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John Miltons Paradise Lost

John Milton`s Paradise Lost Paradise Lost is an epic – poem based on the Biblical story of Adam end Eve. It attempts to justify and explain how we came to be what we are today. The central question to Paradise Lost is ” where does evil comes from?” Throughout the poem we receive information about the origin of evil. At the beginning of John Milton’s work we are given the Biblical explanation, of Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowledge and being expelled from the Garden of Eden. This was man’s first disobedience, which brought him mortality, and at the same time this first act gave source to all evil.

This was the effect of ambition. Adam end Eve both ate the apple from the tree in order to achieve a level of knowledge compatible to God’s. The same way according to Paradise Lost, Satan is also known to be the source of evil. Satan was sent to Hell as cause of ambition. For the second time ambition and the desire to become more powerful or knowledgeable, was the basis of evil.

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Satan challenged God, and was condemned to evil. “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven”. Hell is clearly a state of mind. According to the non-physical aspects of Hell described at the end of the poem, one can conclude even from the quote mentioned above, that Hell is what we think of it to be. Can the human exploration for answers, ambition for knowledge, and curiosity reach a level that then threatens humans themselves? The answer to this question is YES! If we examine subjects such as human cloning, nuclear weapons and medicine there may be different responses.

My personal feeling is that anything that alters, or changes life itself, in exception to medicine, is not to be studied nor developed. We humans are curious, and this is simply innate. We will continue to ask questions and explore even outside of our world. I believe we humans, do not have the power to create nor destroy life, by any other means than normal sexual creation and accidental death. I feel medicines are a positive element and part of our lives because medicine does not threaten the lives of others, unlike nuclear weapons and cloning. Furthermore medicines ameliorate our lifestyles. Does nuclear destruction and radiation do the same? aradise Lost is one of the finest examples of the epic tradition in all of literature.

In composing this extraordinary work, John Milton was, for the most part, following in the manner of epic poets of past centuries: Barbara Lewalski notes that Paradise Lost is an “epic whose closest structural affinities are to Virgil’s Aeneid . . “; she continues, however, to state that we now recognize as well the influence of epic traditions and the presence of epic features other than Virgilian. Among the poem’s Homeric elements are its Iliadic subject, the death and woe resulting from an act of disobedience; the portrayal of Satan as an Archillean hero motivated by a sense of injured merit and also as an Odyssean hero of wiles and craft; the description of Satan’s perilous Odyssey to find a new homeland; and the battle scenes in heaven. . .

. The poem also incorporates a Hesiodic gigantomachy; numerous Ovidian metamorphoses; an Ariostan Paradise of Fools; [and] Spenserian allegorical figures (Sin and Death) . . . .

(3) There were changes, however, as John M. Steadman makes clear: The regularity with which Milton frequently conforms to principles of epic structure make his occasional (but nevertheless fundamental) variations on the epic tradition all the more striking by contrast. The most important departures from epic decorum–the rejection of a martial theme, and the choice of an argument that emphasizes the hero’s transgression and defeat instead of celebrating his virtues and triumphs–are paradoxically conditioned by concern for the ethical and religious decorum of the epic genre. On the whole, Milton has retained the formal motifs and devices of the heroic poem but has invested them with Christian matter and meaning. In this sense his epic is .

. . something of a “pseudomorph”–retaining the form of classical epic but replacing its values and contents with Judeo-Christian correlatives. (Epic and Tragic Structure . .

. 20) Steadman goes on to defend Milton’s changes in the form of the epic, saying that “such revaluations are not unusual in the epic tradition; they were in fact inevitable” (20). It is important, before continuing with an examination of Paradise Lost and its epic characteristics and conventions (specifically, those in Book I), to review for a moment exactly what an “epic” is. Again, according to Lewalski, “Renaissance critics generally thought of epics as long poems treating heroic actions or other weighty matters in a high style, thereby evoking awe or wonder” (12). Today’s definition does not differ; the following summary of characteristics and conventions of the epic is taken from Thrall and Hibbard’s A Handbook to Literature, wherein they write that an epic is “a long narrative POEM in elevated STYLE presenting characters of high position in a series of adventures which form an organic whole through their relation to a central figure of heroic proportions and through their development of EPISODES important to the history of a nation or race.” Common characteristics include The hero is a figure of heroic stature, of national or international importance, and of great historical or legendary significance; (2) The setting is vast in scope, covering great nations, the world, or the universe; (3) The action consists of deeds of great valor or requiring superhuman courage; (4) Supernatural forces–gods, angels, demons–interest themselves in the action and intervene from time to time; (5) a STYLE of sustained elevation and grand simplicity is used; and (6) the epic poet recounts the deeds of his heroes with objectivity.

