Milton’s Satan – a ‘Modern Villain’


PG – I . ROLL NO – 05

In every story if there is a hero, there must be a villain also. Even if the villain is not a living creature, there must be something negative that goes against the hero. There must be something negative that the hero must overcome, otherwise the story would neither get a pace nor a direction. But if the villain, the antagonist become the focus of the story! Of course a hero is needed there to give the story a certain end, but only and only to fill the demand of a story in need of a villain and a hero.

Reader’s different attitudes towards villains

    At the time where we are standing now, it is quite common where we can find such stories where the villains are appreciated. We can call them the ‘modern villain’s who are not hated by the readers, rather praised. But when we go back in time we can hardly see any of these kinds of works. The main reason behind this is that on ancient times, literature was considered only as a medium to worship God; so no negative energy could be praised there. Most importantly they used to pray because they were afraid of evil so much and used to think that thus their God would protect them. And at that time, the medium of prayer was epic poetry or songs where a story of Godly hero defeating a villain was told. So it was impossible for them to even imagine a story where the villain can leave any positive impact. The villains of those stories at that time were hated or feared by the readers or the listeners. All the stories of any kind of literary form in old age were based upon this basic theme – hero defeating villain. When it comes to middle age, the main theme of literature changed. Now poets and authors shifted their focus from divinity to humanity and nature. But still there were hardly any literary works where the villain was looked with a positive attitude. Even after the humanity  replaced divinity in subject matter of literary work and there was no risk of getting cursed by the God, no poet or author was able to create such an antagonist until john Milton wrote an unforgettable epic ‘paradise Lost’. 

Milton’s Paradise Lost

   Paradise Lost is an epic by John Milton where the story based upon the story of Adam and Eve. Though there are questions on the appropriateness of ‘paradise lost’ being an epic, it is the content of the story that we are concerned of. This is mainly the story of downfall Adam and Eve. Satan, the antagonist who loses his battle with God, resolves to carry on his battle against God even after being defeated. He is able to unify the fallen angles against God. He wants to take revenge by disturbing god’s new creation on Earth. Satan travels to paradise from hell to anyhow make Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit which was strictly forbidden to eat by the Gods. Though Satan fails in his first attempt, he returns to Garden of Eden again as a snake and provokes Eve to eat that fruit. And once Eve eats that fruit, Adam eats it too. Thus succeeding in his plan, Satan returns to hell and is praised by his sons Sin and Death and the fallen angels. Then he sends them to Earth too to make the creation of God suffer more. Adam and Eve are sent out from Garden of Eden as a punishment. Adam after being guilty, is shown how the human kind will be free of sin again when the son of God will sacrifice himself for the sin of whole mankind. At last both Adam and Eve beg mercy from God for their sin and all the devils as well as Satan ends up being snake and loosing the power of speech.

     So it is no doubt that Satan is the antagonist of ‘paradise lost’. Satan is undoubtedly very evil, who is corrupting human kind. So he must be playing the anti-hero role in the story. But even though the other characters like son of God, angels, Adam are suitable for heroic status, paradise Lost is ultimately about Satan. He is in the focus of both the writer and the reader. Satan seems to be greater than he actually is, for this kind of presentation by Milton. More artistic energy was spent on Satan by Milton than any other character in this poem. That is why the character of Satan is able to maintain interest and perhaps sympathy of the reader’s throughout the poem.

       “of  the Devil’s party without knowing it” –

The famous quote on ‘paradise Lost’ by William Blake leads the readers to a idea that Satan is a hero  or kind of hero in this poem. This idea cannot be totally denied as Satan shows many qualities of a tragic hero in this poem.

Satan’s heroic attitude-

Many critics and writers, especially from romantic era, examined Satan as a promethean hero who is pitting his self against the unjust God. These heroic pictures of Satan, described by these critics, are mostly based on the first two chapters of this epic. In these books, Satan like a hero rose off the lake of fire then delivered a heroic speech about his decision of still challenging the God. Satan is a great leader and manages to unify the rebels again. He told them that they can make a ‘hev’n of hell’ and ‘a hell of hev’n’ and ’better to reign in hell than in heaven’. And then finally goes to Earth on his own. This kind of introduction of Satan makes him a hero to the readers on the first sight.

