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Satan in Paradise Lost

Satan has engendered a plethora of controversy among the critics. There is no unanimity of
thinking regarding his role and stature in Paradise Lost. Some readers consider Satan to be the
hero, or protagonist, of the story, because he struggles to overcome his own doubts and
weaknesses and accomplishes his goal of corrupting humankind. This goal, however, is evil, and
Adam and Eve are the moral heroes at the end of the story, as they help to begin humankind's
slow process of redemption and salvation. Satan is far from being the story's object of
admiration, as most heroes are, nor does it make sense for readers to celebrate or emulate him, as
they might with a true hero. Yet there are many compelling qualities to his character that make
him intriguing to readers.
One source of Satan's fascination for us is that he is an extremely complex and subtle character.
It would be difficult, perhaps impossible, for Milton to make perfect, infallible characters such as
God the Father, God the Son, and the angels as interesting to read about as the flawed characters,
such as Satan, Adam, and Eve. Satan moreover, strikes a grand and majestic figure, apparently
unafraid of being damned eternally, and unbowed by such terrifying figures as Chaos or Death.
Many readers have argued that Milton deliberately makes Satan seem heroic and appealing in the
poem to draw us into sympathizing with him against our will, so that we may see how seductive
evil is and learn to be more vigilant in resisting its appeal.
Milton devotes much of the poem's early books to developing Satan's character. Satan's greatest
fault is his pride. He casts himself as an innocent victim, overlooked for an important promotion.
But his ability to think so selfishly in Heaven, where all angels are equal and loved and happy, is
surprising. His confidence in thinking that he could and overthrow God displays tremendous
vanity and pride. When Satan shares his pain him alienation as he reaches Earth in Book IV, we
may feel somewhat sympathetic to him or even identify with him. But Satan continues to devote
himself to evil. Every speech he gives is fraudulent and every story he tells is a lie. He works
diligently to trick his fellow devils in Hell by having Beelzebub present Satan's own plan of
Satans character--or our perception of his character--changes significantly from Book I to his
final appearance in Book X. In Book I he is a strong, imposing figure with great abilities as a
leader and public statesmen, whereas by the poem's end he slinks back to Hell m serpent form.
Satan's gradual degradation is dramatized by the sequence of different shapes he assumes. He
begins the poem as a just-fallen angel of enormous stature. He looks like a comet or meteor as he
leaves Hell. Then he disguises himself as a more humble cherub, then as a cormorant, a toad, and
finally a snake. His ability to reason and argue also deteriorates. In Book I, he persuades the
devils to agree to his plan. In Book IV, however, he reasons to himself that the Hell he feels
inside of him is reason to do more evil. When he returns to Earth again, he believes that Earth is
more beautiful than Heaven, and that he may be able to live on Earth after all. Satan, removed
from Heaven long enough to forget its unparalleled grandeur, is completely demented, coming to
believe in his own lies. He is a picture of incessant intellectual activity without the ability to
think morally. Once a powerful angel, he has become blinded to God's grace, forever unable to
reconcile his past with his eternal punishment. Satan miserably fails to come up to the high
standards set for a hero. Instead of attaining a new understanding and maturity towards the end,
Satan gradually disintegrates and falls in the abysmal depths of decay and degradation. All his
good qualities are at the service of the evil in him and the unholy designs he harbors against God,
His Kingdom and His crown-creation. In short Satan falls short of the qualities of a true hero and
cannot be justly regarded as the hero of Paradise Lost.

