Can you explain how Paradise Lost is a "summational epic" as in how Milton does justice to it as the last Renaissance artist by marking the end of an era with his work? And elaborate on the themes...

Can you explain how Paradise Lost is a "summational epic" as in how Milton does justice to it as the last Renaissance artist by marking the end of an era with his work? And elaborate on the themes of cosmology and chaos.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Possessing a Renaissance love for the beauty of language, the musicality of poetry, and even music itself, in Paradise Lost John Milton expresses a Puritan interest in God's dealings with man as well as a scholarly interest in Biblical, Classical, historical, and scientific learning. In its combination of traditions juxtaposed against each other--biblical/classical and Renaissance/Platonism--Paradise Lost becomes a "summational epic" in which allusions are very controlled as these references are balanced by others.

In Book I, for instance, the biblical reference to Satan is immersed in classical technique as it begins in media res. And yet, the classical epic form is rejected in the lack of rhyme. In lines 84-85, Satan's first words recall Aeneas's vision of the ghost of Hector on the night of the fall of Troy:

If thou beest hee; But O how fall'n! how chang'd 
From him, who in the happy Realm of Light

Further, an epic simile is used as Satan is first compared to the giants, the Titans,

Thus Satan talking to his nearest Mate
With Head up-lift above the wave, and Eyes....
As whom the Fables name of monstrous size,
Titanian or Earth-born, that warr'd on Jove,...(194-197)

There are several other such epic similes used by Milton who wished to translate the classic epic into a Christian epic. Milton's use of the Muse, an age-old epic device, is also translated into the Christian as the poet invokes the Muse who has told man of the story of creation. In Book Vii, Milton calls upon Urania, the classical Muse of astronomy; however, he clarifies his purpose in this invocation. It is "the meaning, not the name" being invoked.

In Milton's universe, Heaven and Earth rise out of Chaos. In Book II, Chaos rules the region between Heaven and Hell. After Satan's encounter with Sin, who was born of Satan's head when he plotted his rebellion against God, he passes through the gates of Hell and enters the Abyss. There he encounters the throne of Chaos who is with his consort, Night, and when Satan tells of his plan to invade Earth, Chaos encourages him. In this book, there are latinisms, such as "Battle dangerous" in which the adjective follows the noun; also, there is an example of the Ciceronia style:"yet he ples'd the ear,/And with persuasive accent thus began." (II.118-119)

Beneath Earth is Hell, and Paradise Lost addresses the question, "How does humanity endure in a fallen world?" In addition, Milton's contemporaries' scientific discoveries mattered little to him; instead his cosmology is based upon the religious message he wishes to convey, the fall of man. And so, the focus is on two human beings as Milton depicts an elevated tale of the Garden of Eden. Yet, with Adam and Eve and Satan, there has been a debate as to who is the "hero." With the character of Satan, Milton exposes a false perspective of heroism as "egotistical magnificence," as well as the false premise that heroic energy is laudatory, even if it is exercised in a wrongful cause, according to Daiches. Adam and Eve, representatives of humankind, are both noble and weak.