilles, Satan resorts to various tricks in his struggle against God, but he explicitly reveals his attitude towards God, challenging and criticising his power. Achilles’ heroism brings death and havoc, while Satan wants to provide people with freedom and understanding. As Mueller points out, “The comparison with Achilles reveals the formal elements of tragedy… but in a Christian context the experience of tragic recognition undergoes a radical transformation”30.For Milton, Satan is better than Achilles or other classical epic heroes, because Satan not only acquires his heroism after his failure, but he also refuses to accept his predetermined destiny.

Satan is better than angels, because the latter possess no will power and freedom; they are mere instruments in the hands of God, while Satan has necessary power to oppose God and everything that threatens his independence. As Satan claims, “Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice, / To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell”31. Throughout the narration Satan is engaged in heroic search that ends tragically for Satan and other creatures of hell.

Although some critics do not consider Satan as a hero, Milton reveals that he possesses many heroic features. Satan leaves hell and jeopardises his life to find the truth, to prove his freedom. He makes an attempt to create another world that will be different from the world created by God, but he fails, because he doesn’t possess enough power for such action.

Thus, Milton doesn’t fully reject the classical epic elements, but as Lowenstein puts it, “Rather than involving full-scale rejection of classical forms and themes… his poems tend to involve revisionary transformations of them, infusing these earlier forms with new prophetic Christian meaning”32. In the character of Satan, Milton embodies those features that he considers crucial for aero, such as strength, independence, brightness and wisdom. Satan reveals all these characteristics and rises in opposition to God, initiating a rebellion.

According to Danielson, “heroic values have been profoundly transvalued in Paradise Lost”33. But despite the unique interpretation of heroism, only such powerful and clever creature as Satan is able to make others follow him. Satan’s speeches are similar to the speeches of a revolutionary who struggles against any despotic power. The discourse analytical approach suggests that such speeches allow to analyse the character of the narration and his relations with other creatures34. As Quint puts it, “these voices of resistance receive a hearing, as the epic poem acknowledges, intermittently, alternative accounts vying with its own official version of history”35.

However, Satan’s negative features contribute to his failure, transforming him into a tragic hero. According to classical traditions, a tragic hero is someone who possesses certain flaws that result in the character’s ruin. This is just the case with Satan who reveals pride and jealousy, but can also evoke powerful emotions. As Silk puts it, “Satan’s ‘revenge’ and ‘pride’ recall Homer’s Apollo and also his Achilles; he is ‘cast out from heaven” as Virgil’s Aeneas was fromTroy”36.

Milton calls Satan “the proud/Aspirer”37, stressing on the ambiguous nature of Satan and revealing his heroic features. When Satan together with other fallen angels is driven away from heaven, he manages to take a full control over the situation and create Pandemonium.

Satan doesn’t want to accept his defeat and appears as a leader for his followers, convincing them in their triumph. On the other hand, he provides angels with a chance to express their opinion as to the struggle against God. Satan’s courage is especially obvious when he decides to personally perform the task of seducing Adam and Eve. In this regard, Satan’s heroic actions are constantly intensified by Milton, as well as Satan’s despair. In his talks with himself Satan uncovers his inner suffering and misery.

Presenting a heroic figure of Satan at the beginning of the poem, Milton provides his readers with an opportunity to understand Satan’s viewpoints and feelings. As Dennis Danielson puts it, “The fallen Satan is, we gather, a creature of moods, apprehending reality through mists of self-deception andforgetfulness”38. Satan is not an ideal character, like such classical epic heroes as Homer’s Achilles, but this doesn’t prevent him from revealing certain heroic features. Satan is an ambiguous hero with divided self that makes him turn to evil, but Satan’s powerful speeches, courage and a direct opposition to the power of God reveal his heroism. Danielson claims that “the epic question and answer present Satan and hell in heroic terms, with reference to a range of epic passions, motives, and actions”39.

Although some researchers do not regard Satan as an epic hero, many famous writers and poets, such as Burns, Shelley, Blake, Baudelaire and Godwin supported the idea that Satan was one of the principal heroes of Milton’s Paradise Lost. In particular, they appreciated his freedom and power, his resistance and courage; for them, Satan was a creature that couldn’t accept any inequality, thus he decided to oppose it.

