English Literature » Notes » ‘Paradise Lost’ as an Epic
Paradise Lost

‘Paradise Lost’ as an Epic

John Milton is a distinguish literary figure of the 17th century. His Paradise Lost is a product of renaissance enthusiasm. Though it is a secondary epic, it contains all the characteristics of a classical epic.

An epic is a long narrative in which the characters and actions are presented in heroic proportion. Paradise Lost is long poem written in 12 Books. the subject matter of this poem is the fall of Man from paradise and the purpose of the poet way to justify the ways of God to man.

Another characteristic of a classical epic is the invocation to the muse of poetry. The subject matter of this epic Milton has taken from the Bible. That is why Milton invokes the heavenly Muse. Heavenly Muse here is the holy spirit of God. he sought God’s inspiration so that he can be able to successfully present the subject matter. the poet wants to justify the ways of God to man. He says—

I may assert, Eternal Providence
And justify the ways of God to Man.

The subject matter of a classical epic is generally of national importance but the subject matter of Paradise Lost is more than this. Its subject concerns the whole cosmos—man, Angels, God, earth, heaven and hell. According to Coleridge

The epic represents the origin of evil and the combat of evil and good, it contains a matter of deep interest to all mankind.

In a classical epic, there is a national hero of national importance. the character belongs to the higher class of the society.in paradise lost the hero is Adam who is the father of Mankind. The character is of universal importance. Typically, with the downfall of the national hero, the whole nation suffers the downfall. but in paradise lost with the downfall of Adam, the whole nation suffers the downfall. We can mention the opening lines of Book -1 in this regard –

Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the world, and all our woe.

Generally, an epic involves heroic deeds. This epic also includes war and heroic deeds. We see war in heaven. The archangels under the leadership of Satan waged a war against God. They shook the throne of God. The might of the fallen angels cannot be compared with any force of the earth. Satan himself takes the adventure of the underworld journey to discover the Earth where human beings will live. the angels of God and the fallen angels are the real duex-ex-machina (supernatural agents) who determine the destiny of Man through their dreadful war.

Typically, the epic is written in grand style. Enriched language has been used throughout the book. The horrendous description of hell and the rowdy speech delivery of Satan are the exact replica of grand style. Tennyson evaluated Milton in this regard—

Go-gifted voice of England.

Use of epic simile is another stereotypical element in Paradise Lost. epic similes are rampant in the poem. We can remember how Satan has been compare with the Briareous or Typhon. Typhon is a giant with hundred heads and Briareous is a giant with hundred arms mentioned in Greek mythology. Satan has been compared with the sea beast Leviathan. Leviathan is a sea-monster, whale. The size of this monster is like that of an island. Let us mention the lines—

..or that sea beast
Leviathan, which God of all his works
Created hugest that swim the ocean streams.

In the light of above discussion, we can very safely say that John Milton his  outstanding skill in employing all the epical qualities in Paradise Lost. Milton is an epic poet of outstanding calibre indeed.

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