Satan as A most Powerfully Drawn Character
Let us see some of the points of his character which are definitely indicated. In the
beginning, it is Satan who, first of all the angels, arouses himself up from the lake of fire. He has
the power of recovery in the face of defeat. Not one word, which he utters, expresses despair,
when he discovers the terrible nature of the place to which God has banished them. Immediately
his active mind begins to scheme, and he proceeds to reassemble his shattered forces. We are
often told that adversity reveals the best qualities in a man; adversity certainly reveals the
vigorous intellect and driving personality of Satan. He shows the highest degree of fortitude and
"courage never to submit or yield." His personal example soon communicates itself to the other
angels, and they gather round their great leader. In the plays of Shakespeare, we have often seen
that the great dramatist contrives to create his finest characters by letting us hear what other
people think of them, and say about them, so it is with Milton. All the angels welcome with joy
their mighty leader. It matters not that they have been defeated and expelled from Heaven,
because of their share in his rebellion. They gather round him with absolute confidence such as
earthly men feel instinctively at times when they realize the worth of a great leader. The mighty
qualities of Satan's mind, and the indomitable resolution which animates him, are displayed
when he exclaims:
... and thou, profoundest Hell
Receive thy new possessor, one who brings
A mind not to be changed by place or time
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
There are sentiments which might well be uttered by the most spiritual of characters. The
spirit of self-reliance, of mental courage, which rises independent of environment, is a quality
possessed only by the greatest characters. This might well have been spoken by some saint in
exile, or languishing in dungeons of a cruel tyrant. A few lines later, there blazes a burst of
strong, over-mastering ambition, the expressionof a nature the must, be first in all things:
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell;
Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.
It is no ordinary ambition which we see here; there is something colossal in this bold
challenge to the Almighty for supreme power. We have seen instances in the history of the
human race where two great natures clashed, and neither would give way: Caesar and Hannibal,
Wellington and Napoleon, and we have been impressed by the greatness on either side. It may be
a wicked things to defy God, but, in this case, God is far-removed and unreal, and it is the
greatness of the challenge, rather than the wickedness, which is the prominent impression.
Beelzebub bears witness to the great worth of Satan as a leader:
If once they hear that voice, their liveliest pledge
Of hope in fears and dangers, heard so oft
.... they will soon resume
New courage and revive, though now they lie
Grovelling and prostrate on yon lake of fire.
If this was said of the noblest general who ever led mortal armies, he would be acclaimed by
all as a leader of men. The effect here is similar; we must judge Satan according to earthly and
human standards since we have no other. We respect him because of the confidence with which
he inspire the forces. When the downfallen angels reach the shore, their dejected spirits are
cheered, and their look show:
Obscure some glimpse of joy, to have found their chief
Not in despair...
Million then makes Satan console them, raise their sinking courage, and dispel their
fears. The poet seems to feel here that he is ennobling the Archfiend unduly, for he reminds the
reader that Satan achieves this by:
high words that bore
Semblance of worth, not substance.
A Great Figure of Epic Dimension
But Milton has endowed Satan with all those qualities which make a hero. In fact, it is the
grandeur of Satan's character that makes Paradise Lost an epic. Milton has imparted something
of himself to Satan, and so Satan arouses our admiration by the strength of his character and
individuality. He assets himself against the autocracy of God, and is able to win over to his side
the third part of the angelic host in Heaven. He is no doubt defeated by the Messaih (Christ) but
his defeat and his expulsion from Heaven cannot curb his indomitable spirit. He would urge
eternal war against God; he remains as bold in spirit and as defiant as he was before his defeat;
and the change of his surroundings cannot in any way dampen his unconquerable spirit. He will
make Heaven of Hell, and undertakes all kind of risks and dangers in order to take revenge on
God. This figure is heroic in every way. He is a perfect leader, and all the fallen angels submit
unquestioningly to his authority. "It is surely the simple fact" says Abercrombie, "thatParadise
Lost exists for one figure that is Satan, just as the Iliad exists for Achilles and the Odyssey
for Odysseus. It is in the figure of Satan that the imperishable significance ofParadise Lost is
centered; his vast unyielding agony symbolises the profound antimony of modern
consciousness." Satan is indeed a great figure of epic dimension. He is a true hero, but he is so
only in Books I and II of Paradise Lost.
Robert Burns strongly upheld Satan as the hero of Paradise Lost, in these words: "give me
a spirit like my favourite hero, Milton's Satan", W. Hazlitt was of the same view, "the interest of
the poem arises from the daring ambition and fierce passions of Satan, and from the account of
the paradisical happiness and the loss of it by our first parents, Satan is the indubitable hero - in
