Paradise Lost: An Epic
John Milton is one of the greatest poets of England. His Paradise Lost is one of the greatest epics in English language. Here the poet has maintained the classical tradition of epic writing. In fact, an epic is a long narrative poem that contains great action, great hero and great style. In Milton’s Paradise Lost one can find all these three things.
According to Aristotle there are some important characteristics of an epic. Among them fable, theme, characters, machinery, episodes, integrity, sentiment and grand style are significant. Addison has also described three qualifications of an epic. These are – the fable, the entirety of action and the greatness of action. When we analyze and evaluate the Paradise Lost, we find all these characteristics in it.
The fable is one of the most important elements of an epic. It is considered to be the backbone of an epic. The most important duty of an epic poet is to select a moral to illustrate and establish. In the Paradise Lost Milton has chosen his theme to establish a moral. This moral is ‘To justify the ways of God to men.’ Thus the Paradise Lost fulfils the first and the most important condition of an epic.
So far as the action is concerned, it has three qualifications. It should be one action; it should be an entire action; and it should be a great action. In the Paradise Lost we find all these qualifications. This epic follows the strict unity of the classical epic. It contains perfect unity of action. The central action of this epic is the Fall of Man. Everything revolves round this action. The plucking of the fruit by Eve is the apex of the whole architecture of this epic. The war between God and Satan is only the prelude to the main action. Hence the fall of Satan does not constitute a separate action. In short, the whole action of the Paradise Lost is single, compact and great.
The theme of an epic must be grand, elevated and marvelous. It should be sublime and comprehensive. It must have a universal appeal. The theme of the Paradise Lost has all these essential elements. In theme it deals with the Fall of Man. The aim is to justify the ways of god to men. It is a sublime aim. It covers the rebellion of Satan in Heaven, the celestial warfare and the expulsion of rebels.
The hero of an epic poem must be great. He should be a figure of great national or even cosmic importance. He must have dignity and sublimity. The hero of the Paradise Lost is Adam. He has all the qualities of an epic hero. He represents the entire human race. Thus no hero can be greater than the First Man created by God in his own image. Milton’s Paradise Lost Maintains the tradition of classical epic and it deals with a large variety of characters. They all are universal characters.
Milton’s Paradise Lost follows nearly all the important conventions of the classical epic. The poet begins this epic by invoking the ‘Muse’, the goddess. The poet has employed supernatural machinery to serve his purpose. Everything is done under the immediate and visible direction of heaven.
The style of the Paradise Lost has all the grandeur and greatness that the epic demands. Here we find a unique harmony between sublimity of thought and sublimity of style. Milton has used all the methods to elevate his language. His metaphors are bold, just and seldom out of place. His blank verse is fantastic. Here everything is conceived in a mighty way. As a poetic artist he is never careless and superfluous. A striking feature of Milton’s style is the use of Homeric similes. He uses classical mythology for its symbolical meaning and suggestiveness in his similes.
Thus Milton’s Paradise Lost is a great epic. It occupies central position among the epics of the western world. It is remarkable for the loftiness of its theme and for the grandeur of its style.