Milton's Purpose of Making Satan the Antihero in John Milton’s Paradise Lost
Satan’s greatest sins are pride and vanity in thinking he can overthrow God, and in the early part of the poem he is portrayed as selfish while in Heaven where all of God’s angels are loved and happy.
One source of Satan’s fascination for us is that he is an extremely complex and subtle character. It would be difficult, perhaps impossible, for Milton to make perfect, infallible characters such as God the Father, God the Son, and the angels as interesting to read about as the flawed characters, such as Satan, Adam, and Eve. Satan, moreover, strikes a grand and majestic figure, apparently unafraid of being damned eternally, and uncowed by such terrifying figures as Chaos or Death. Many readers have argued that Milton deliberately makes Satan seem heroic and appealing early in the poem to draw us into sympathizing with him against our will, so that we may see how seductive evil is and learn to be more vigilant in resisting its appeal.
The face that illustrates him staying to battle the angel flies away, symbolizing its weightlessness and irrelevance. The scales signify the fact that God and Satan are actually not on opposite sides of a battle; God is all-powerful, and Satan and Gabriel depend on Him. The scales compel Satan to recognize the futility of fighting against God’s angels again.
I cannot say what will appeal to other contemporary readers—meditations on free will, the psychological nature of hell, the poignant goodbye to Eden—but I know those who take the time to do a spiritual reading of the classic poem will reap its rewards.
Frye, Northrop, The Return of Eden: Five Essays on Milton’s Epics, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965. Print.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. In The Norton Introduction to Literature. Alison Booth and Kelly J. Mays, eds. Portable 10th ed. New York: Norton, 2011. Print.
Stone, James W. “Man’s effeminate s(lack)ness:” Androgyny and the Divided Unity of Adam and Eve, Milton Quarterly 31 (2): 1997. 33–42.