fact, the most heroic subject that ever was chosen for a poem".
Arguments against Satan being the Hero of the Poem
As the poem proceeds, this heroic figure gradually loses its splendour, though he retains his
original greatness even when he comes to the earth and sees the joy; but pride prevails over him,
for he must have his revenge on God who is his eternal enemy.
Ah gentle pair, ye little think how nigh
Your change approaches, when all these delights
Will vanish, and deliver ye to woe-
* * * *
Yet no purposed foe
to you, whom I could pity thus forlorn,
Though I unpitied
From now onward, the deterioration of Satan starts. In fact when he enters into aserpent to
tempt Eve, he has turned from a great hero into a despicable spy and cunning trickster. So when
we take the whole of Paradise Lost into consideration, we cannot agree with the view that Satan
is the hero of Paradise Lost.
Admiration and Sympathy of Satan Misunderstood
According to some critics, Satan is the hero of the poem. In the preceding chapter, we have
expressed the view of these critics of the Romantic age and the twentieth century. Now let us
interpret the views of these critics. In fact, Satan is not the hero of the poem. Even Dryden was
misled by the epic current in his day. The Romantics misunderstood Blake. It is a pity that even a
great critic like Tillyard misunderstood him. As Rudrum Alan remarks in his book Milton:
Modern judgements: "It is only in the context of his own highly complex system of thought that
Blake's remarks on Milton's Satan can be properly understood. But of course they have been
abstracted from that context..." Blake never means that Milton identifies himself with Satan.
According to him, poetry is emotional rather than rational. In other words, evil inspires a poet
more than the good; a poet finds it easier to depict evil than good, as stated by Blake. It is in this
sense that Milton is of the Devil's party. So, the Romantics misunderstood Blake. A poet has 'as
much delight in depicting an Iago as an Imogen' (an evil and good character). Milton took
pleasure in the exercise of his power.
Secondly, those who think that Satan is the hero of the poem, confine their criticism to the
first two books. As A. Stopford Brooke remarks: "The interest of the story collect at first round
the character of Satan, but he grows meaner as the poem develops, and his second degradation
after he has destroyed innocence is one of the finest and most consistent motives in the poem.
This at once disposes the view that Milton meant Satan to be the hero of his epic." Thus in the
first two books he is made a heroic figure. Subsequently, his character degenerates.
Thirdly, Milton's identification with Satan is misunderstood. Tillyard says that the character
of Satan expresses something in which Milton believed very strongly. But Tillyard forgets that
the identification of Milton with Satan, is only partial. Milton is also Adam. Milton thought
himself a sincere Christian. Milton has Satan in him and wants to drive him out. "He was of the
devil's party without knowing it; but he was also of God's party, and what is more important, he
knew it." (Denis Saurat Milton: Man, and Thinker). Further Denis Saurat remarks: "And yet
Satan is not the hero of the poem: he is intellectually condemned, in spite of all the poet's and the
reader's sympathy."
We should not be taken in by Satan's impressive speeches. For what indeed does his fine
sounding phrase sense of "injured merit" mean but simply "not fair" which is far from being
a heroic cry. Stylistic reasons enforce superficially the heroism of Satan-his utterances are
always couched in language of unrivalled poetic splendour. But this should not mislead us, for in
the end Satan himself realized his impotence and inner helplessness.
Finally, the splendour of Satan is misunderstood. The magnificence and splendour of Satan
must be exalted in order to indicate the epic greatness of the coming conflict. In other words, in
order to rouse the reader's fears for himself, human sympathy with his first parents and gratitude
for his redemption, Milton has shown the magnificence of Satan's character. George Sampson
remarks: "Those who maintain that Satan the rebel is the real hero of the poem fail to understand
that the adversary of God and Man must be presented in majesty and magnitude if he is to be
worthy of his place in the story that he must have, in fact all the fascination of evil. "We should
not be swept away by the sheer grandeur of Satan's speeches, or by the splendour of his
personality. Heroism exerted in the bad cause, ceases to be virtue. And, therefore, it is not
enough to say that Satan is the hero of the poem because he is brave and bold.
Many of the twentieth century critics do not hold the view of the Romantics i.e. Satan is the
hero of Paradise Lost. John Peter is of the opinion that "the loss of poetic energy or resonance in
the heroic similes applied to Satan shows an important aspect of the deterioration in Milton's
treatment of the Devil". According to David Daiches, the whole poem is the story of Satan's
inevitable degeneration.
This theory has been formulated by Denis Saurat, a French critic. He says in his book
Milton: Man and Thinker that Adam is not the fitting counterpart for Satan. According to him,
the hero of the poem is Milton himself. As stated by him: "Though Satan is Milton's own
creation, and he has displayed a greater force of poetry in him than in any other character
in Paradise Lost as he represents a part of his own mind and character, yet it seems that Milton
throws himself personally into the struggle against Satan". Further Saurat feels that Milton has
