Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"Milton used and recreated, in strongly functional ways the standard conventions of the epic." Discuss and illustrate from Paradise Lost Book-I.

A Christian Epic: In Paradise Lost Milton has created a Christian epic on classical lines. As an epic, it involves the basic conventions of the classical epic. But these conventions and devices are given new meaning by Milton within the scope of Christian theology.
As such the supernatural machinery, the roll-call and council of leaders, the plunge into the middle of the subject, and the unfolding of the future events are epic devices not just used by Milton; these devices are recreated in a functional way - to give point or illustrate and elaborate the Christian theme. The revolt of the angels, thus, has echoes of the wars of giants and the Titans of classical mythology. The entirety of action and vastness of scope demanded by classical epic convention is fulfilled by Paradise Lost - it encompasses the universe as conceived by Christian theology. Its action "contrived in Hell, executed upon Earth, and punished in Heaven."
How epic convention are adapted: Milton begins with the classical convention of invocation to the Muse. But the appeal, though classical in form, is really addressed to the Holy Spirit for divine inspiration. Milton's Muse does not dwell on Mount Olympus. The significance of the epic convention here lies in Milton's choice of the power to be addressed. Indeed, he uses the classical poetic device to speak for the superiority of the Heavenly.
Muse, for she will inspire him to poetic heights greater than the Aonian Mount which represents classical poetry. Milton's Muse inspired Moses on Sinai and on Oreb; thus, Milton associates himself with Moses as a shepherd-prophet-poet. Furthermore, the invocation in Milton's case is not mere form: it is the expression of an actual feeling in Milton that he was divinely inspired in his task of justifying the ways of God to men. Milton goes beyond invoking the Heavenly Muse; he emphasises the creative aspect of his Muse. After the invocation comes the statement of the epic's subject in true classical style.
Subtle use of similes: A prominent convention of the classical epic is the use of similes, especially the elaborate and extended type. There is no dearth of similes - simple and "long tailed" in Paradise Lost Book I. But the similes convey more than mere comparison; they reinforce Milton's religious intention. The first epic simile which compares Satan's huge bulk with "Leviathan" goes into seven lines. On the superficial level, it conveys the sense of great size; but it conveys also the impression of trickery, falseness of appearance, the lack of caution on the part of man when close to danger. These impression are associated with Satan-they will be elaborated later in the epic when Eve is deceived by the serpent just as the unwary sailor may be deceived by Leviathan.
A series of similes are employed by Milton to indicate the huge number of Satan's followers. The fallen angels lie "thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks in Vallombrosa". The term" autumnal leaves conveys the diminished glory of the angels. The simile produces the effect of the confusion in which they lie. Next, they are compared to masses of seaweed floating on the Red Sea; again the simile conveys the sense of confusion. When they are compared to the locusts called up by Moses, not merely is their vast numbers suggested, but also the evil and destruction associated with locusts. The comparison with the barbarians who decended upon and destroyed the ancient Roman civilization reinforces the image of evil. The simile of the sun in eclipse once again suggests evil, for eclipses were considered to portend disaster.
Milton borrows some similes from classical sources and adapts them to his own use. Homer and Virgil often used comparisons of trees to indicate the stature or the fall of herties. Milton uses the striking similes of forest oaks or mountains pines struck by lightning to convey the withered glory of the fallen angels. Another borrowed simile is that of the swarm of bees in spring time. Milton adapts it specially to suit the situation of the fallen angels. It not only suggests the rustling murmur of a large crowd, but also their having come to discuss "state affairs". It is to be noticed that the simile emphasizes not the industry of the fallen angels, but rather the "mass-insect" quality.
The long roll-call of the devils is another use of an epic convention. But Milton associates the devils with pagan deities at once suggesting something hateful to the Puritan reader. The description of Pandemonium as the golden "straw-built citadel" shows the impermanence of the gold from which Pandemonium has been built. By the end of Book-I, the fallen angels have been reduced to being compared with dwarfs and pygmies and faeryelves-all associated with evil and wickedness.
Speeches of Satan are also modelled on epic conventions. But they have a hollow sound of vainglory.
Conclusion: In Paradise Lost familiar features of the epic such as war, perilous journeys, marvellous buildings, similes and allusions are to be found in abundance. But these are so transformed that their significance and even their aesthetic appeal are new as C.M. Bowra remarks. The similes are often taken from the Orient, the Near and far East. As B.A. Wright points out, "for Milton and his contemporaries the East was the home of depotism, the scene of wordly pride, and ambition, of barbaric luxury, cruelty and lust, of idolatry and dark-superstition." Thus the epic conventions used by Milton often have ironic undertones. He has adapted them to his own purpose.

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