Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What epic conventions does Milton follow in writing of his 'Paradise Lost'? Elucidate. (P.U 2008)

“Epic” is the name given to narrative poetry which deals, in dignified and elevated style, with some important action, usually heroic. (An epic is a narrative poem, of considerable length, of exalted style, celebrating heroic adventures, mythical or historical). The great examples of classical epics are the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer, which are unmatched in any other language.
In Latin, the Aenied by the ancient poet, Virgil, is almost equally famous. The Iliad, a poem in twenty-four books, has as its central theme the wrath of Achilles. The Odyssey, also a poem in twenty-four books, deals with the adventures of Odysseus. Aeneid is a poem in twelve books: it is a national epic, designed to celebrate the origin and growth of the Roman empire, the ground-work of the poem being the legends connected with Aeneas.
Paradise Lost can properly be classed among epic poems. It is undoubtedly one of the highest efforts of poetical genius and, in one great characteristic, majesty and sublimity, it is fully equal to any known epic poem, ancient or modern. It has the Graeco-Roman form of the epic which follows ancient models. Its aspect, its divisions, and its style are those of the Iliad or the Aeneid. It depicts a unique event, which is the fall of man. The subject is derived from the Old Testament and it is astonishing how, from the few hints given in the scripture, Milton was able to raise so complete and regular a structure. The subject is one for which Milton alone was fitted and, in the conduct of it, he has shown a stretch both of imagination and invention, which is perfectly wonderful. Besides, the nature of this theme is such as to give the poem a universal character.
Following the classical precedent of Homer and Virgil, Milton indicates the theme of his poem at the very outset:
Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of
Eden,…..
The subject thus is the transgression committed by Adam and Eve in eating the fruit of the forbidden tree and their subsequent expulsion from Paradise. Curiously enough, Milton makes no mention in his opening statement of Satan’s first disobedience, of the generation of Sin and Death, or of Hell’s infernal plot, all of which occupy the first three Books.
The characters in a classical or traditional epic are generally portrayed as men of heroic proportions, because only such characters can stir our imagination and rouse our sympathies. Not only the hero, but also his associates, are expected to show heroic powers and capacities. In Book I Satan is undoubtedly cast in a heroic mould. His vast Leviathan-like dimensions, his huge shield and spear, his supreme self-confidence and the courage never to yield or submit, his unwavering resolve, his sympathy for his fallen comrades are all heroic qualities. (That does not, of course, entitle him to be called the hero of Paradise Lost or even of Book I).
Then there are the epic or Homeric similes of which we have quite a number in Book I. Milton follows the practice of Homer, Virgil, Statius, Lucan, Spenser, Tasso, and others in introducing similes of this kind, and even borrows in some cases similes already employed by his epic predecessors. Where he is original in employing a simile, the materials of his comparison may be derived from a simple observation of Nature, from myth and legend, from history, from travel, etc. Superficially the essence of the long-tailed or epic simile is that it develops a comparison at such a length that it seems to become ultimately almost independent of its point of departure. If this impression of an independent, self-contained picture were not given, the device would be pointless. At the same time, at the heart or centre of the simile there must be some point of exact resemblance to the first term of the comparison. The first epic simile employed by Milton in Book I is the comparison of Satan’s huge bulk with the sea-beast, Leviathan. This comparison, elaborated in seven lines, while dominantly concerned with size, produces also other impressions such as trickery, the falseness of appearances, the lack of caution on the part of man when close to danger, all of which are associated with Satan and will be amplified later in Paradise Lost. (Subsequently Eve is deceived by the Serpent, even as a sailor might be deceived by Leviathan).
The use of epic similes and invocations has been objected to by some critics on the grounds of strict relevance. But, in reply to this, it may be pointed out that though the invocations and some of the similes have a very limited relevance, none of them seems undesirable or unwanted. Dr. Johnson regarded the invocations as superfluities but he also said: “Superfluities so beautiful who would take away?” The same defence can be put forward in the case of similes. Almost all of these similes are so rich and so highly imaginative that one cannot accept the criticism sometimes made of them, namely that, though a traditional part of the epic, they are part of a poor tradition.
Finally, Milton followed the epic convention of writing his poem in a style that is truly elevated. In speaking of the style of Paradise Lost, it is difficult to use temperate language. Paradise Lost is a “divine” epic. Accordingly Milton strove for the untrammelled expression of the imaginative development of his inspiration, and therefore rejected “the troublesome and modern bondage of riming”. And Milton used blank verse in a manner that lent distinction to this form of writing. “No one,” says a critic, “has ever attuned our language to such mighty harmonies as Milton.” The chief characteristic of Paradise Lost may be summed up in the word “sublimity”. The poet’s imagination is lofty, and his style grand, majestic, and sonorous. The meaning of the words, the syntax, the division of sentences, and the use of ablative absolute, constantly remind the scholarly reader of classical authors. The periodic style and the unrhymed line with its beauty dependent only on its cadence and its inversions, have a severe solemnity, an unbending energy. As examples of Milton’s grand style, one may refer to the following passages in Book I: (1) the opening sentence which is an example of a “suspended” passage;
(2) the first sentence of Satan’s first speech to Beelzebub, also an example of “suspension”; (3) Satan’s speech on surveying the infernal regions; and (4) the description of Satan’s shield and spear.
 Dryden, in spite of his sense of Milton’s greatness, declared that Paradise Lost was no “true epic”. He said that the poem did not have war as its chief subject and was therefore not heroic enough, that it ended unhappily while a true epic had a happy ending, and that, unlike the traditional epics, it had only two human characters, the others being “heavenly machines”. Addison made a suitable reply to these objections but even he did not claim that Milton’s poem was wholly regular. In fact Addison pointed out some defects in the poem. The fable, according to him, is defective, being that of tragedy rather than of epic. Some of the incidents have not “probability enough for an epic poem.” The digressions and the allusions of heathen fables in a Christian poem “sin against the canon of unity”. To other critics even these reservations were unacceptable. They said that Milton was not to be judged by the neo-classical code. He had invented a new type of poem, the divine epic, superior to anything in antiquity.

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2 comments:

Noor said...

thanks a lot..I needed it to make my assignment on epic convention..

Noor said...

can u please post the answer of this question too..
Examine Paradise Lost as a Renaissance epic?

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