On the back of my edition of Paradise Lost, the argument is made that because of how compelling his portrait is, Satan is the “true hero” of Milton’s epic poem. Although we’re only four books in, I’m inclined to agree up to this point.
My understanding is that one of the general requirements for any protagonist is that he holds qualities that are more or less universally held by all people. If the audience can not identify themselves (even in the slightest way) to the hero, then the story will not have the desired effect. With this in mind, it is clear to me that Satan is the “hero” of this story because he is more similar to mankind in his failings and inconsistencies than Jesus, the angels, or even Adam and Eve are in their perfection and wholeness. Additionally, Milton gives much more insight into Satan’s interior world than to any of his other characters.
Take, for example, how Satan is portrayed in Book 4 compared to how Adam and Eve are portrayed. A long interior monologue from Satan’s perspective is given in which he moves from self-doubt about his plans to corrupt mankind to embracing the idea that the siege on Paradise is predetermined. The most important quality in this speech seems to me how it re-evaluates its original claims; how Satan rationalizes his evil ambitions by musing that even if he were to attain again some state of goodness, eventually, “ease would recant vows made in pain, as violent and void.” What a human conclusion for Satan to have reached! How many times have I broken my own resolve to complete these blog posts every week by looking to the future and thinking something along the lines of “well, even if I did post every week, eventually I will get lazy and forget.”
In comparison, Adam and Eve’s introduction appears static and unnatural. The passages detailing their spot in Paradise seem to describe a state of being rather than two changing characters. Their sole duty is to live joyfully and praise God every once in a while? I don’t buy it.
The one caveat to this argument is that in Book 4 only details pre-sin Adam and Eve. I’m excited to see how they are depicted differently later on in the book.