There is always controversy as to who is the hero of Paradise Lost? Some critics think that Satan is the actual hero whereas others favor Adam and even Jesus Christ. But Denis Surat considers Milton himself to be the hero of the poem.
When we make a deep study of Paradise Lost Book I, we find that Milton creates a powerful figure in Satan because he possesses all the required qualities of a hero. Though Adam is the central figure of the heroic poem, his “fall” is the subject matter of the epic. But as far as Paradise Lost Book I is concerned, Satan can be responsibly called the hero, because he fulfills all the requirements and heroic qualities of a hero.
We are often, told that the best adverse circumstances through which a man passes, reveal his latent and best heroic qualities. In the beginning, for that purpose, Satan arouses himself up from the lake of fire. He recovers himself from so-called defeat. From his speech, it is quite evident, that he does not utter any word of despair. He starts planning to reassemble his disheartened and completely shattered forces. A personal example of a hero boosts the morale of the defeated force. Satan shows the highest degree of fortitude and expresses to them his determination never to yield. They all gather around realizing that he possesses all the qualities of a great leader. Milton expresses Satan’s mighty qualities and his great resolution when he utters:
… 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 (Li., 251 – 255)
Such heroic words and sentiments can only be expressed by some spiritual leaders. These utterances reveal the spirit of self-reliance and moral courage which are the characteristics possessed by a great leader. These qualities are further exhibited, when he expresses his indomitable ambition.
Beelzebub is Satan’s deputy who bears witness to the rhetoric speech of his leader.
If once they hear that voice, their liveliest pledge
Of hope in fears and dangers, heard so soft
… They will soon ensure
new courage and revive, though now they lie
Grovelling and prostrate on yon lake of fire
If such words are uttered by an earthly general, he would be acclaimed by the entire world as a great leader of a great multitude so it is essential that we must weigh Satan in the pans of earthly and human standards. Milton has endowed Satan with all such qualities, which make him a hero. In this regard, Abercrombie says:
“It is surely the simple fact that “Paradise Lost” exists for one figure that is Satan: just as the “Iliad”: exists for Archilles and Odyssey for Odysseus. It is in the figure of Stan that the imperishable significance of “Paradise Lost” is centered; his vast unyielding agony symbolizes the profound antimony of modern consciousness. “Satan, therefore, is indeed a great figure of epic dimensions. He is a true hero, but he is only in Book I of Paradise Lost. “
W. Hazlitt agreed. He says: “The interest of the poem arises from the daring ambition and fierce passions of Satan, and the account of the paradisiacal happiness and the loss of it by our first parents. Satan is the indubitable hero, in fact, the most heroic subject that ever was chosen for a poem.”
When we read the poem from its beginning to its end, we conclude that this heroic figure starts losing his grander and splendour gradually; especially when tears rolled from his eyes:
Thrice he assayed, and thrice, in spite of scorn
Tears, such as angels weep, burst forth at last
Words interwove with sighs found out their way (Li., 619 – 621)
His deterioration starts further when he enters stealthily into a serpent to seduce Eve; he has turned from a great hero into a detestable spy. SO, when we take both the books I and IX into consideration, we cannot agree with the view that Satan is the hero of “Paradise Lost”. Then the question arises, who is the actual hero of Paradise Lost? When we read the opening lines of the poem, Milton indicates the actual hero in the words “Man’s first disobedience”. Adam, on account of his disobedience to God, is not only expelled from Paradise but becomes the actual cause of the fall of the entire human race. Adam, according to Milton, being responsible for it, fills the role of the hero of the heroic poem.
However, Adam’s role is passive, but he is the person, who engages the attention of God and angels besides Satan along with his fallen angels. Due to their disobedience in eating the forbidden fruiter, Nature sighs, and the whole earth trembles.
We may not consider Adam a heroic figure, as Achilles is, but we should forget that Paradise. Lost is quite different from Homer’s Iliad. Milton himself says “….. Yet argument, Not less but more heroic than the wrath of stern Achilles”
According to Christain mythology, Adam is defeated, but through the Redeemer Messiah, he regains the Paradise “happier far”. His victory is positively spiritual and that proves that Adam is the real hero of “Paradise Lost”. Helen Gardner supports this by saying: “Satan is, of course, a character in epic, but he is in no sense the hero of the epic as a whole. He is only a figure of heroic magnitude and heroic energy, and he is developed by Milton with dramatic emphasis and dramatic intensity. “