For instance, William Godwin claims, “Why did Satan rebel against his maker? It was, as he himself informs us, because he saw no sufficient reason for that extreme inequality of rank and power which the creatorassumed”40. The controversy in presenting the figure of Satan can be explained by the fact that Milton rejects any stereotypic or traditional notions, providing his own interpretation of various religious and classical issues.

As Quint claims, “Milton famously bids farewell to the traditional epic of war… Instead, he moves the story to a private realm that is at once the figure of the inner, spiritual heroism of Christian fortitude and of a domestic sphere”41. In this regard, Satan appears as a hero that realises his damnation, but he doesn’t want to passively accept it. He considers that he is right in his struggle against the power of God, and this confidence in his own truth is really crucial for John Milton.

Satan inspires great passions that reflect the essence of political and religious life of that period. It is through this character that the poet reveals a close connection between people and the occurred events, between people’s virtues and cultural traditions. The character of Achilles reflects the Greek ideals on virtues and appropriate behaviour, but Achilles himself doesn’t always conform to these particular ideals. However, Satan, due to his ambiguity, embodies contradictory ideals of different cultural, historical and religious origins, generating new interpretations. Applying to qualitative research method, Taylor claims that “interpretation… is an attempt to make clear, to make sense of an object of study. This object must, therefore, be a text, or a text-analogue, which in some way is confused, incomplete, cloudy, seemingly contradictory – in one way or another, unclear”42.

The poet’s similes in regard to Satan do not produce a single interpretation, but instead create a variety of different meanings for understanding of this character. For instance, Satan is compared with wolf, a thief, a pharaoh, but these are only some images of this hero that he reveals from time to time. However, it is difficult to recognise the whole reflection of Satan, because he acts differently in various situations and presents different images.

This can be explained by the fact that, contrary to classical epic poets that made attempts to create history through their narratives, Milton utilises some historical fragments with novel representation, interpreting classical elements from different perspectives. As Mueller states, such approach allows John Milton to produce a completely new epic within the older epic, profoundly contributing to the ambiguity of the narration, in general, and the principal characters, in particular43.

According to the social constructionist approach, appropriate understanding of certain cultural traditions can be obtained from the history of the whole civilisation that is reflected in some heroic individuals. Milton is well aware of Greek history that is shown in classical epics, but he finds it impossible to fully integrate the created classical world in his own narration. A classical epic poem reveals certain beliefs, ideologies and morality; David Quint goes further by dividing the genre of epic on the epics of losers and the epics of winners.

The researcher claims that Homer’s Iliad belongs tithe epics of winners, as Achilles manages to receive a victory, while Milton’s Paradise Lost falls under the epics of losers due to Satan’s failure. But further in the analysis Quint points out that Milton overcomes this general division and forms a new kind of epic genre with rather contradictory character of Satan44. As William Porter states, in the epic poem Iliad Achilles is presented as a powerful hero who reflects some cultural values of Greek civilisation and who protects his people, but he also pursues his own interests in this struggle, although this fact is only implicitly revealed in the narration45.Satan is a more complex figure that doesn’t conceal his intentions. Achilles appears to be too ideal and thus, unreal, while Satan, with his positive and negative features, is more genuine and is able to arouse sympathy and understanding.

As one hero is a winner and another hero is a loser, they seem to show different notions and ideals; in the case of Achilles, his heroism reflects subjugation and the preservation of old traditions and values, while Satan struggles for survival and appropriate changes. As Milton supports the ideals of struggle against any despotic power, he implements these ideals in his ambiguous character. Though he values some classical traditions, he strives for changes that became crucial in the world he lived. Contrary to Achilles who tries to preserve his civilisation, Satan rises against despotism that Milton embodies in the figure of God who is “our grand Foe, / Who now triumphs, and in th’excess of joy / Sole reigning holds the Tyranny of Heav’n”46. Achilles won’t dare struggle against gods, because he understands that this is avian fight.

But Satan rises against God, realising that he will be cruelly punished in the case of his defeat. According to Blessing ton, Satan struggles for his own freedom, as well as freedom of other fallenangels47. As Satan claims, “I come no enemy, but to set free / From outhits dark and dismal house of pain”48. Thus, Satan is not only a wise and powerful leader, but he also possesses some human emotions that allow readers to better understand this character. His tragedy as an epic hero is explained by Satan’s inability to understand reality and accept those values that are assigned to him.