(174-76) There are also a number of common devices or CONVENTIONS used by most epic poets: “. . . the poet opens by stating his theme, invokes a Muse to inspire and instruct him, and opens his narrative ‘in medias res’–in the middle of things–giving the necessary EXPOSITION in later portions of the epic; he includes catalogues of warriors, ships, armies; he gives extended formal speeches by the main characters; and he makes frequent use of the EPIC SIMILE” (176). The epic simile is “an elaborated comparison.

This type differs from an ordinary SIMILE in that it is more involved, more ornate, and is a conscious imitation of the Homeric manner. The secondary object or picture is developed into an independent aesthetic object, an IMAGE which for the moment excludes the primary object with which it is compared” (176). With this as background, it is now possible to trace the epic elements present in Book I of Paradise Lost rather easily. That all of those six characteristics noted above are present and demonstrable is certain; it is equally certain that it is through the manipulation of some of these epic characteristics and conventions that Milton offers to the reader a number of the most controversial and interesting questions and situations in the poem. One of the most formidable problems that the reader must face is that of hero; exactly who is the epic hero in the poem? Steadman notes that for many readers, Milton’s devil is a much stronger character than his God, and his image of Hell far more forceful than his picture of Heaven.

From such subjective impressions as these they infer (wrongly) that the Hell-scenes must be more ‘sincere’ than the descriptions of Heaven. They conclude, with Dryden, that Satan must be the real ‘hero’ of Paradise Lost (Milton’s 27); it is not to Satan, clearly, notes Steadman, that the mantle of hero falls; “in the language of Renaissance criticism, Adam–the central figure in the poem–is clearly the ‘epic person’ or ‘primary hero'” (viii). Going a step further, Steadman also remarks that, “in supplying Satan with many of the conventional attributes of the epic hero, Milton indirectly censures the epic tradition for celebrating vice as heroic virtue. . .

. Milton relies on a ‘reductio ad absurdum’ to discredit a spurious conception of heroism” (39). Francis C. Blessington adds an interesting note to the discussion when she calls Satan not a classical hero but a classical villain: Satan is made the archetype of the sophistical rhetoric, the shallow egotism, and the destructive pride, the vices of the classical epic as well as of the classical world. In addition, he is the perversion of classical heroic virtues. He often begins by resembling a victim, sometimes even a perversion of that .

. . . [He is] not a classical hero but a classical villain who unheroically defeats creatures far below him in stature. (18) Steadman would concur: In the course of Milton’s epic his fallen archangel conceives and executes an enterprise of conquest and destruction closely resembling that of the conventional epic hero. Nevertheless, for a seventeenth-century Protestant, this apparently heroic exploit should have fitted into a familiar ethical category, a pattern already delineated and condemned by theologians in their discussions of pagan virtue. Besides preoccupying Luther and Calvin, this subject had also engaged Paolo Sarpi and Richard Humfrey.

These authors had advanced the following charges against the ancient Gentiles: In their deeds of valor and virtuous acts, they sought their own glory instead of God’s. However heroic such works might appear, they were performed for a bad end and were therefore sinful. The ancient Gentiles were only superficially virtuous, for they lacked inward sanctity. They sought their reward on earth rather than in Heaven, pursuing worldly renown rather than celestial glory. Their religion tended to fill man with pride by persuading him that he was naturally virtuous. Their teachings incited him to revenge rather than to patience.

(Milton’s . . 211-12) That Milton wanted his readers to be forced to face the problem of Satan seeming heroic is certain. Satan is, after all, an angel. He was a mighty angel in Heaven.

In order for us to see the power of God, it is necessary that Satan also be powerful. It is important that Satan, a parody of God, be viewed as an eloquent, bold being, one possessing superhuman strength, extraordinary martial prowess, fortitude, and other attributes–otherwise, what message is there to us? But Milton would also expect his readers to perceive fact from fancy; he would expect us to see through Satan’s seeming greatness to his core of evil and pride and petty acts of revenge. That is, after all, part of the test. If we perceive Satan’s real villainy, we indeed show ourselves sufficient. The next three characteristics of the epic listed above are hardly items of debate.

The setting is indeed vast in scope, ranging from Heaven to Hell and to the Earth. The action surely consists of deeds of great valour requiring superhuman courage. And there are supernatural forces (gods, angels, and dem …


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