exalted Satan because he himself wanted to drive out malignant and militant Satan from his own
heart. In this connection, he says: "Milton had Satan in him and wanted to drive him out. He had
felt passion, pride and sensuality. The displeasure he takes in the creation of Satan is the joy of
liberating, purging himself of the evil in himself by concentrating it outside himself into a work
of art. A joy peculiar to the artista joy that, perhaps was God's ultimate aim in creating the
world, as we have seen.
The argument is not plausible that Milton himself is the hero. No doubt, Milton's personality
is revealed in Paradise Lost: and he never conceals where his sympathy lies. There is again some
similarity between the position of Satan and that of Milton. Satan had defied the authority of God
the autocrat, just as Milton had defied the autocracy of the King. Hence, Satan is endowed with
all the force and fire of Milton's own spirit. But Milton's object was to justify the ways of God to
man. He therefore, expresses himself here and there to execute his avowed aim. The epic, it must
be remembered, is a piece of objective art. He calls Satan's "infernal serpent" 'Arch-fiend' and
uses abusive epithets to expose Satan's real character. But Milton himself cannot and does not
take part in the action of the poem. The lyrical qualities of Milton's genius inevitably enter
into Paradise Lost. But to say that he is the hero of Paradise Lost, is nothing short of
To put forward the claim either of God or of the Messiah (Christ) is absurd, for they do not
take part in the central action of Paradise Lost. However, the whole epic, turns rounds what
Milton indicates even in the first line of the poem 'Man's first disobedience.' Adam disobeyed
God, and by this act of disobedience, he not only lost Paradise but brought about the fall of the
whole human race. No action can be more tremendous in its import and significance than that
which brought the fall of the whole of humanity. And Adam, being responsible for it, is
obviously meant by the poet to fill the role of the hero of the great poem.
Difficulty arises because Adam does not act. He is merely a passive figure, who is acted
upon by others. But it is his fate that engages the attention of God and the Angels in Heaven, and
of Satan and the devils in Hell. His fate again causes a terrible upheaval on the Earth. When Eve
plucks the fruit, "Nature sighs that all is lost." Adam may not be a heroic figure in the same sense
as Achilles is. But Paradise Lost is a different kind of epic from Homer's Iliad. Milton himself
... Yet argument
Not less but more heroic than the wrath of stern Achilles.
In creating Adam, Milton attempted a very peculiar task. Adam, the father of mankind is
almost without human experience and so cannot have much personality. Milton has to present a
figure who appeals imaginatively and poetically and this he does. Adam has a natural
magnificence that fits him to be the hero of an epic. However, Adam is not a hero like Achilles
and Ullyses, etc. capable of incredibly heroic deeds. Adam is a hero of a nobler kind.
Adam's role is not that of a warrior but that of a God-fearing man, faced with a temptation
and defeated in the conflict between himself and Satan. In studying the question of the hero
of Paradise Lost, we need not be obsessed with the classical conception of the epic here. Adam
is defeated no doubt but through the Messiah (Christ) he regains the Paradise 'happier far'. Thus
the ultimate victory which is of a spiritual nature goes to Adam. Adam is the real hero
of Paradise Lost.
"One supposed defect in the story of Paradise Lost has been frequently dwelt on, and the
fact is that Satan, and not Adam, is the hero of the epic. We think that only those, who reading of
Milton has been confined to the first two books, can be misled by this nonsensical paradox. In
the first two books Satan is naturally made a heroic figure; he is still an Arch-angel (though
fallen) one of the chief Arch-angels and king over his fellows. "His character has power. His
capacity for evil must be exalted in order to show the epic greatness of the coming conflict and in
order to arouse the reader's fears for himself, human sympathy with his first parents and gratitude
for his redemption. But we have not to wait for Paradise Regained to see the steady deterioration
in Satan's character. Surely, to take one instance alone there is little of the heroic in Satan when
he takes the form of a toad to whisper in Eve's ear and is stirred up by the spear of Ithuriel. At the
close of the poem Satan's degradation is complete." (Wyatt and Low).
Satan is, of course, a character in an epic, but he is in no sense the hero of the epic as a
whole; he is only a figure of heroic magnitude and heroic energy, and he is developed by Milton
with dramatic emphasis and dramatic intensity" Helen Grander.
Although Adam is a passive and not an active agent in the poem and although he suffers
more than he acts, his claim to the title of the hero seems to be better than anybody else's. As
Landor points out, and as everybody at once notices, Adam is the central figure in the poem,
round whom the others act. It is his fall that is the subject matter of the poem. Our interest
centres round him; our sympathy goes to him. He may reasonably be called the hero of
'Paradise Lost'. Adam does not have a romantic character and obvious bravery of a noble; he is
Every man as he recognizes his own weakness: accepts his responsibility, and faces life with true
courage. His battles are within him, as is fitting for the hero of a great religious epic.

