The epic hero of John Milton's Paradise Lost
Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste Brought death into the World
In Milton's Paradise Lost, Adam, Eve, and Satan are the main characters. They are all represented very differently and intensely, and there is still an argument about the epic's hero. The epic hero cannot be determined because even though Satan is the villain, Milton wrote him in a way that people assume he is the hero. That can also be the reason why Blake thought Milton was "of the Devil's party without knowing it." Despite the fact that Milton does not explicitly praise Satan, he portrays him as a heroic figure with whom the readers can empathize. In book 1, between lines 242-270, Satan has an epiphany regarding his fall from Heaven. Firstly, he says his goodbyes to "happy fields," which is Heaven. Then he quickly embraces Hell in the lines "Hail horrours, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor." In the following lines, "The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n." he states that it is not important where we are. Our mind has the power to even change Hell into Heaven, which is a very motivational quote that will make readers feel sympathy for him. Although God has beaten him, he refuses to give up. He is determined that will never submit to God because, in the following lines, he says, "Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n." Even though Satan has been cast out of Heaven, he still thinks about other fallen angels and how to help them in book one, lines 264-270. However, in book four, lines 86-89, he also talks about how his followers, the other fallen angels, know nothing about his inward struggles. This is a very unexpected thing coming from a devil. Typically, Satan is pictured as cruel and reckless, but Milton wrote him as selfless and caring. He does not show his weaknesses to his companions but still fights for them no matter what because he seduced them by promising that he would beat God. It is difficult not to root for his character because he is full of fire and passion. The confusion about the hero of the epic and how Satan is represented can be the reason why Blake thinks Milton was "a true poet." Because he alters the character, who is almost always considered a villain and makes him seem like a good, caring hero. Moreover, Milton is known to be devoutly religious, so he must not think of Satan as a hero, but the ability to represent him in the way Milton represented requires a true poet.
Milton introduces Eve as a clueless person. The first thing that got her attention when she was first created was her own reflection which is also her weakness. If the angel had not directed her to Adam in book four, lines 471-475, by referring to him as "hee
Whose image thou art, him thou shall enjoy
Inseparable thine, to him shalt beare
Multitudes like thy self, and thence be call'd
Mother of human Race." she would probably be obsessed with herself and not be "mother of the human race." This also indicates that she can be fooled easily. Eve is usually depicted as obedient to Adam and, to some extent, highly dependent on him before the fall. Her reasoning abilities are not entirely as developed as his. (Linn, 2021) The weakness of vanity is tied to Eve, and Satan is aware of Eve's weaknesses and plays on them. After complimenting her attractiveness and purity, Satan easily persuades her to eat the apple. (SparkNotes Editors, 2005)
Adam is a character that is powerful, smart, and reasonable. Milton's Adam is the personification of Christian virtues. Reason, devotion, modesty, obedience, passion, curiosity, and marriage loyalty are the virtues in consideration. Adam's greatest flaw is his affection for Eve. He falls head over heels in love with her the moment he sees her. Eve has become his life partner, and he refuses to give her up, even if it means disobeying God. After the fall, they both start to feel negative feelings they have never experienced. They are both victims of self-doubt, wrath, and melancholy, as well as self-pity, and it can be understood from lines 1123-1126 in book 9, "Began to rise, high passions, anger, hate,
Mistrust, suspicion, discord; and shook sore
Their inward state of mind, calm region once
And full of peace, now toss't and turbulent." However, at the end of book 12, they seem to comply with their fall and have accepted their fate. They are feeling sorrow because they lost Heaven but hopeful because they have Earth. As a result, Adam transforms from a perfect person to a decent human.
I think Blake is right in that Milton "was a true poet." He may be "of the Devil's party without knowing it," but I do not think that it is because he sympathizes with the Devil. He wants to picture his feelings and desire in the best way possible, as he did with Adam and Eve.