Heroic in Paradise Lost by John Lost Essay

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The theme of the 'heroic' in John Milton's Paradise Lost is one that has often been the focus of critical debate, namely in the debate surrounding which character is the 'true' hero of the poem. Most critics of the subject have, however, noted that the difficultly in defining the 'hero' of Milton's work is mainly due to our “vague understanding of what constitutes heroism”1 and the fact that “the term itself is equivocal”2. The 'vague' terming of what heroism can be defined as it what draws critics to disagree with one another over the nature of heroism, as Charles Martindale points out that there are 'different models of heroic', many of which Milton employs in his epic poem. To incorporate these different 'models' of the heroic into his poem, Milton relates various elements of these models to his characters, allowing him to 'test' and 'revalidate' certain ideas and images of the heroic. For the most part, the models of the heroic fit broadly into two camps, which leads critics like John Steadman to identify the “conflict between secular and divine criteria of the heroic”3. Furthermore, within these two main models of heroism critics mostly attempt to define the characters of Satan, Adam and the Son of God, depending on their characteristics throughout the poem.

Historically, it has been the character of Satan who is defined as the hero of Milton's epic, one who was defined by the Romantics as a 'tragic-hero'. At the beginning of the poem he is presented as one with an iron fast will, who will overcome his challenges in order to gain a victory, like the heroes of the classical epics. Upon waking up, cast out of Heaven by God, Satan's first action is to attempt to rally his troops, defiantly proclaiming that they can “make a heav...

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Herman, William R., 'Heroism and Paradise Lost', College English, Vol. 21, No. 1 (1959), 13-17

Milton, John, 'Paradise Lost', in Gordon Campell (ed.), Complete English Poems, of Education, Areopagitica, (Orion Publishing, London, 1998)

Peter, John, A Critique of Paradise Lost, (Columbia University Press: New York, 1960)

Steadman, John M., 'The Idea of Satan as the Hero of “Paradise Lost”', Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 120, No. 4 (1976), 253-294

Steadman, John M., Milton's Epic Characters: Image and Idol, (University of North Carolina Press: North Carolina, 1968)

Stein, Arnold, Answerable Style: Essays on Paradise Lost, (University of Washington Press: Washington, 1967)

Thompson, Elbert N. S., 'The Theme of Paradise Lost', PMLA, Vol. 28, No. 1 (1913), 106-120

Weston, Peter, John Milton: Paradise Lost, (Penguin Books: London, 1990)

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