Paradise Lost: A Classical Epic

Homer and Virgil were the two great masters of the Classical epic. Homers Iliad and Virgils
Aeneid have invariably served as models for all writers of the classical epic. Milton was a great
classical scholar and he sought to write an epic. He dreamt of immortality and he aspired to be
one with Homer and Virgil as the author of a classical epic. Milton turned his great classical and
Biblical learning to a poem to assert eternal providence, and justify the ways of God to men.

"Paradise Lost": A Classical Epic
Characteristics of an Epic
An epic is the highest type of narrative poetry. It is a long narrative poem in which the
characters and the action are of heroic proportions. From the works of Homer and Virgil, certain
characteristics have become established in the West as standard attributes of the epic. The main
attributes are given below.
(i) The hero is a figure of great national or international importance. Moreover, the
characters must belong to the highest class in a society, raised above the common man by birth,
position, manners and appearance. They must be kings and princes descended from heroes, and
even from the gods, compelling in their deportment and arresting in their personal appearance.
In Paradise Lost the hero is Adam, who incorporates in himself the entire race of man.
(ii) The setting is ample in scale, sometimes world-wide, or even larger in the classical epic.
The scope of Paradise Lost is cosmic, for it includes Heaven, Earth and Hell.
(iii) The action involves heroic deeds: Paradise Lost includes the war in Heaven, the journey
of Satan to discover the newly created world, and his audacious attempt to outwit God by
corrupting mankind.
(iv) The action should be an entire action, complete in itself. By this is meant that it should
have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
(v) The next characteristic of the epic poem according to Aristotle is that it must have
greatness, by which is meant that it must produce far-reaching consequences in which the
destinies of great men and nations are involved.
(vi) God are also used in the epic as a tragedy, as deux ex machina; the intervention of
supernatural machinery advances the plot and solves its complications. It not only gives ample
scope for the exercise of the poets imagination, it also provides a proper spiritual support for the
heroic deeds.
(vii) An epic poem is a ceremonial composition and deliberately given a ceremonial style
proportionate to its great subject and architecture. Hence, Miltons Latinised diction and stylized
syntax, his resounding lists of strange and sonorous names, and his epic similes, that is, sustained
similes in which the comparison is developed far beyond the specific points are appropriate.
(viii) The poet begins by stating his theme, then invokes a Muse in his great undertaking and
addresses the Muse.
(i) Universality of the Subject-matter in Paradise Lost
Miltons Paradise Lost is not a national epic like the Iliad or the Aeneid; nor is it an epic
after any of the known types. It is an epic of the whole human species-an epic of our entire planet
or indeed of the entire astronomical universe. The vast compass of the story, its space, time,
characters and purpose make it unique among the world epics and fully entitle its author to speak
of it as involving:
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.
It is a poetical representation of the historical connection between the created World and the
immeasurable and inconceivable Universe of Prehuman Existence. The newly created Earth with
all the starry depths about it has as yet but two human beings upon it, and these are the persons
of the epic. The grand purpose of an epic is to connect, by stupendous imagination certain events
of this pre-supposed Infinite Eternity with the first fortunes of this favoured planet and its two
human inhabitants. Now the person through the narration of whose acts this connection is
established is Satan, a central character of the epic.
Miltons Paradise Lost has a wider scope and larger signifi-cance than either the llliad or
the Aeneid, because it deals with the whole human race and indicates the destiny of all humanity
through the sin of the first man created by God. Thus Milton promotes a universal view of mans
life on this earth and shows how he has a past, a present and a future devised for him by the
might of God and as a result of his own exertions. This is the didactic or philosophical view of an
epic. Milton says that he has undertaken to write of the Fall of Man and to justify the ways of
God to men. Man is born endowed with free will and great powers, but he is subject to the
decrees of the Almighty who is filled with love for his own creations. We can make or mar our
destiny since we are given freedom to work out the will of God or suffer from the consequences
of disobeying Him. This is a cosmic or eternal view which is bound to inspire all of us with hope
for the future. Coleridge commented on the universal appeal of Paradise Lost saying it
represents the origin of evil and the combat of evil and good, it contains a matter of deep interest
to all mankind, as forming the basis of all religion and the true occasions of all philosophy
(ii) Unity of Action in Paradise Lost
There is a perfect unity of action in Paradise Lost as in the great classical epics of Homer
and Virgil. The theme of Paradise Lost is Fall of man; everything in the poem either leads up
to it or follows from it. The plucking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge by Eve is the apex of
the whole architecture of Paradise Lost. The lines,
So saying, her rash hand in evil hour
Forth-reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she eat.
Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat
Sighing through her all works, gave signs of woe
That all was lost:
are the central lines round which everything else in the poem turns. The war between God and
Satan, followed by Satans fall, is only a prelude to the main action. Satan defeated and
punished, sought to take revenge on God by bring about the fall of man. Hence the fall of Satan
does not constitute a separate action, as contended by some critics. The whole action of Paradise
Lost is single and compact. There are some episodes, as that of Sin and Death, which are the
necessary appurtenance of the classical epic. Since Miltons characters are mostly supernatural-
God, Angels, Devils with but two human beings who are also more like angels than men, this
makes the action of Paradise Lostalso different from other epics. In Paradise Lost it concerns the
whole creation: everything is done under the immediate the visible direction of Heaven.
(iii) Beginning, Middle and end of Paradise Lost
Paradise Lost begins not at the beginning, but in the middle, then retraces the earlier history
bit by bit and finally takes the story forward to complete the narration in a striking end. The fall
of man is a long story, and its beginnings are to be traced back to Creation itself by the
Almighty. But Milton chooses to deal with the Fall of Satan or Lucifer in the first book. This is a
striking episode which arrests our attention, for we are introduced to Satan lying stunned in the
sulphurous lake of endless fires after having been hurled down from high heaven by God. This is
according to the classical convention that the action of an epic should plunge abruptly into the
middle of the action. Who was Satan, why he fell, are the questions that engage our attention,
and the poet then proceeds to tell us all about these in the later book of the poem.
(iv) Invocation of Paradise Lost
There is an introductory invocation or prayer to God to inspire and bless the poet to
complete his task properly. This is a common feature of all ancient epics. But the ancient epics
appealed to gods and goddesses in whom the moderns no more believe. Instead, Milton prays to
God to give him the necessary inspiration to complete his task. Here he brings out his faith in the
concept of God according to the tenets of the Christian religion.
