"Paradise Lost": An Epic to Surpass All Epics

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An Epic to Surpass all Epics

The epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton was written during a time of religious revolution in England. The subject matter of this epic poem, in the words of Milton, is "[o]f man's first disobedience" (line 1). In this blank verse, Milton refers to the story in Genesis where Eve tempts Adam to eat the "forbidden fruit." In the first five lines of the poem he describes the beginning of mortality, suffering, and man's restoration, as "the fruit [o]f that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste [b]rought death into the world, and all our woe, [w]ith loss of Eden, till one greater Man [r]estore us, and regain the blissful seat" (lines 1-5). "[D]eath" is human mortality, and "all our woe" is man's suffering (line 3). When he says "till one greater Man [r]estore us," Milton is referring to Christ, and how He came to regain man's seat in heaven. In the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, man, Adam, lived immortally in paradise with his wife, Eve. When they were corrupted by Satan, and ate from the "forbidden fruit," all was lost, introducing evil into the world. Milton's goal in writing Paradise Lost was to "justify God's ways to men" (line 26). He hoped to explain God's mysterious plan for humankind. Since John Milton purposely set out to write an epic, he used all of the elements which were expected such an undertaking.

When John Milton was thirty years old he "proclaimed himself [to be] the future author of a great English epic" ( Norton Anthology 1771). Thirty years later he self-consciously composed Paradise Lost. Epic poetry possesses three requirements; the poem starts in medias res (in the middle of things), the poet makes a call to a Muse, and the poem refers to and attempts to surpas...

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John Milton did not want his epic to be just a traditional one, a story of a nation or a people. Instead, he would make the entire story about the human race, therefore making his epic important to all mankind, not just to England. Milton loads the first twenty-six lines with references to classic literature and biblical references. Also in those lines he presents his proclaimed subject, identifies a muse, declares that his epic will surpass those epics written before, and states his goal in writing the poem. Milton, in addition to that, manages to personalize his poem with references to his blindness and political happenings in England in his day. Only a great poet could fit so graciously all this pertinent information into the first twenty-six lines of a twelve book poem. All these qualities insure that his epic will truly exceed all the rest.

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