Paradise Lost as a classical Epic | How does Milton employ classical epic convention in his Invocation in paradise last Book.

Paradise Lost as a classical Epic | How does Milton employ classical epic convention in his Invocation in paradise last Book.

Discuss Paradise Lost as a classical Epic?

Homer and Virgil were the two great masters of the Classical epic, Homer’s IIiad and Virgil’s Aeneid have invariably served as models for all writers of classical epic. Milton was a great classical scholar and he sought to write an epic, a great poem that the world will not let die. He dreamt of immortality and he aspired to be one with Homer and Virgil as the author of a classical epic. Milton gave up his earlier plan of an Arthurian Epic and turned his great classical and Biblical learning to a poem which would “assert eternal Providence and justify the ways of God to men.”

Milton conceived and executed the scheme of Paradise Lost to a great extent, in accordance with the design of two classical epics – Homer’s IIiad and Viril’s Aeneid and tried to keep as close as possible to the rules and regulations of epic poetry as laid down by Aristotle after an examination of Homer’s work, Milton had achieved eminent success in making Paradise Lost as a classical epic. Inspite of certain drawbacks and defects, Milton’s epic is entitled to take its rightful place among half a dozen classical epics in the world. The first essential feature of the epic is its fable or its theme. According to the practice of the ancient classical epic must have a national import or significance, that is the epic must be a true and faithful mirror of the life and thought of a nation or a race through the action presented in it. Homer represented the national life of the Greeks, their thought and culture in the Iliad and Virgil gave expression to the hope and aspirations of the Romans in the bounds of a particular race or nationality. It is not an epitome of the English people and their traditions and culture. On the other hand, the theme of Paradise Lost is of a cosmic character. It is of a universal character. The failure of Man is the theme of Man of the epic. It was subject unattempted yet in prose or rhyme, but Milton gave this theme a practical snape, and wrote an epic dealing with the whole human race and indicated the destiny of all humanity through the sin of the first man created by God.

Having examined the theme of the epic and found it suitable for epic treatment let us now come to the second important element of the epic-viz. its action.

The epic action has three qualifications in it: first, it should be one action, secondly, it should be entire action, thirdly, it should be great action. In shart, the action of an epic should be one, entire and great. All these qualities of epic action are meticulously followed by Milton.

The action of Paradise Lost, is one i.e. it has unity of texture. There is a unity of action in Paradise Lost. The central action is the Fall of Man, and everything in the Epic, as the battle of angles, the creation of the world, is subordinated to this central action. There are no doubt short digressions at the beginning of the third and seventh books, but they do not seriously affect the unity and central action of the poem. The whole action of Paradise Lost is single and compact. In the second place, its action is entire, which means that it is a beginning, middle and an end. The action in Paradise Lost is contrived in hell, executed upon earth, and punished by heaven. In the third place the action ought to be great. By greatness of the action. Aristotle meant that it should not only be great in its nature, but also in its duration. The entire action of Paradise Lost has the stamp of grandeur and greatness about it. Milton’s subject is greater than Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid. It does not determine the fate of one single person or nation but of the whole human race. “Everything that is great in the whole circle of being, whether within the verge of nature or out of it, has a proper part assigned to in this admirable poem. In poetry as in architecture, not only the whole, but the principal members should be great and without derogating from those wonderful performances the Iliad and Aeneid, I think there is much greater magnificence in Paradise Lost Tiran could have been formed in any pagan system’ (Addison). Again, in conformity with the classical tradition. Milton plunges into the middle of the action (mediasres). Milton’ in imitation of the great epic poets, opens his Paradise Lost with an infernal council plotting the fall of man, which is the action he proposes to celebrate. In the First Book, Satan and the fallen angels are seen floating on the lake of fire in Hell swearing eternal vengenance against the race of man. Milton casts the great actions, into the fifth, sixth and seventh books, by way of episode in order to preserve the unity of the principal action.

The Characters of the epic must have dignity and variety. A large number of characters having novelty, variety and dignity are to be found in an epic poem. In Paradise Lost, we have a wide variety of characters marked with qualities as wide an varied as are the characters marked with qualities as wide and varied as are the characters themselves. In Paradise Lost, we have human as well as superhuman characters. Adam and Eve are human characters, whereas God, Christ, Satan, the good and evil angels are super human characters. They have been endowed with qualities, befitting their inclusion in the epic. Raphael, the good angel is mild and placid and shows such a dignity and condescension in all his speeches and behaviour as are suitable to his superior nature. Michael is regal and lofty, attentive to the dignity of his own nature Abdiel is the embodiment of fidelity. Of the evil angels, Satan is the figure of pride, hatred and revenge. Adam and Eve are innocent and address their maker with a voice of admiration and gratitude.