In the invocation to the Muse, Milton follows a poetic tradition adopted from antiquity-but
in such a way so as to fill it with significance. The Heavenly Muse is in reality the divine
inspiration which revealed the truths of religion of Moses and also the spirit of God which dwells
in the heart of every believer.
(v) Hero and other associates in Paradise Lost
The characters introduced into an epic poem are all endowed with powers and capacities of
heroic proportions. For only then are our imagination and sympathies roused to their fullest
extent, and we are thrilled by their exploits. Not only is the hero of outstanding personality, but
his associates are also of heroic mould and stuff. This we find in the description and sketch of
Satan, Beelzebub and the other fallen angels.
In one respect Paradise Lost differs from the classical epics and that is in the number of
the characters portrayed. The earlier epics were rich in characterization with many mortals and
gods taking part in the action. Their personality and the motivations of all the participants in the
different phases of the story, capture the interest of the readers; and there is also constant
suspense about their fates. The subjects-matter of the fall of Adam and Eve obviously precluded
any such generosity of characterization, especially of human beings.
(vi) Speeches of Elaborate Length in Paradise Lost
Speeches of elaborate length are another feature of epics. A part from the poets
explanations and descriptions of the background and scenery, the characters themselves speak
fully explaining their thoughts, feelings and motives for our understanding. There is often a good
deal of repetition, but this very repetition adds to a sense of the magnitude the fullness of the
action. Besides direct reporting adds to the vividness of the narrative, and we feel as if we are
spectators or participants in the scene or action.
(vii) Similes and metaphors and allusions in
Paradise Lost
Another feature of epics is the frequency with which figures of speech are employed.
Similies and metaphors are most common. Book I abounds in a peculiar type of smiles which is
called the Homeric Similes. They offer scope for the poet to exhibit his varied knowledge of
nature, books and men in all aspects of life. Their appropriateness, picture sequences and beauty
add to our enjoyment of the poem as a whole.
Next to similes, we have allusions, references to different aspects of older tradition, folklore,
mythology, art and related activities of human beings in different parts of the world. Milton was
one of the most learned of the worlds poets. All that was known to the ancient world and to his
own contemporaries in all branches of human endeavour is found referred to in one context or
the other in Paradise Lost. This is another source of pleasure and profit to the reader.
(viii) Grand Style of Paradise Lost
The next essential characteristic of an epic is its grand style. A great action needs a worthy
style for its adequate presentation, and Miltons poetic style in Paradise Lost is the last word of
sublimity in English poetry. Paradise Lost excels as a poetic work both for the loftiness of its
theme and for the grandeur of its style. Truly, Tennyson called Milton mighty mouthed inventor
of harmonies and God gifted organ-voice of England. The language of Paradise Lost bristles
with Latinisms and to some extent this fact lifts the style above the common place. Anything
common or trivial would have spoilt the effect of the great epic.
(ix) Human Interest in Paradise Lost
Above all, the human interest in the poem centres round the figure of Adam, who is the
central character of Paradise Lost. The Epic, like the Tragedy, is according to Aristotle, a story
of human action. Paradise Lost is essentially a story of human action; though there are only two
human characters in the epic and they make their appearance as late as the fourth book of the
poem yet their act of disobedience is the central theme of the epic; and this act of eating the
fruit of that forbidden tree is of tremendous significance, for on it depends the fate of the whole
human race. The last two lines of the poem describing the departure of Adam and Eve from the
Garden of Eden are pregnant with deep pathos, and appeal to every human heart:
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow
Through Eden took their solitary way.
(x) Sublimity in Paradise Lost
An epic is a serious poem embodying sublime and noble thoughts. There is no room for
pleasantry and fun and light-hearted gaiety in a classical epic. Miltons Paradise Lost is a
sublime and noble poem characterised for the imagination of man to distend itself with greater
ideas than those which Milton has presented in the first, second and sixth books. The seventh
book. The seventh book, which describes the creation of the world, is equally wonderful and
(xi) Moral Tone of Paradise Lost
An epic is not without a moral. Besides giving a general representation to passions and
affections, virtues and vices, the epic poet does not leave out a moral which he expects his
readers to imbibe. The moral forms an integral and intrinsic part of Miltons poem. It seeks to
vindicate the ways of God to men, to show the reasonableness of religion and the necessity of
obedience to the Divine Law.
Dryden, however, doubted its claim to be called an epic, because, (1) it is not heroic enough;
its main theme is not a war but the tale of mans loss of his happiness; (2) unlike other epics it
ends unhappily; (3) again, unlike other epics, it contains only two human characters, the other
being heavenly machines.
The objections are either superficial or conventional. It is a needless restriction on epic
poetry to say that it must always have a war as its main theme. Similarly, the fact that epics
generally end happily does not mean that all epics must end so. Besides, as Johnson points
out, Paradise Lost does not end unhappily. If success be necessary, he says, then Adams
deceiver was at last crushed; Adam was restored to his Makers favour, and therefore may
securely resume his human rank. If Adam loses the eternal Paradise, he gains a Paradise within
him happier far. Drydens third objection is sufficiently refuted by Addison. He says that
though the number of characters in Miltons epic are not many, yet each of the characters is
represented in more than one aspect. Thus we have Adam and Eve as they are before their fall
and as they are after it. God is revealed as the Creator, the avenger of mans wrongs and as
mans redeemer. Satan has three different aspects of his character. He is Gods enemy, mans
tempter and a great leader to his followers. Besides, abstract characters such as Sin and Death,
are introduced. And surely, God and the angels, good and bad, are also characters. They are not
merely heavenly machines.
To sum up: Paradise Lost is an epic. And it possesses all the essential characteristics that
Aristotle demanded of an epic poem. (1) Its action or plot has unity, entirety and sublimity. The
subject-matter, viz., the fall of man, forms the centre of the poem. Everything else moves round
it, leads towards it or follows from it. Milton secures the unity of action by starting at the middle
of the story and by opening the poem with the infernal council debate in Hell where mans fall is
plotted. The story is also told in its entirety. We are told, all that went before to cause mans fall
and all that followed as its result. The action is also sublime; there cannot be any more sublime
theme than the fall of our first parents and the war in Heaven. (2) The Characters of Paradise
Lostare also true epic characters. They are majestic and they are as many and as various as the
peculiar nature of the poem allowed. (3) Its language is also sublime and appropriate to the
characters. It is a perfect model of epic diction.
There are other incidental characteristics of epic poetry also in it. Like other epics, Paradise
Lost treats a war; it employes long-tailed similes: it obeys the convention of invoking the

