Milton’s Lucifer: Fallen Angel or a Rising Hero
Paradise Lost paints in a new light Lucifer’s fall from heaven as Milton’s own elaboration from the Bible story. I will argue that Milton’s depiction of Satan holds much comparison to that of epic heroes such as Odysseus and Aeneas. This might either be a justification for Satan’s actions, or a suggestion that the idea of an epic hero does not need to be supported by a moral compass or be considered ‘good’ socially such as in the Bible.
In order to suggest that Satan is an epic hero, I must first define what an epic hero is. An epic hero is commonly a warrior and a leader, undertaking a journey, both spiritual and physical in nature. Milton’s Satan is based on four heroic models; Odysseus, Achilles, Jason, and Aeneas. We can easily create links between Satan, Odysseus, Aeneas, and Jason, as Milton relates Lucifer to all of them, directly and indirectly. However, Satan is unlike Achilles despite both being less morally driven, in the way that he is sensible and pragmatic. In showing that Satan follows at least three of these patterns, Milton is giving a very strong nod to the idea that Satan is an epic hero. The patterns which he follows are those of Aeneas, Jason, and Odysseus, as wanderers or travellers who make mistakes, Satan is also a natural leader who has followers in the form of the other fallen angels. Furthermore, there is a clear influence of the supernatural, a typical identifier of the epic, by basing the epic poem around the Bible story. There is also a focus on the struggle and hardship Satan endures and comes through nevertheless; ‘with difficulty and labour’ and indicates his climb to the top so to speak as an epic hero. In the passage, Milton directly compares Satan with Ulysses(l.1019), a hero in his own right, but stressing that Satan is in more danger than heroes such as Ulysses, placing him both in a category with such heroes, but also above them. By using a determiner like ‘more’ in ‘more endanger’d’(l.1017), Satan’s journey and heroism appears much bigger and his struggle harder. Also, in this passage Satan is directly compared to Jason the hero through mention of his boat ‘Argo’(l.1017), again categorising him into the hero category, and clear mentions of Ulysses, interestingly Milton is using the Latin as opposed to the original Greek, veering away from the traditional epic. The quotation; ‘From Hell continu’d reaching th’utmost Orbe // Of this frail World(ll.1029-1030)’ envisions the journey which Satan is taking and furthers the idea that he fits in with epic hero conventions, abiding by Nostos, the idea of returning home by sea, and Telos, the idea of having an aim.
It is notable to identify Satan as a wayward hero against the Greek idea of Nostos, since he goes off his set path in disobeying God, like Odysseus strays from his path home to his wife by having dalliances with Circe and Calypso. Aeneas also fits into this idea with Dido as a deviation from his epic quest who almost changes his journey. On the other hand, however, in book 2 Creusa explains Aeneas’ quest, noting ‘these things do not happen without the approval of the gods. […] waiting for you […] a royal bride’ which could suggest his attempts at following his planned destiny with Dido. It appears that Dido is a distraction, as he decides not to stay with her in favour of finding a new home, but if we look back to Creusa’s words we can derive that the deviation was deliberate and cultivated. Here we can propose the idea that Satan, along with the other heroes are actually a plaything of the Gods, completely under their control.
Despite not fitting into the morally driven idea of a hero, Achilles still is considered an epic hero. This is even more support that the actual devil can fit into the conventions of an epic hero regardless of morality. In fact, Achilles is not really moral at all, as shown in book 22 of The Iliad, wherein he tries to eat out Hector’s heart; ‘I wish I could eat you myself, that the fury in my heart would drive me to cut you in pieces and eat your flesh raw’. Despite this, the line in Paradise Lost ‘such was the will of Heav’n’(l.1025), could suggest that rather Satan was not disobeying God, he may have thought he was but that it was God’s plan all along to create Satan, or allow him, as a source of mischief and almost a scapegoat for any and all opposition to his practices. Pursuing this line of investigation actually alternatively places him more in step with Aeneas in regard to the confusion surrounding Dido’s role in The Aeneid. Similarly, Odysseus’ affairs with Calypso and Circe, were willed by god as well in the form of Athene in Book 1; ‘Odysseus shall return […] so that he can immediately tell Calypso’. This link further proves that Milton has written Satan as an epic hero, one who is not afraid to oppose the Gods, but inevitably ends up following their orders.
Blake famously says of Milton ‘he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it’, supporting the idea that perhaps Milton is in favour of Satan’s character in this portrayal of him. This suggests that Milton’s decision to show him as an epic hero was more of sympathy and favour than simply an attempt to see his side of the story, but that his sympathies were subconscious.
In conclusion, Milton’s depiction of Lucifer is very much in line with the conventions of an epic hero. He embarks on a long journey in trying to find a new home, makes mistakes along the way, is not characterized by a moral compass, and is a warrior and leader to the other fallen angels. He is also at the mercy of God as one of God’s creations and cannot really win by his own gumption. By showing Satan heroically, Milton is almost combating the Bible, and giving him a voice despite what he has allegedly done.
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