The subject, the drama, and the importance of Paradise Lost is grand. The epic represents what can be accomplished with the English language as sounds and syntax are carefully crafted. But the work is not shallow, because Milton argues forcefully the wisdom and justice of God Almighty for His dealings with mankind. In the words of Samuel Johnson, Milton attempts to show “the reasonableness of religion.”
No doubt, Ezra Pound represents the most vocal of the anti-Milton faction. In his essay, “Notes on Elizabethan Classicists,” Pound accuses Milton of “asinine bigotry,” and dislikes the “coarseness of his mentality.” Pound admires the Byronic hero–alone and rebellious–who struggles to fight for his lost cause in spite of overwhelming odds. According to Pound, because of his heroic willingness to fight against God and to never give up, Satan is the true hero in Paradise Lost. However, based on his actions, Satan fails to be any kind of hero. The real hero of Paradise Lost is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Satan is anything but a hero. Satan is a complainer and a whiner. When he realizes that he is in Hell, Satan begins complaining about his “injur’d merit.” For Satan, life is not fair since God the Father loved and preferred His Son more than him. Even though Heaven was lost, Satan states that “All is not lost.” According to Satan, “the unconquerable Will,” the “study of revenge,” and “immortal hate” remained. However, everything worthwhile is lost. Satan is in Hell because he rebelled against God and God cast him with the rebel angels out of Heaven. Here Satan whines because he blames God for not revealing all of His power. Indeed, Satan states that God tempted the angels to rebel in order that the Lord could use His superior strength to crush the rebellion.
Also, Satan is a coward. Not willing to confront the angels of Heaven, Satan resorts to disguise and to lying. As a “stripling Cherub,” Satan asks Uriel, an archangel, for directions to paradise in order to adore man and to praise God. Uriel does not see Satan’s hypocrisy, “the only evil that walks / Invisible.” Once on earth, Satan changes into a wolf, and then into a cormorant where he sits in the Tree of Life “devising Death / To them who liv’d.” Satan is not contented to be angry with God alone; he wants to destroy the innocent and powerless.
In the evening, Satan does not approach Adam, but appears as a toad and whispers “discontented thoughts, / Vain hopes, vain aims” and “inordinate desires” into the ear of Eve. But after he seduces Eve to disobey God, Satan “slunk / Into the Wood fast by.” While watching Adam eat of the forbidden fruit, Satan sees the Son of God descend. Being terrified at the sight of Jesus, Satan flees from the presence of the Son of God, afraid of the punishment that he could receive for causing the downfall of man. Since he is a whiner, a complainer, a liar, and a coward who harms the weak, Satan is hardly made of the stuff that makes heroes.
On the other hand, the Lord Jesus Christ acts heroically. The angels of Heaven battled the rebel angels for several days, but the conflict was a draw. Then God the Father sends his Son to quell the rebellion. The Son casts Satan and the angels out of Heaven with only “half his strength. . .but check’d / His Thunder in mid Volley.” Whereas Christ could have used all of His strength, he chooses “Not to destroy, but root them out of Heav’n.” The hero will not utterly crush the weak like the rebel angels were, but will use only enough strength to accomplish the task. In addition to this, Christ is sent to the earth to judge Adam and Eve.
Either man must die, or justice must. The Son of God states “I shall temper so / Justice with Mercy.” The true hero understands that justice without mercy is revenge. Yet mercy without justice is merely sentimentality. In the case of Adam and Eve, justice is necessary, but the justice will be tempered with mercy. Finally, the Son of God is most heroic when He offers to become the voluntary ransom for man. After none in Heaven dares to die in the place of fallen man, the Son pleads with the Father, “Behold me then, me for him, life for life / I offer, on me let thine anger fall.” The result of this sacrifice is that “Admiration seiz’d / All Heav’n” as well it might.
In Paradise Lost, the contrasts of Satan and the Son are profound. Satan blames God; the Son serves God. Satan hates mankind; the Son loves mankind. Satan comes to earth as an animal; the Son comes to earth as a man. The Son of God is everything that a true hero ought to be. On the other hand, Satan is doomed to have hell about him always because “within him Hell / He brings.” In short, Pound’s hero, Satan, is no hero at all.