I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to men.

Milton achieved eminent success in making Paradise Lost as classical epic. In spite of certain
drawbacks and defects, Miltons epic is entitled to take its rightful place among half a dozen
classical epics in the world. The first essential feature of the epic is its theme. The theme of an
epic must have a national importance or significance; that is, the epic must be a true and faithful
mirror of the life and of a nation. Homer represented the national life, thought and culture of ht
Greeks in the Iliad, and Virgil gave expression to the hopes and aspirations of the Romans in the
Aeneid. The Fall of Man is the theme of the epic.

Of Mans first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,

The epic action has three qualifications. First, it should be one action, secondly, it should be an
entire action, and thirdly, it should be a great action. In short, the action of an epic should be one,
entire and great. All these three qualities of epic action are followed by Milton.

The action of Paradise Lost is one and there is a unity of action. The central action is the Fall of
Man, and everything in the epic as, the battle of angels, the creation of the world, is subordinated
to this central action. There are digressions at the beginning of the third and seventh books, but
they do not affect the unity and central action of the poem. The whole action of Paradise Lost is
single and compact. In the second place, its action is entire which means that it has a beginning,
middle and an end. The action in Paradise Lost is contrived in hell, executed upon earth, and
punished by heaven. In the third place the action ought to be great, by greatness of the action,
Aristotle means that it should not only be great in its nature but also in its duration. The entire
action of Paradise Lost has a stamp of grandeur and greatness about it. Miltons subject is greater
than Homers Iliad and Virgils Aeneid. It does not determine the fate of one single person or
nation; but of the whole human race.

Milton plunges into the middle of the action. Milton, in imitation of the great poets, opens his
Paradise Lost, with an infernal council plotting the fall of man.

The characters of the epic must have dignity and variety. In Paradise Lost, we have a wide
variety of characters marked with qualities. In Paradise Lost, we have human as well as
superhuman characters. Adams and Eve are human characters, whereas God, Christ and Satan
are superhuman characters.

An epic must have a hero with great qualities. Identification of the hero is different in Paradise
Lost. Adam can be called the hero of the epic. He is not a warrior or a conqueror but a noble

An epic is a serious poem embodying sublime and nobler thoughts. Miltons Paradise Lost is a
sublime and noble poem characterized by loftiness of thought and sentiment.

An epic is not without a moral. Moral forms an integral and intrinsic part in Miltons poem. It
seeks to vindicate the ways of God to man, to show the reasonableness of religion and the
necessity of obedience to the Divine Law.

Milton, in conformity with the epic practice, begins Paradise Lost by invoking the Muse to help
him in his great task. But since Milton seeks the aid of the Heavenly Muse, the Holy spirit,

And chiefly thou, O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all temples the upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for thou knowst:

He requests:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -: what in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support,

In and epic poem the poet narrates very little in his person. The characters themselves carry
forward the mission of the poet.

Lastly the language of an epic must be sublime and rose above the language of common

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - What though the fields be lost?
All is not lost

Aristotle observes that a sublime style can be formed by three methods --- by the use of
metaphors, by making use of the idioms and by lengthening of the phrase by the addition of
words. Milton employs all these three methods to give the air of grandeur to his epic. His similes
and metaphors are epical. Latin words are frequently introduced. The style of Paradise Lost is the
truest example of grand style. On one place, Satan says:

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heavn

On the other place:

Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.

Miltons Paradise Lost is a successful classical epic. Paradise lost has thus many excellences as
an epic but the defects in it also not be forgotten. The introduction of allegorical persons like sin
and death, the frequent allusions to heathen mythological fables, the intervention of grotesque
incidents, the frequent indulgence in puns and useless display of learning and the unnecessary
use of technical terms as in the description of Pandemonium are some blemishes in the style of
the poem.

One other point must also be noted. An epic is an objective poem, and personal reflections are
out of place in it. But the most sublime parts of Paradise Lost reflect the individuality of the poet.
How ever this has added to the interest of the work as a poem though it is not, strictly speaking,
permissible in an epic.

Grand style of miltion
"The name of Milton", says Raleigh, "is become the mark, not of a biography nor of a
theme, but of a style - the most distinguished in our poetry." In all that he has written he has
impressed his indomitable personality and irrepressible originality. John Milton is not only in
every line of Paradise Lost but in every line of poetry that he has written. As Macaulay has said:
"There is not a square inch of his poetry from first to last of which one could not confidently
say." "This is Milton and no one else." His accent and speech alike in Ode to Nativity and
in Paradise Lost are his own and in marked contrast to any other English poet.

