Paradise Lost: Milton Hero

Posted on: March 20, 2011
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By Greg Bauder.

Milton is the true hero in Paradise Lost. Milton said his aim to do “things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme” was for one thing to “Justify the ways of God to man.” But in saying this, as a man, he was trying to justify the ways of God to himself. That appears to be why Milton, as narrator, is the most powerful and heroic force to be reckoned with in the poem. And while Milton revolutionized poetry by writing his epic in blank verse he also created a type of Monism that was derived from so much erudition, probably from other religions, even Eastern ones, that he shocked the clergy which was no doubt his heroic intention. Certainly, Satan appears heroic especially in the first few books with his open and brilliant speeches after his war with God’s angels who are not always like Biblical angels. Milton’s depiction of male homosexual angels outraged the church, for example, and his constant mixture of pagan references with Christian ones was also considered blasphemy by exasperated prelates which endeared him to almost every poet and critic up to Tennyson. Byron said Milton’s Satan “led a noble revolt against political tyranny.”

Milton’s God is seen as austere, cruel and vengeful since he banishes Satan yet uses him to tempt Adam and Eve. If God is the creator of all including Satan then He is responsible for evil. And instead of having a very simple resolution where he saves all and even redeems the rebels he invents a complex salvation where no angel steps forward to be sacrificed but his son does “to regain that blissful seat “. Here we see God willing to bring suffering on his Son for his own selfish purposes: why not have His son come without being innocently tortured so there is less suffering and why keep allowing Satan false hopes? Satan says “evil be thou my good” out of frustration and constant manipulation and unspeakable horror.

Since Milton did not believe in The Trinity,and other traditions which the Church labelled him heretic for, God’s Son was a creation and therefore somewhat of a brother to Satan. But instead of treating Satan like the Prodigal Son because if God was the Father of all, he would want him to come back to him because as Shakespeare wisely pointed out love shouldn’t alter. We see Adam’s love for Eve so great that he is willing to die for her. But God’s love is always conditional and although He is a merciful God to many, clearly Milton struggled with this idea.

When Abdiel returns from Pandemonium God says “thou hast fought the better fight.” Here Milton portrays God as petty gloating over a minor incident just as Satan did in his early upperhand in the War in Heaven. So, Milton portays God as not always good and Satan as not always evil. Thus, Blake’s assertion that “Milton was a true poet and of the devil’s party without knowing it” is true although he was of God’s party as well. Therefore, we see a kind of dualism where Satan and God by almost every reader’s interpretation are coming across alternately favourable to our human intellect and on the other hand distasteful, too. We see Milton struggling to figure out how to justify God’s ways but he also has to justify Satan’s ways, too. This anticipates the Age of Reason where reason ( God ) had to keep desire ( evil ) in check.

But, to The Romantics controlling desire meant controlling imagination which is the true God so Shelley said” poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” And Milton, like the God who imagined The Bible and was therefore a poet, was thus seen as an archetype who had redeemed man by writing the greatest literary work Paradise Lost. Milton ended up justifying the creative side of God as well as the creative side of Satan. He admitted both sides could be destructive so he recognized the constant battles without mirror the ones within ourselves and by accepting both sides as hero and villain he taught us that the only constant was love and acceptance of all things which is what his God never did but Milton’s thesis was He should. So, like Blake, Milton shows us the higher good: learn through wisdom as we all should and Milton’s God should not imprison freedom, especially of speech, but relax and ease the repression and suffering He creates. This is shown in “Aereopagitica” where Milton offers the greatest polemic on freedom of speech. And to Milton if God has his say certainly we must listen to Satan so as Blake said “without contraries is no progression.”

What Milton taught us in Paradise Lost was that his epic was the true Bible since the original was not only inferior in language but it did not allow Satan freedom of speech. Milton’s way of combatting tyranny was literally playing the devil’s advocate. But his overall wisdom came from his constant learning and desire for knowledge from anyone which is why he read almost everything and is the heroic poet of liberty and justice. He remains the greatest writer in history towering over even the mighty Shakespeare.LM_Aerium_small1


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