As a result, Satan says, “So Farwell Hope, and with Hope farwel Fear, / Farwel Remorse: all Good to me is lost; / Evil be thou my Good”49. Satan prefers to live in an invented world with his own values and principles that substitute real-life, and this world greatly depends on hate that weakens him and results in his defeat. Satan constantly puts crucial questions, and his inner doubts reveal his intelligence and deep emotions, being unable to passively accept the established moral norms: “What though the field be lost? All is not lost; the unconquerable will… / and courage never to submit or yield… / that glory never shall his wrath or might extort from me”50.

However, throughout the narration Satan’s power is replaced by great despair, the emotion that demonstrates that the hero is not void of normal feelings and that he is rather vulnerable. A creature that experiences such powerful emotions is not completely evil; rather he appears to be thrown into evil by some really strong force, like God. Satan fails to realise that God utilises him for his own purpose, but this manipulation reveals Satan’s heroic nature, contrasting him to God. And though God cruelly punishes Satan and other fallen angels, Milton reveals that heroic values are inseparable from the struggle initiated by Satan.

Whatever are the reasons for this particular fight, it is through the struggle that Satan manages to acquire some important features and openly rise against the Creator. In this regard, Milton moves away from many epic conventions, but those conventions that the poet utilises reflect much irony. As Mueller states, Milton “did not…use epic conventions in the spirit of the faithful imitator, but housed them with the ironic consciousness of their conventionality”51.

For Milton, utilisation of epic conventions provides the whole narration and the characters with many limitations that the poet tries to overcome in Paradise Lost. According to Mueller, Milton’s poem “reveals the inadequacy of epic perfection to serve even as the image of a higher perfection, and this inadequacy is further underscored in the quite unpick account of the Creation”52. On the example of Satan, the poet uncovers the impact of these epic conventions on the character and his heroism, showing how Satan is restricted by these traditions.

Therefore, Milton changes not only epic values, but also the epic representation of the principal characters, although, according to Miller, a real epic hero should possess such important features as military virtues and lethal risk53. Despite the fact that Satan doesn’t confirm to these classical virtues, his challenge to God transforms him into a character, because he rises against reality and the established order. As he denies the supreme power, he acquires inner strength that is reflected in his physical image: “Forthwith upright he rears from off the pool / His mighty stature”54.

Such portrayal of Satan is further intensified by the classical conventions that allow Milton to compare Satan with some epic heroes. This grand fallen angel possesses ancient armour that puts him into achieve position over other angels: “his ponderous shield / ethereal temper, massy, large and round. / Behind him cast; the broad circumference / Hung on his shoulders like the moon”55. Satan is close to his fellows and experiences the same pain, making a courageous attempt to improve their conditions. In this regard, Satan reminds such classical heroes as Beowulf, Titan, Achilles and other characters that oppose Greek gods; however, Milton doesn’t identify Satan with these heroes.

Contrary to some classical heroes, Satan arouses respect in fallen angels; Satan’s powerful speeches persuade his fellows in the necessity of struggle. As Satan claims, “Princes, Potentates, /Warriors, the flower of heaven, once yours, now lost… / Awake, arise, or be for ever fall’n”56. Satan appears as a great commander, similar to Caesar, Hannibal or Alexander. Milton reveals that one of the principal features of a real hero is a powerful spirit that allows aero to overcome complexities and misfortunes.

Satan, despite his negative traits, preserves his potent spirit till the very end. He rises against the supreme creature, understanding that there is little hope to conquer him, but being unable to stand aside. Although the traditional representation of Satan reveals him as a dastard, Milton’s Satan rejects this portrayal. When he decides to perform the mission by himself, he shows real heroism, passing through Chaos and finally appearing in Eden. It is obvious that a part of this motive is explained by his wish to achieve recognition and power over others; however, the difficulties of his journey outweigh his initial incentive.

According to Bryson, “Satan more closely resembles a character from Greek drama or Homeric epic than one from the Bible”57.Satan understands that he will face dangers during his trip, but nothing can stop him in his pursuit of the crucial goal. As William Ker puts it, “heroic poetry implies an heroic age, an age of pride and courage, in which there is not any extreme organization of politics to hinder the individual talent and achievements, nor on the other hand too much isolation of the hero”58. The classical epic represents a heroes a defender of people, a character that possesses deity, fortitude and spirit.

