Christian Themes (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
In Paradise Lost, Milton’s Puritanism and his broad Christian humanism transform all aspects of the epic poem. His blindness (since at least 1651) presented no impediment to his achievement. The style, technique, and features of the epic were derived from Homer’s Iliad (c. 750 b.c.e.; English translation, 1611), Homer’s Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e.; English translation, 1614), and Vergil’s Aeneid (c. 29-19 b.c.e.; English translation, 1553). Milton, however, asserts the uniqueness and superiority of his epic because of its Christian truth rather than pagan myth. In books 1, 3, 7, and 9, the blind Milton indicates that, if he receives the inspiration he seeks and if he can attain an “answerable style,” he will surpass the ancient epics in importance of subject and in majesty of language. He invokes God’s spirit that he may glorify him by showing his power and asks for aid in the task to “assert Eternal Providence/ And justify the ways of God to men.” He combines his inspiration with vast sacred and secular learning. Paradise Lost reconciles the justice of God’s providential design with human freedom and responsibility, defending it with respect to the existence of evil, a form of literature known as theodic.
Milton’s defense of God’s ways, as far as they fall within the scope of human comprehension, is...
(The entire section is 539 words.)
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Paradise Lost is essentially the story of two parallel falls; the fall of Lucifer and his rebel angels, and the fall of humankind. The poem thus relates the story of the revolt of the rebel angels in Heaven, and their subsequent banishment to Hell, and the story of the creation of the world, the temptation and disobedience of Adam and Eve, and their subsequent banishment from Eden.
Milton's stated purpose is "to justify the ways of God to man,'' and he does so by placing responsibility for the fall squarely on the shoulders of the first human pair. They are cast out of Eden because their banishment is necessary to fulfil the demands of divine justice. Their punishment is just, because God placed only one condition upon them and they failed to fulfil it, in spite of the fact that God gave them the means to do so. As Adam warns Eve, God's "creating hand / Nothing imperfect or deficient left/ Of all that he Created, much less Man..." (IX.344-346). By providing them with reason and free will, God gives humankind both the choice to obey or disobey, and the means by which to exercise that choice wisely, for ''within himself/ The danger lies, yet lies within his power: / Against his will he can receive no harm" (IX.347-348).
Having created man free to fall, yet able to resist, God goes one step farther. He sends Raphael to warn Adam of the danger which threatens him, and to remind him of his duty of...
(The entire section is 1372 words.)