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“Paradise Lost” John Milton One of the Most Distinguished Samples of Literature Epos Essay

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Updated: Sep 10th, 2021

“Paradise Lost” is an eminent success of world literature, one of the most distinguished samples of literature epos. Its contents are quite manifold and its difficulty and contradictoriness have reflected on its fate for many generations of readers. As most of the storyline of “Paradise Lost” was created on the basis of Biblical stories, it was considered a book of heavenly-minded character and viewed as a poetical interpretation of the Bible.

Heroism is one of the main characteristics of epic poetry, and as this poetry is considered to be of that sort, it sure has elements of heroism. May I remind you that this poem was thought of as godly literature, and only at the beginning of the 19th century a British poet Shelly had started questioning the theopathy of Milton, however, nor Shelly, nor other writers and critics who have noticed the divergence of the poem from the religious dogma were unable to alter the popular belief.

It was not until the 20th century when critics have actually recognized the true meaning of this great poem. It turned out that “Paradise Lost” is not simply fluctuating from religious teachings, but in fact contradicts it most of the time.

In order to understand the complex subject matter of the poem, there is a need to find the firm historical ground. “Paradise Lost” is starting off by portraying the war between heaven and hell. From one side there is God, His archangels and angels, and from the other – the fallen angel Satan, and all the rest of demons. It seems that everything is quite clear and simple. But it takes simply reading the monologues of hell’s inhabitants, as this plainness and simplicity start becoming supposed. The fallen angels are planning to rise against God. It is hard not to notice how they name Him the king of heaven, and monocrat. This points to the fact that they treat God as a despot, tyrant, and oppressor.

For the puritan Milton, God was high holiness. For the revolutionary Milton, any autocratic power is unbearable. We can understand that all black-hearted comments are said through the lips of evil for whom it is natural to curse God. However, it is difficult to miss how Milton surrounds Satan with a nimbus of heroism.

Satan’s addressing of his henchman after a defeat appears to have elements of heroism. However, it is hard to say whose feelings are expressed in this courageous speech. Was it the feel of the character created within the imagination of the poet, or maybe it was the creator of this figure, a revolutionary and a spokesperson of revolutionary ideas, whose feelings were portrayed in this speech? It is possible to argue endlessly on this subject, and it may be that it is the beliefs of both – the poet, and his character which are present in Satan’s addressing.

This speech is quite appropriate coming from Satan, who was rejected from heaven and had suffered defeat in battle with an angelic army of God. But maybe Milton himself could say this about himself, as after the restoration of the monarchy he remained a republican – adherent to the government by the people.

In book one of “Paradise Lost,” there are quite a few lines that break the strict logic of the Biblical scripture. It almost seems like there are two types of thinking in Milton’s consciousness. The first one is that God is the embodiment of the highest amenities, and Satan and his followers are a limb of the devil. The second interpretation could be summarized as God being the heavenly king, and as being such He is associated with earthly kings, which are hated by the poet. In this case, Milton can not resist sympathizing with the side which rises against the monocracy of God.

In this way, we are able to view the evil side led by Satan in a totally new epic perspective of valor. In book one of “Paradise Lost,” John Milton extra clearly redefines the concept of heroism by making the positive and negative sides exchange their places by portraying the negative evil party from a heroic point of view.

There is however another contradiction in the poem. Milton is expressing his awe of the heroic disobedience of Satan to the degree that shows the irreconcilability concerning any tyranny, earthy or heavenly. But the rebellion does not end with a defeat by accident.

It was not from the Bible, but from own imagination that has processed the effects of contemporaneity where the poet had drawn the colors to describe the battle of good and evil. Milton had a possibility to make sure that the English revolution which had revealed its limit of purposes and selfishness of the middle class did not bring a celebration of goodness to earth. This view echoes in the poem by saying much about the meaninglessness and harmfulness of war and violence for humankind.

Book one of “Paradise Lost” discloses many social problems present at the time and uses redefined heroism to stress the absurdity of the political events.

Works Cited

Catherine Gimelli Martin, The Ruins of Allegory: Paradise Lost and the Metamorphosis of Epic Convention (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998).

John Milton, Edmund Spenser, and John Lydgate, “28. Milton’s Paradise Lost,” Explicator32.4 (1973): 57.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "“Paradise Lost” John Milton One of the Most Distinguished Samples of Literature Epos." September 10, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/paradise-lost-john-milton-one-of-the-most-distinguished-samples-of-literature-epos/.

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