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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Hero of "Paradise Lost" Book-I

Introduction

Much controversy has clustered round the question as to who is the hero ofParadise Lost. There are very sensible persons, who advocate the claim of Satan, and others, that of Adam. One critic suggests God, and another the Messiah (Christ). A French critic (Denis Saurat) puts forward the strange thesis that Milton himself is he hero of Paradise Lost.

(A) SATAN: THE HERO OF"PARADISE LOST"

Satan as A most Powerfully Drawn Character

Let us see some of the points of his character which are definitely indicated. In the beginning, it is Satan who, first of all the angels, arouses himself up from the lake of fire. He has the power of recovery in the face of defeat. Not one word, which he utters, expresses despair, when he discovers the terrible nature of the place to which God has banished them. Immediately his active mind begins to scheme, and he proceeds to reassemble his shattered forces. We are often told that adversity reveals the best qualities in a man; adversity certainly reveals the vigorous intellect and driving personality of Satan. He shows the highest degree of fortitude and "courage never to submit or yield." His personal example soon communicates itself to the other angels, and they gather round their great leader. In the plays of Shakespeare, we have often seen that the great dramatist contrives to create his finest characters by letting us hear what other people think of them, and say about them, so it is with Milton. All the angels welcome with joy their mighty leader. It matters not that they have been defeated and expelled from Heaven, because of their share in his rebellion. They gather round him with absolute confidence such as earthly men feel instinctively at times when they realize the worth of a great leader. The mighty qualities of Satan's mind, and the indomitable resolution which animates him, are displayed when he exclaims:

... and thou, profoundest Hell
Receive thy new possessor, one who brings
A mind not to be changed by place or time
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

There are sentiments which might well be uttered by the most spiritual of characters. The spirit of self-reliance, of mental courage, which rises independent of environment, is a quality possessed only by the greatest characters. This might well have been spoken by some saint in exile, or languishing in dungeons of a cruel tyrant. A few lines later, there blazes a burst of strong, over-mastering ambition, the expression of a nature the must, be first in all things:

To reign is worth ambition though in Hell;
Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.

It is no ordinary ambition which we see here; there is something colossal in this bold challenge to the Almighty for supreme power. We have seen instances in the history of the human race where two great natures clashed, and neither would give way: Caesar and Hannibal, Wellington and Napoleon, and we have been impressed by the greatness on either side. It may be a wicked things to defy God, but, in this case, God is far-removed and unreal, and it is the greatness of the challenge, rather than the wickedness, which is the prominent impression.

Beelzebub bears witness to the great worth of Satan as a leader:

If once they hear that voice, their liveliest pledge
Of hope in fears and dangers, heard so oft
.... they will soon resume
New courage and revive, though now they lie
Grovelling and prostrate on yon lake of fire.

If this was said of the noblest general who ever led mortal armies, he would be acclaimed by all as a leader of men. The effect here is similar; we must judge Satan according to earthly and human standards since we have no other. We respect him because of the confidence...