An epic must have a hero with great qualities. Adam is the hero of the epic. He is not a warrior or a conqueror, but a noble figure justifying the praise that Shakespeare has showered on the figure of man [Adam] in Hamlet, Act II, Sc. II

“What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason how express and admirable in notion! how like an angel in apprehension! how like a God! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals.” No hero can be greater than the First Man created by God in His own image.

An epic is a serious poem embodying sublime and nobler thoughts. There is no room for pleasantry and fun and light hearted gaiety in a classical epic. Milton’s Paradise Lost is a sublime and noble poem characterized by loftiness of thought and sentiment. It is impossible for the imagination of man to distend itself with greater ideas than which Milton has presented in the first, second and sixth books. The seventh book which Milton has presented in the First, second and sixth books. The seventh book which describes the creation of the world, is equally wonderful and sublime. An epic is not without moral. Besides giving a general representation to passions and affections, virtues and vices, the epic poet does not leave out a moral which he expects his readers to imbibe. Moral forms an integral and intrinsic part of Milton’s poem. It seeks to “vindicate the ways of God to man, to show the reasonableness of religion, and the necessity of obedience to the Divine Law.”

The epic poets of the past followed the convention of beginning their work by invoking. Milton, in conformity with the ageold practice, begins Paradise Lost by invoking the Muse to help him in his great task. But since Milton’s work is of religious character he seeks the aid, not of the pagan muses of poetry, but the Heavenity Muse, the Holy spirit. The poet lifts his voice in prayer to the Holy spirit for instruction and support.

“And chiefly thou, O spirit that dost prefer

Before all temples the upright and pure

Instruct me, for thou knowest; thou from the first

Was present, and with mighty wings out spread

Dove like sat brooding on the vast Abyss

And mad’st pregnant What in me is dark.

Illumine, what is low, raise and support.”

In an epic poem the poet narrates very little in his person. The characters themselves carry forward the mission of the poet. In Paradise Lost, Adam and Eve, Satan and the Fallen angles, Raphael and the angels, mark the progress of the epic by their speeches. There is scarce a third part of it which comes from the poet.

Lastly, comes the language and the style of epic poetry. The language of an epic must be sublime and raised above the language of common parlance. Aristotle has observed that a sublime style can be formed by three methods- by the use of metaphors, by making use of idioms of other tongues and by lengthening of a phrase by the addition of words, which may either be inserted or omitted, as also by extending or contracting of particular words by the insertion or omission of certain syllables. Milton employs all these three methods to give the air of grandeur to his epic. His similes and metaphors are epical. Latinised words are frequently introduced giving an air of grandeur to the poem. The style of Paradise Lost is the truest example of grand style, and the march of its poetic lines resembles the procession of ocean waves with their sonority and grandeur. Milton’s voice has the sound of the sea. Here, as no where else, does the blind poet come out as “the mighty mouthed inventor of harmonies.” and “God- gifted organ voice of England.

Milton’s Paradise Lost is a successful classical epic, and in the conception and execution of the theme, the blind poet goes beyond Homer and Virgil. He has exceeded the fecundity of Homer and Virgil. He has exceeded the fecundity of Homer, and at the same time he has not come short of the correctness of Virgil. Rightly Dryden found in Milton the fusion of both, Homer and Virgil, and he placed him on a level superior to the classical masters in the following eulogy;

“Three distant poets in three distant Ages born,

Greece, Italy, and England did adorn

The first in loftiness of though surpast,

The next in majesty, in both the last,

The Force of Nature could no further go,

To make a third she joined the other two”

“Paradise Lost has thus many excellences as an epic but the defects in it also must not be forgotten. The introduction of allegorical persons like sin and death has no place in an epic poem. The frequent allusions to heathen mythological fables are ill-suited to a poem the subject of which is of so divine a nature. Milton rather frequently resorts to digressions, these though possessed of great beauty, are allowed in an epic poem. The intervention of greatest incidents sometimes mars the effects of the sublime, (as the changing of demons into serpents). The frequent indulgence in puns and tingling of words and useless display of learning and the unnecessary and ungraceful use of technical terms as in the description of Pundemonium are some blemishes in the style of the poem. Our other inpoint must also be noted. An epic is an objective poem, and personal reflections are out of place in it. The sublimes parts of Paradise Lost reflect the individuality of the poet, this has added to the interest of the work as a poem though it is not, strictly speaking, permissible in an epic.”

-(Roy Mukerji)

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