The protagonist of this Protestant epic is the fallen angel Satan. From a modern perspective it may appear that Milton presents Satan sympathetically, as an ambitious and prideful being who defies his tyrannical creator, omnipotent God, and wages war on Heaven, only to be defeated and cast down. Some critics regard the character of Satan as a Byronic hero.
throne and monarchy of God,
Raised impious war in Heaven and battle proud,
With vain attempt. Him the Almighty Power
Hurled headlong flaming from th' ethereal sky,
With hideous ruin and combustion, down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire,
Who durst defy th' Omnipotent to arms.
Nine times the space that measures day and night
To mortal men, he, with his horrid crew,
Lay vanquished, rolling in the fiery gulf,
Confounded, though immortal. But his doom
Reserved him to more wrath; for now the thought
Both of lost happiness and lasting pain
Torments him: round he throws his baleful eyes,
That witnessed huge affliction and dismay,
Mixed with obdurate pride and steadfast hate.
At once, as far as Angels ken, he views
The dismal situation waste and wild.
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round,
As one great furnace flamed; yet from those flames
No light; but rather darkness visible
Patience is key to reading this epic poem, only then can you understand the full scope of Miltons writing, which is incredible to say the least
And if patience isnt in you then I recommend finding annotated versions online, as there are many from many, anything that will make you see this work, since it is more about seeing Miltons vision than reading
I studied Book 9 for A Level and then the whole at degree level. I agree with everything Michael Steen says. This is brilliant, thought provoking, passionate and sometimes heartbreaking poetry. Satan is definitely the most compelling character, but I do love Raphael too, especially in Book 4 when he comes to warn Adam and Eve. (In fact I love it so much have quoted it in my latest book). PL should be required reading. It may feel like a bit of a struggle to get through, but definitely worth it.
Mark Twain said that a classic is "a book that everyone wants to have read, but nobody wants to read." For no book, perhaps, is this more true than for "Paradise Lost." But those who recognize its greatness without reading it are missing out on one of the great literary experiences of a lifetime. The grandeur of the conception, the magnificence of the language, the depth of the philosophy/theology are just staggering.
Milton was imprisoned for a while by Charles II for being a supporter of Cromwell and the Puritans, and Milton's perception of his tyranny is apparent in such lines as "the mind is its own place and can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven" and "better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."
It is apparent that, though God and Christ are supposed to be the heroes of the poem, Satan stands out as the most heroic and magnificently drawn character. Arrogant, proud, indomitable, he strides through Hell as its lord and owner--never for a second bending his will to God's greater strength.
Read this poem--even if it takes you a year. You won't be sorry.
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