AIR FORCE ACADEMY
“GENERAL M.R. STEFANIK”
ARMED FORCES ACADEMY
INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE of SCIENTIFIC PAPER
Brasov, 26-28 May 2011
MILTON’S SATAN: HERO OR ANTI-HERO?
Edith KAITER, Corina SANDIUC
“Mircea cel Bătrân” Naval Academy, Constanţa, Romania
Abstract: Satan is the most controversial and appealing figure of Paradise Lost. No convincing single source for Milton’s Satan has been found, not even the Bible, which contains very little evidence referring to Satan. Satan is, according to some theories, a vital part of a Manichaean universe, the “infinum malum” necessitated by a “summum bonum” which is God. Milton’s attempts to concentrate evil in Satan, however, were not very successful. There have even been claims that Satan is superior in character to Milton’s God. The critics are divided on the question whether Satan is a hero or an antihero: the anti-Satanist movement emphasises Satan’s selfishness or folly while Satanists highly praise his courage and determination. The present paper aims at demonstrating that Milton’s Satan is a multifaceted presence, often contradictory, both a hero and a villain, a character revolted against tyranny and a tyrant, a preacher of freedom and a prisoner of his own egocentrism.
Keywords: epic, hero, anti-hero, ambivalence
The source of inspiration for Milton’s
puzzling character remains unknown. The
Bible contains very little evidence referring to
Satan. According to Biblical records, he is the
author of all evil, the master of disguise and
man’s worse enemy. Satan is, according to
some theories, a vital part of a Manichaean
universe, the “infinum malum” necessitated
by a “summum bonum” which is God. To
combat this theory came the doctrine of the
early Church which sustained that evil had no
real being but was merely “privatio boni”, a
privation of good. Milton, on the other hand,
presents evil as real and isolated in a single
being, and therefore punishable.
Milton’s attempts to concentrate evil in
Satan were not very successful. The critical
reactions have seldom been able to regard
Satan as the depiction of pure evil. There have
even been claims that Satan is superior in
character to Milton’s God. Unfortunately,
sometimes the critical approaches tend to take
their argument to extremes in their endeavour
to strengthen their cause. For instance, the
anti-Satanist movement emphasises Satan’s
selfishness or folly while Satanists highly
praise his courage. Either of these
perspectives risks to ignore the elements
which do not fit into their theories, much to
the detriment of the work’s itself. The dispute
remains unsettled, and it should remain so or
else we would be destroying much of the
poem’s value and significance. A more
appropriate solution would be to recognize the
“character’s ambivalence” , a precondition
John Carey, “Milton’s Satan”. The Cambridge
Companion to Milton (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1989): 132.
of the poem’s success and a major factor in
the attention it has aroused. This controversial
aspect of the poem has the advantage of
validating individual reinterpretation and
renders the modernity and appeal of the work.
The character of Satan cannot be
understood only one way, he has a plurality of
meanings and therefore to limit him to only
one specific definition would ruin its
singularity. A multifaceted presence, often
contradicting himself, Satan is both hero and
villain, revolted against tyranny and tyrant,
preacher of freedom and prisoner of his own
egocentrism. Milton seems to be deliberately
portraying several different and sometimes
As John Carey observes, the term most
suitable to express this ambivalence of
character is “depth”. Depth in a fictional
character, Carey argues “depends on a degree
of ignorance being sustained in the reader,”
the illusion, he continues...
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