Throughout the narration Satan reveals some of these features, although his actions are usually dishonest.
As Satan rises against the established values, God starts to consider him as an evil; but, perhaps, it is God himself, not Satan, that can be blamed for this evil in a fallen angel. In this regard, Satan appears as the forerunner of a romantic hero that is portrayed as a villain who destroys the established moral norms and defends new codes of behaviour. But such hero is still appreciated for his courage and ideals.

Similar to a romantic hero, Satan reveals many images on the surface, but deep inside he suffers, like any human being, and he is able to evoke awe and admiration. Although Satan turns to evil and utilizes the wrong ways to achieve his principal goal, he remains aero with valuable virtues and powerful spirit. Satan continues to struggle, even when he realises that his attempts are vain. This hero destroys his past, feeling despair and destruction and creating his reality: “Me miserable! Which way shall I fly / Infinite wrath, and infinite despair? / Which way I fly is Hell; myself am hell”59.

On the one hand, Satan, like a classical hero, yearns for his previous life, while, on the other hand, he believes in the necessity of his struggle against God. Thus, according to Charles Grosvenor Osgood, ancient mythology plays an important part in Milton’s narration, although the poet presents his vision in unusual and contradictoryways60. Satan as a hero emerges, as the poem progresses; Milton doesn’t explicitly point at Satan’s heroic features, but he gradually uncovers them, presenting different sides of Satan.

6 Conclusions

Analysing Milton’s character, the received findings suggest that Satan can’t be fully considered as a classical epic hero, especially in his comparison with such heroes as Achilles. In his poem Milton redefines the idea of heroism, finding it hard to integrate the classical world with his own historical vision. Despite the fact that Milton implements some classical elements into his poem, he changes these components, as he combines them with the orthodox meaning and historical context.

The poet rises against the stereotypic representation of a hero, supporting the notion that a real hero is someone who struggles for freedom and destroys the established standards or despotic power. Applying to the discourse analytical approach and the qualitative research method, the paper analyses the figure of Satan and Milton’s unusual artistic vision through historical, political and religious contexts. Interpreting Satan from different angles, the research uncovers the ambiguity of the character and his contrast with a classical epic hero. As Satan fails at the end of the narration, he appears to be a tragic hero that still reveals much strength and freedom.

Thus, Milton utilises some epic conventions in Paradise Lost, such as the utilisation of supernatural elements, the epic journey of the principal character, the application of profound epic similes and the struggle against some power; however, he implements his own historical view that reflects his beliefs and ideals. From this point on, Satan is created as a creature with certain values and goodness, but who further turns to evil.

In this regard, the research rejects some previous findings and conventional interpretations on Milton’s Satan, focusing on ambiguous representation of this character. Drawing upon various sources of analysis, the paper reveals that Milton maintains the classical epic traditions, considering them to be essential for the creation of an epic genre, but his narration moves beyond these conventions.

Milton’s Satan demonstrates contradictory images throughout the poem, uncovering his strength and resistance, oppression and spirit, as well as pride and rejection of reality. Although Milton seems to follow the orthodox principles in his narration, he constantly departs from these ideals in his portrayal of Satan. Therefore, Milton’s Paradise Lost is both classical and orthodox epic, despite the fact that the latter aspect is usually challenged by the poet himself.

7 Suggestions for further research

Although the conducted research has provided important findings for better understanding of Milton’s Satan, it has some limitations. Above all, Satan is mainly compared with Homer’s Achilles as one of the most famous classical epic heroes, thus further research may be aimed at comparing Satan with other classical heroes, like Virgil’s Aeneas. Such investigation will provide valid data due to the fact that there is ascertain difference between Greek and Roman epics, especially in regard to their representation of the principal characters and virtues.

In addition, it is crucial to broaden the analysis by comparing Milton’s Satan with some modern heroes, like the heroes of T.S. Eliot, Thomas Mann, Samuel Beckett, Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway. But such research requires prior investigation of appropriate research methods and theoretical implications. As Burckhardt points out, “strenuous effort at this stage is precisely the wrong way to achieve the desired result; an attentive ear and a steady pace of work will succeed better”61.Therefore a combination of different methods and a profound analysis of various aspects are able to provide successful findings towards the investigation of Milton’s poem Paradise Lost.


