Is Milton's Paradise Lost an epic?
John Milton's Paradise Lost is the only and, therefore, greatest English epic. The poem is an epic but also an collection of ideas and abstractions (-isms). Milton intended the epic to be a "new vision"--a reinterpretation of the Great Biblical Story for modern man. Milton was the last optimistic poet in the English language, even though he was blind and had no reason to be. After all, the great metaphor for the poem is not the Fall, but the Renewal and Redemption of mankind. Milton clearly champions absolute freedom of the individual: "to the pure, all things pure; to the impure, all things impure."
Milton had a vision and a philosophy. Other great poets (like Shakespeare) did not (thank God!). Milton's poetry is nationalistic, Christian humanist, anti-Catholic. Milton considers himself the poet prophet, capable of reinterpreting the Bible and also following Aristotle's Golden Mean (moderation).
Other notes that make Paradise Lost the only English epic:
- Redemptive nature of Christ; Jesus assumed the form of man to bridge the gap between man and God
- Hell is not the center of the earth (like Dante's cosmos); Earth dangles from Heaven; it is a pedant world, dependent on heaven.
- It is the story of "original sin" (greatest of topics: souls are at stake)
- Milton the great poet-prophet interjects himself and instructs often.
- Hopeful ending
- Each paragraph/stanza represents an idea (catalogue method)
- Main idea: a paradise with no choice is no paradise: no virtue occurs in a vacuum. Man must be tempted.
- Satan only appears to be heroic: "better to reign in heaven than serve in hell." Although, the epic begins with him, and he is the most developed character in the epic. He is a parody of Christ, and hell is a parody of heaven.
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