In lines 1-26 of Book I of John Milton's Paradise Lost, how is the speaker ambitious and how is the speaker humble?

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Thanh Munoz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The humility of the speaker (Milton himself) consists chiefly of his absolute submission to the will of God. He sees himself as an instrument of God, and the specific purpose he assigns to himself is to "justify the ways of God to men."

Yet that's the sum total of what we're show of this side of Milton's character. It's only in relation to God that he exhibits a sense of humility. Within the human world, specifically the realm of art, he sets himself so high a goal that only a man who already has (and probably has had for his entire life) a sense of himself as a great genius would hope to achieve. His "adventurous song," he tells us,

with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th' Aonian Mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.

It has always been an unanswered question, for me at least, as to whether anyone prior to Milton ever intended to write this type of modern verse elaboration of the book of Genesis, as he does. Whether others attempted quite such a work,...

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