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3. Gerald J. Schiff horst, John Milton (New York: Continuum, 1990), p.70.
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7. John T. Shaw cross, The Hero of Paradise Lost One More Time, inMilton and the Art of Sacred Song, eds. Patrick, J. Max, and Roger H.Sundell (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979), p.143.
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10. Neil Forsyth, The Satanic Epic (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), pp.11-17.
11. Forsyth, p.152.
12. Michael Bryson, The Tyranny of Heaven: Milton’s Rejection of God asKing (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004), p. 83.
13. Bryson, p.82.
14. Bryson, p.111.
15. Stanley Fish, Surprised By Sin (London: Macmillan, 1997), pp.115-132.
16. P. Ricoeur, The Conflict of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1974), p. xiv.
17. Mueller, p.214.
18. J. A. Kates, “Revaluation of the Classical Hero in Tasso andMilton”, Comparative Literature 26 (1974), pp.229-316 (pp.300-303).
19. Ralph Waterbury Condee, Structure in Milton's Poetry: FromFoundation to the Principles (University Park: Penn State UniversityPress, 1974), p.7.
20. Schiff horst, p.70.
21. J. H. Collet, “Milton’s use of classical mythology in Paradise Lost”, PMLA 85 (1970), pp.88-96 (pp.90-93).
22. D. Lowenstein, Milton: Paradise Lost (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p.14-15.
23. John Milton, Paradise Lost, ed. Roy Flannagan (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1993) Book I, 257-259.
24. G. Rostrevor Hamilton, Hero or Fool: A Study of Milton's Satan (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1944), p.39.
25. Hamilton, p.25.
26. Lowenstein, p.14.
27. Michael Silk, Homer. The Iliad (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2nd ed., 2004), pp. 80-87.
28. Hainsworth, p.45.
29. Homer, The Illiad, trans. Richmond Lattimore (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), 24.525-26.
30. Mueller, Children of Oedipus, p.235.
31. Milton, Book 1 261-262.
32. Lowenstein, p.11.
33. Dennis Danielson, The Cambridge Companion to Milton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2nd ed., 1999), p.114.
34. R. Fowler, Hodge, B., Kress, G., & Trew, T., Language andControl (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979), pp. 23-30.
35. David Quint, Epic and Empire: Politics and Generic Form from Virgilto Milton. Literature in History (Princeton: Princeton UniversityPress, 1993), p.99.
36. Silk, p.98.
37. Milton, Book IV 89-90.
38. Danielson, p.166.
39. Danielson, p.118.
40. William Godwin, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, ed. I. Kramnick (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976), p. 309.
41. Quint, p.282.
42. C. Taylor, Hermeneutics and Politics, in Critical Sociology,Selected Readings, ed. P. Connerton (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd,1976), pp.153.
43. M. Mueller, “Paradise Lost and the Iliad’, Comparative Literature Studies 6 (1969), pp.292-316 (pp.300-303).
44. Quint, p.340.
45. William M. Porter, Reading the Classics and Paradise Lost (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993), pp. 37-45.
46. Milton, Book I. 122-124.
47. F. Blessing ton, "Paradise Lost and the Apotheosis of theSuppliant", Arion: A Journal of the Humanities and Classics, 6, 2 (Fall1998), pp.83-97 (pp.85-87).
48. Milton, Book 2 822-823.
49. Milton, Book IV, 109-111.
50. Milton, Book 1, 105-111.
51. Mueller, Children of Oedipus, p.247.
52. Mueller, Children of Oedipus, p.248.
53. Dean A. Miller, The Epic Hero (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), pp.10-13.
54. Milton, Book 1, 221-222.
55. Milton, Book 1, 284-287.
56. Milton, Book 1, 315-330.
57. Bryson, p.80.
58. William Paton Ker, Epic and Romances: Essays on Medieval Literature (London: MacMillan and Co., Limited, 1931), pp.20-21.
59. Milton, Book 4, 73-75.
60. Charles Grosvenor Osgood, The Classical mythology of Milton’s English poems (New York: Gordian Press, 1964), pp.73-80.
61. J. Burckhardt, The Greeks and Greek Civilization (St. Martin’s Press, 1996), p.6.


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