     Satan appears to be the hero also because the first two books of ‘Paradise Lost’ focus on the story of hell and fallen angels and the readers start to read the poem through Satan’s point of view. He also possesses most of the qualities of a tragic hero. Satan is powerful character filled with extreme courage and pride. He risks everything and fights for a cause that he believes in. It is more than enough to achieve readers’ sympathy. He is not as powerful as God, but he continues his fight going beyond his limits. He is a ‘leader with a plan’. Just like an admirable leader, Satan inspires and consoles the fallen angels and asks to continue the war. On the other hand, Milton portrays God as wrathful, punishing and unjust that makes the antagonist more heroic.

Why is Satan ultimately a villain-

     But how much heroic Satan seems to be, he cannot be the hero of the poem. Though Satan posses some heroic characters and able to collect the sympathy of the readers in the first two book, as the story progresses, the evilness of Satan discloses rapidly. This point of his taking revenge can be understood and accepted, but corrupting all the creation of God and destroying all the peace of innocent couple- Adam and Eve, cannot be seen with sympathy, rather this cruel act of Satan disgusts us and starts to create hatred against him. Satan’s motives also changes as the story advances. At first the fight was for freedom, later or becomes for glory. He also degenerates physically in his appearance. And the degeneration from higher to lower species, shows the fall of his motives and characters. A promethean hero is supposed to do the things by judging the right or wrong, but here Satan does only that what he want. This is why he looses the heroic image in the eyes of readers gradually. The Satan, who once was seemed to be a heroic character of this poem, ends up being a fallen villain.

     It is hard to come to a conclusion that if Satan is a hero or not. He is possessing the heroic character and starts the story with a heroic attitude. But his deeds and fallen motives stops him being a hero, making him a villain. But we cannot deny his heroic attitude also. For some reason we cannot hate him even if we want. He resembles the character of Macbeth of Shakespeare. Both of them are magnificent character of evil. Both of them are hero but doomed. Both Macbeth and Satan, is the driving force in their field. Thus none of them can be justified as pure villain. Even after creating such a mess and wrong to humankind and god, we still have sympathy for Satan for his ultimate fate.

Satan as a Modern Villain

      Now when we compare Satan with a modern villain, we can see how it makes more sense now. Just like any modern villain, he was also was run by his situation. No one is villain by birth. Rather the situation and a very horrible past create a villain. It is obvious that a hero is created to be idiolized, but it is the villain who makes more sense. Hero can never represent the social or economical or any kind of crisis that a modern villain can. So if the hero shows how it should go on, the villain reflects what is going on and. It is a modern villain who shows the readers or audiences all the negatives that are going on and should be removed and corrected. Only a villain can show the disputes that the common people want to be removed. He can also be judged as a representative of the untold pains, sorrows, blames of common people.

     One of the most loved villains of all time is Joker from Batman. Even the hero cannot hate such a villain who makes more sense and is correct and appropriate in his place. There are many loved villains like him over there. And all of them are somehow same at some point. Society is responsible for the creation of such villains just as God is responsible for Satan becoming a villain. Readers are sympathetic to him. Just like a modern villain, sometimes he goes beyond the hero. Throughout the story he holds an upper hand over the hero, just like any modern villain but faces a tragic end at last.


     So in conclusion it is better to consider Satan of ‘Paradise Lost’ as a modern villain rather than a hero or just a so called villain. He is the main focus of the poem even after being the antagonist. He is also the hero of the fallen angels as well as of Sin and Death. Just because he is portrayed as an antagonist, he cannot be the hero of the story. But we also cannot consider or accuse him as the villain for his heroic attitude and our sympathy towards him. So it will be justified to call him a modern villain as we cannot hate him even if we want. He has all the qualities to be a hero but he chooses his own way and ended up being a respected villain.


Ampleman, Lisa. “Why Satan’s Character in Paradise Lost Is the Original Antihero.” 19 Oct. 2017.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Penguin Classics, 2003.

Monami. “Who Is the Hero of ‘Paradise Lost’?” Owlcation, Owlcation, 9 Nov. 2017,

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