Paradise Lost as Christian Epic
John Milton's great epic poem, Paradise Lost, was written between the 1640's and 1665 in England, at a time of rapid change in the western world. Milton, a Puritan, clung to traditional Christian beliefs throughout his epic, but he also combined signs of the changing modern era with ancient epic style to craft a masterpiece. He chose as the subject of his great work the fall of man, from Genesis, which was a very popular story to discuss and retell at the time. His whole life had led up to the completion of this greatest work; he put over twenty years of time and almost as many years of study and travel to build a timeless classic. The success of his poem lies in the fact that he skillfully combined classic epic tradition with strongly held Puritan Christian beliefs.
In Paradise Lost, Milton uses many conventions of the classic epic, including an invocation of the Muse, love, wa, a solitary voyage, heroism, the supernatural and mythical allusion. Milton writes, "Sing, Heavenly Muse, that on the secret top of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire that shepard who first taught the chosen seed in the beginning how the heavens and earth rose out of Chaos." Here he invokes the traditional muse of the epic, yet in the same sentence he identifies the muse as a Christian being and asks him to sing of Christian tales.
A central theme of Paradise Lost is that of the deep and true love between Adam and Eve. This follows both traditonal Christianity and conventional epic style. Adam and Eve are created and placed on earth as "our first two parents, yet the only two of mankind, in the happy garden placed, reaping immortal fruits of joy and love, uninterrupted joy, unrivaled love, in blissful solitude."(Book III, lines 65-69). This closely follows the Biblical reference to the beginning of mankind(in Genesis)as well as the Christian ideal of love. Yet, at the same time, it also reflects one classic aspect of the epic; it is a love story within an adventure. Through this, Milton begins to reconcile strict Puritanism with a genre of literature that was created, strangely enough, by pagans.
Milton also uses war, a very powerful and ever-present device of the epic, to chart the story of the creation and downfall of Adam and Eve. Very vibrantly, he describes the fight between Satan's fallen angels and the angels of God in Heaven, culminating in the fall of Satan and his followers over Heaven's wall. Books V and VI describe this battle, through the words of the angel Raphael. It is at this point that the intended hero of the story begins to emerge, revealing the true Puritan intentions of the epic. After a lengthy battle, it is finally the Son who, using only half of his power so as not to destroy Satan and his followers, drives the rebels from Heaven. Through the description of the war, which is charted in a very epic style, Milton reveals his hero to be the Son, the just and powerful warrior.