“PARADISE LOST” as an Epic
“PARADISE LOST” as an Epic
Milton’s Paradise Lost is based on Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Adenoid. Milton composed his epic in accordance with the established rules and conventions as laid down by Aristotle. However in conception design and execution it far surpasses the classical models before it. David Daiches remarks that the opening lines of Book “Things unstamped yet in Prose or Rime……….that to the height of this great Argument, I may assert Eternal Providence. And justify the ways of God to men” establish “his status as an epic poet on a higher moral plane than the Latin and Greek classic”.
Theme of Paradise Lost
As regards the theme whether in the form of narration or verse, it should be based on a single and complete action having beginning, middle and end. The subject should be so serious and exalted as to merit the epithet ‘universal’ So far as the theme of Paradise Lost is concerned, it is the Fall of Man and and Man’s Redemption through Christ, the Son of God. The fall of Satan is only a prelude to the main action. The action is single and whole. The battle of angels. the creation of the world, Satan’s fight with Sin and Death are episodes related to the main action. The action has a beginning, a middle and an end. The action of Paradise Lost is contrived in Hell, executed upon Earth, and rounded off in Heaven. The events are described in a distinct manner, and grow out of one another in the natural order. There are only short digressions at the beginning of the third and the seventh book. the theme of Paradise Lost is vaster, more magnificent and stupendous than that of epic of Homer or Virgil. It has universal interest.
According to Aristotle the theme of an epic must be “probable and marvelous”. It should be grand, elevated and marvelous, but not unconvincing and improbable. It must be some theme of national interest. Hall am says. the theme of paradise Lost is the finest ever chosen for heroic poetry. It is also managed by Milton with remarkable skill.” Dr. Johnson remarks. “His subject is the fate of worlds, the revolutions of heaven and of earth; rebellion against the Supreme King, raised by the highest order of created beings; the overthrow of their host, and the punishment of their crime; the creation of a new race of reasonable creatures; their original happiness and innocence.” In respect of its theme Paradise Lost is superior to other classical epics. The interest of Paradise Lost transcends the limits of a nation. It is the story of the Fall of man and his redemption by the Son of God. Basically it is the story of human action.
Characters of Paradise Lost
Epic poetry represents persons action the story. An epic introduces a number of characters. The principal characters must have dignity and sublimity. The characters in Milton’s Paradise Lost are the most sublime that human beings can conceive. They are God, Christ, the two good and evil angels, and Adam and Eve. God and Christ, the two supreme characters, are outside the range of
human comprehension. The angels include Raphael and Michael. In his tenderness and friendship for man Raphael shows dignity in all his speech and behavior proper for a supreme nature. Michael is regal and lofty, Abide and Gabriel appear occasionally, or the evil angels the characters are more diversified. Satan is the rebel Archfiend. Milton portrays him so skillfully that he appears to be the most exalted and most depraved being. Macaulay says, “His friends, in particular are wonderful creations………perhaps the gods and demons of Aeschylus may best a bear a comparison with the angels and devils of Milton.” As for human characters there are only two Adam and Eve our first parents. They were ignorant and innocent, and therefore happy. They transgressed the command of God any were thrown in distress. Ultimately they sought shelter in the mercy of God and regained the blissful seat through the Son of God. Christ.
Thus in Paradise Lost we have a large variety of characters, from the most sublime to the most depraved. They are all universal characters in whom man can never lose interest. We regard these characters with awe and admiration. These characters are of gigantic proportions and of super human heights. They impress us by their extra-ordinariness and because of their remoteness.
An epic must have a hero with great qualities. Adam—the original man, is the hero of the epic. He is set apart from ordinary man. He is a noble figure of man.
Supernatural Machinery in Paradise Lost
Milton followed the epic convention of invoking the Muse to help him in the composition of his great epic – Parasite Lost. He writes-
“And chiefly thou, O spirit that dost prefer
……………what in me is dark,
Illumine, what is low, raise and support.
A great epic poet employs and elaborate supernatural machinery to produce the effect of the “marvelous”. In Paradise Lost everything is wrought through supernatural machinery. Everything is done under the immediate and direct direction of Heaven. It contains the history of a miracle, of creation and redemption, and displays the power and the mercy of the supreme being.
Integrity of Design of Paradise Lost
All the episodes must have direct relation with the main action. There are only two episodes in Paradise Lost. One is Raphael’s relation of the war in heaven, the other is of Michael’s account of the changes to take place in this world. Both are closely connected With the action. One was necessary as a warning. the other as a consolation. The epic has the integrity of design. All the occasional, digressions, long narrative and descriptive passages so well interwoven that they do not hinder the main action. Dr. Johnson remarks. “He has involved in his account of the Fall of Man the events which preceded, and those were to follow it, he has interwoven the whole system of theology with such propriety every part appears to be necessary, and scarcely any recital is wished shorter for the sake of quickening the progress of the main action.”
Sublime Thoughts of Milton on Paradise Lost
The real greatness of Milton lies in rendering supernatural powers as human being. The sentiments both of fear and repentance of Adam and Eve are beautifully and forcefully described. The central thought in Paradise Lost is the moral sentiment. He skillfully painted the moral sentiment due to his acquaintance with the sacred writings. The ancient wanted the light of revelation and were unskillful teacher. The ancient authors wanted the light of revelation and were unskillful teachers of virtue. While the readers of Paradise Lost carry the precepts of justice and the message of mercy. The distinguishing excellence of Milton lies in the sublimity of thought. In the greatness of sentiments he triumphs over all the poets, both ancient and modern, Homer excepted.
Grand Style of Paradise Lost
In accordance with the exalted theme Milton invented a lofty style though ornate yet not so much ornate as give an air of decoration to his highly conceived ideas. The style of Preside Lost has the influence of the classical writers. His blank verse is unsurpassed in point of eloquence, force grandeur and sublime beauty. His use of heroic remains unsurpassed by any other English poet. Leagues remarks. “the meaning of words, the syntax, the division of sentences and the use of ablative absolute, constantly remind the scholarly reader of classical authors. The periodic style and the unrhymed line, with its beauty dependent only on its cadence, and its inversions have a severe solemnity and unbending energy. The work is full of more meaning denser, more uninterruptedly artistic and more constantly lifted above the level of prose than any other in English Poetry.
Paradise Lost is the greatest epic from the point of view of theme, supernatural machinery, grand and sublime thoughts, high ideas and grand style. Indeed Milton is counted among the greatest epic poets of the world.
English Literature― Important Links
- Characteristics of John Milton’s Poetry (with reference to Paradise Lost)
- Development of English poetry since the age of Shakespeare
- Important Forms of poetry in English (Narrative, Lyrical, Sonnet etc.)
- Sonnet 29- When, in disgrace with fortune (William Shakespeare)
- SONNET 138- When my love swears (Analysis and Explanation)
- Critical review of Sonnet Writing of William Shakespeare
- “The Canonization” by John Donne- Summary & Line by line Explanation
- Critical appreciation of ‘The Canonisation’ (Poem by John Donne)
- John Donne- As a Poet, Poet of Love, a Metaphysical Poet
- “Paradise Lost” (Lines 242-272) John Milton | Summary & Analysis
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