This essay-like commentary is aimed at discussing how John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) conforms to the genre of Epic or Heroic Poetry. In order to achieve that first they will be enlightened the similarities of this work, in both form and content, with the general characteristics of the genre. Afterwards, a closer look will be provided to the way Milton’s work incorporates and adapts the elements that the classical period and Old English added to Epic. Finally, a conclusion will be determined.
Genre of Epic Poetry
Epic poems are characterised for being narrative, meaning they primarily tell a story. They were usually associated to societies who fought, so it denoted some sort of prestige. That is the case of Paradise Lost, as for Milton the Biblical story of the temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan, the fall from Heaven, and Christ’s redemption was true, and so he put it in the epic form.
Since Paradise Lost is an epic, the reader is instinctively drawn to the search of deeds typical of a heroic figure that could be either legendary or based on real historic personages. However, Milton displays several characters that could perform that role, as all of them prove their heroic courage by accomplishing deeds of great valour. Satan is portrayed as a rebellious lord displaying energy and drive. That contrasts with the fact that he is the enemy of God and mankind, as his name in Hebrew indicates; ‘adversary’ (Loewenstein, 1993, p.58). In turn, God’s Son is the expected hero, responding to the admirable quality of classical heroes (Bradford, 2001, p.98), who redeems the world God had created from sin and sacrifices himself for mankind. Similarly, Adam and Eve heroically face the struggle of living in a fallen world infested by sin.
Epic poems were those big poems seeking to explain everything, showing a particular race’s history, or celebrating the nation. It is exemplified by Virgil’s classical Aeneid which explains the foundation of Rome’s power. Nevertheless, Milton’s ambition was to write about ‘things unattempted in prose or rhyme’, and he achieved that rewriting the book of Genesis as if were, one of the greatest books in humankind history. Thanks to his condition of being an educated poet, he was able to access to the epic in all its forms. But instead of limiting himself to copy them, he surpassed them by presenting the history and destiny not of a nation or race but of the whole world and mankind. Hence, Milton’s setting for his epic is cosmic, as it includes Heaven, Hell, and Earth (Neo English Word Press 2014). Moreover, by involving the entire human species and planet, and encompassing all the time and space, Milton manages to address a universal topic (cf. Neo English Word Press 2014). For these reasons, his epic is the greatest epic.
The usage of past tense and discourse markers is a formal feature distinctive of epics that is to be found in Milton’s work. E.g. “And thence in Heav’n call’d Satan with bold words / Breaking the horrid...