January 05, 2024

#08-374: Satan as Hero

At his fall, "Satan first knew pain..." (Wikimedia)

Note: Can Satan in any way ever be considered a hero? The answer of some literary scholars is YES!

Get Ready: What characteristics make a hero a hero, and a villain a villain?

When we ponder the character of Satan in John Milton's Paradise Lost--held to be one of the greatest works in the English language--we must consider the questions: Is he a Tragic Hero or an Antihero? And what's the difference?

The basic plot again: Satan was the chief angel who rebels against God and is removed from Heaven, along with a third of all the angels (his army in the war against the angels who follow God). This is the first loss of Paradise to which the title refers. Then, he lures Adam and Eve to defy God as well, for which God removes them from the Garden of Eden: the second loss of Paradise.

My Milton professor in university suggested--to our astonishment--that Satan was the "hero" of the work, by which he meant the "main character" or protagonist.

But there are many shades of hero. One of these--the one I have used to describe Satan in the past--is the Tragic Hero. This is a main character or protagonist who acts the part of the hero but has within himself (or herself) a "tragic flaw" which makes success elusive. This may be an ingrained trait, or merely a bad decision made by the character. Nevertheless, his impulses and intentions are toward the good, as a hero is virtually always one who brings benefit to others.

Examples of the Tragic Hero in popular literature may include Anakin Skywalker in the "Star Wars" saga, whose nature and decisions take him to "the dark side"; or the charming poser Jay Gatsby in "The Great Gatsby."

The Antihero is a little trickier. He is one who lacks heroic character: he is selfish (not working for the good of others), cowardly, or downright immoral. We often see films these days that lead us to root for someone who is actually breaking the law; that would be an Antihero.

So: In the first phase of Satan's rebellion, going against God, he may be a Tragic Hero. Some traditions say that his "rebellion" was that he refused to kowtow to human beings, despite God's instructions to the angels to serve humankind. Thus, his impulse was good, but misguided: a classic Tragic Hero.

But when he tempted Adam and Eve, the first humans? That was an act of just pure selfish evil, marking him--in this part of the plot, at least--as an Antihero.


  • Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradise_Lost
  • Read Paradise Lost FREE online

Practice: Match the term to its definition:

Term Definition
  1. astonishment
  2. cowardly
  3. downright
  4. elusive
  5. flaw
  6. impulse
  7. ingrained
  8. kowtow
  9. lures
  10. poser
  1. motivation; purpose
  2. great surprise
  3. attracts; tricks
  4. hard to catch
  5. bow down; be obedient
  6. one who pretends to be something he's not
  7. not brave
  8. weak point
  9. built-in; fixed
  10. absolutely

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for January 5, 2024

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. b; 2. g; 3. j; 4. d; 5. h; 6. a; 7. i; 8. e; 9. c; 10. f