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Heroism In "Paradise Lost" By John Milton: A Movement Forward In Morality

2580 words - 10 pages

Milton defines heroism in Paradise Lost as Biblical heroism, where the hero is not defined by physical strength but rather moral strength; this moral strength permits obedience to God. The Christian form of heroism obtains glory through submission rather then the heroes of past epics which obtain glory through defiance. In Paradise Lost, Milton asserts his intention to show that the fall of humankind is more heroic than the past epics of Homer and Virgil. Milton explains throughout his epic that Adam and Eve's fall is the major climactic event that occurs. He describes this fall as tragic and by doing so, Milton shows the vast seriousness of Adam and Eve's disobedience to God because their actions directly affect the rest of all humankind. As a result of their disobedience, they choose to repent for their sins and seek forgiveness from God because they learn from Raphael that individuals (such as Abdiel) can redeem themselves through continued devotion to God. Simultaneously, Milton situates both Adam and Eve within the literary conventions of a tragedy, in which a great man falls because of a flaw within his otherwise, embellished character. The fall of Adam and Eve from God's grace makes way for mankind's ultimate redemption and salvation. Thus, Milton asserts that his epic surpasses the epics of Homer and Virgil since his pertains to the entire human race, instead of just one hero. I will show how Milton's definition of heroism is prevalent throughout Paradise Lost, which ultimately will help Milton "justify the ways of God to men" (26), by comparing two types of heroism, that I will call Hellenic and Biblical as defined by William R. Herman; by contrasting the heroes found throughout Paradise Lost; and by engaging three criticisms on Milton's definition of heroism by C.S. Lewis and William Empson, who have similar views of the heroism presented in Milton's Paradise Lost. By concentrating on these main ideas I will show how Milton definition of heroism is based on moral strength.In order to understand the different definitions of heroism found in Paradise Lost we must first look specifically at what predominantly constitutes an epic hero. According to Joan Malory Webber, the epic hero is a person with godlike desires or capabilities who must paradoxically come to terms with his limitations and the context in order to be heroic (60). Webber continues that a hero "is aware of his need to fulfill himself in a limited place and time...he is aware of, and prey to, violence, even though he may be the most conscious, controlled man of his time...he is always won back to the community and group endeavour" (61). In addition, to be heroic in an epic involves knowing and accepting the total animal energy of human nature (61). It involves accepting life in a world that might not necessarily improve, thus, we must also accept that humans are mortal. (Webber 46). Furthermore, the hero's flaw that he shares with others is symbolized mostly by the opposition...

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