Essentials of Miltonic Style
Since style is the expression of personality, we have to find the peculiar quality of Milton's
style in his personality and character. In the first place, Milton's mind was "nourished upon the
best thoughts and finest words of all ages", and that is the language, says Pattison, of one "who
lives in the companionship of the great and the wise of the past." Secondly, Milton was a man of
lofty character, whose "soul was like a star that dwelt apart, and who in all that is known about
him, his life, his character, and his power of poetry, shows something for which the only fit
words is Sublime." Thirdly, Milton was a supreme artist. "Poetry", says Bailey, "has been by far
our greatest artistic achievement, and he (Milton) is by far our greatest poetic artist. Tennyson
truly called him "God gifted organ-voice of England." "To live with Milton," says Bailey, "is
necessarily to learn that the art of poetry is no triviality, no mere amusement, but a high and
grave thing, a thing of the choicest discipline of phrase, the finest craftsmanship of structure, the
most nobly ordered music of sound. So, in Milton's poetic style we inevitably find the imprint of
a cultured mind, a lofty soul and an artistic conscience. "In the sure and flawless perfection of his
rhythm and diction, he (Milton) is as admirable as Virgil or Dante, and in this respect, he is
unique amongst us. No one else in English literature possess the like distinction.... Shakespeare
is divinely strong, rich and attractive; but sureness, of perfect style Shakespeare himself does not
possess. Milton from one end of Paradise Lost to the other is in his diction and rhythm
constantly a great artist in the great style." (Mathew Arnold). "The study of his verse is one that
never exhausts itself, so that the appreciation of it has been called the last reward of consummate
scholarship." Above all, there is a certain loftiness about the style of Milton, which is found alike
in his Ode to Nativity and in Paradise Lost, and so Bailey says that it is precisely 'majesty' which
is the unique and essential Miltonic quality." Milton achieves this loftiness as much by words as
by the sonority, dignity and weight of the words themselves.
Artistic Perfection
In reply to the observation that Shakespeare never blotted a line, Ben Jonson said, 'would he
had blotted a thousand': No one has ever uttered such a wish with regard toMilton's poetry.
Milton as a poetic artist is never careless or slipshod. There is hardly a line in his poetic work
which is unpoetical - hardly a word which is superfluous. All the words used by him are
deliberately chosen for fulfilling these functions: the exact expression of thought, their power for
suggestion, and the musical effects for the verse. And this artistic perfection characterises his
poetry from his first important poem Ode to Nativity to his last one, Samson Agonistes. Milton
has written all types of poetry - lyric, epic and dramatic - and his style in each reaches the high
water-mark of poetic art.
According to Dr. Pearce, Milton's grand style originates from the formalities of classical
prose. "Prosaic virtues of clarity, order, strict definition, working from line to line, adjusting
clause to clause, word to word, are the real source of that classic "finish" a clear hardness of
texture which everywhere distinguishes the Miltonic line from any other.
Grand style of "Paradise Lost"
The greatest work of Milton is Paradise Lost, and when we speak of the style of Milton, we
usually think of the majestic style of this great epic. When Wordsworth wrote: "Thou hadst a
voice whose sound was like the sea, "he had in his mind the grand style of Paradise Lost. When
Tennyson spoke of Milton as being the "God-gifted organ-voice of England," he was no doubt
referring to the majestic blank verse of Paradise Lost.
Miltonic style of "Paradise Lost"
The style of the epic is always great. On the whole, it is greatest in the whole range of
English poetry. Fullness of sound, weight of march, compactness of finish, fitness of words to
things, fitness of pauses to thought, a strong grasp of the main idea while other ideas play around
it, equality of power over vast spaces of imagination, sustained splendour when he soars.
With plume so strong, so equal and so soft, majesty in the conduct of thought, and a music
in the majesty which fills it with solemn beauty belong one and all to the style; and it gains its
highest influence on us, and fulfills the ultimate need of a grand style in being the easy and
necessary expression of the very character and nature of man. It reveals Milton, as much,
sometimes more than his thought." (Stopford A. Brooke).
Milton's style Paradise Lost is rich and full of splendour; it is replete with numerous
deliberate devices that heighten dignity and govern imaginative and emotional response. Milton's
style is not totally artificial. Inspite of the numerous passages that are thickly inlaid with
allusions and references, inspite of the elevated and heightened character of its style, the basic
structure has an element of plainness. "Plain familiar words, in their natural order, form the
bedrock of his style."
Style in Conformity with Theme
The theme of Paradise Lost is stupendous, "The horizon of Paradise Lost is not narrower
than all space; its chronology not shorter than eternity; the globe of our earth becomes a mere
spot in the physical universe, and that universe itself a drop suspended in the infinite empyrean"
(Pattison). Its characters are God and His creatures, and it concerns itself with the fortunes of the
whole human race. Such a great theme required a great style for adequate presentation.
The style of Paradise Lost fully sees to the height of the theme. It is the solitary instance of
sustained grandeur in English poetry (though Professor Saintsbury has instances of grand style in
Shakespeare). It rises to a lofty place by virtue of the poet's imaginative power, passionate
emotion and moral earnestness. Everything in Paradise Lost is conceived in a mighty way.
When the poet describes Satan, he calls up the picture of the huge Leviathan, whom, "the pilot of
some night-foundered skiff" deemed "some island". The shield of Satan is
Like the moon, whose orb,
Through optic glass the Tuscan artist views
At evening from the top Fesole
The fallen angels floating on the lake of Hell
Lay entranced
Thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks:
In Vallombrosa
When they spring upon the wing, they look like a cloud of locusts:
As when the potent rod
Of Amram's son, in Egypt's evil day
Waved round the coast, up-called a pitchy cloud
Of locusts, warping on the eastern wind.

So numberless were those bad angels seen
Hovering on wing under the cope of Hell.
The solemn and sonorous quality of the verse-music brings out in an abundant measure the
grandeur of the style in Paradise Lost. There is a cunning variety in the rhythm of his verses,
secured by a skilful variation of his pauses, a freedom of movement and an apt use of allusion
with the right type of long and short syllables.
The Poets Imagination
The poet's imagination does not submit to any limitation of space and time; the whole
history of the human race and the geography of the entire globe are brought within its compass.
When the poet seeks to convey the idea of the vastness of the multitude of the fallen angels his
imagination goes back to the past, and passes over the entire continent of Europe:
A multitude like which the populous North
Poured never from her frozen loins to pass
Rhene or the Danaw when her barbarous sons
Came like a deluge on the South and spread
Beneath Gibraltor the Lybian sands.
Satan's throne in Pandemonium calls up the vision of the whole of "gorgeous East."
High on a throne of royal state, which far
Outshone the wealth of Onnus and of Ind,
Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand
Showers on her kings barbatic pearl and gold
Satan exalted sat.
minor device which Milton again uses effectively is to add the second adjective to an
already modified noun. He speaks of the "upright heart and pure", "a sad task and hard," Here
Milton is following the common usage in the Italian poetry of Dante and Petrarch.
Suggestive and Compact
"Of all English styles," says Raleigh, "Milton's is best entitled to the name of classic." In
Milton's style we have the compactness, force and reserve and the unity of emotional impression,
which are the distinctive characteristics of the true classical style. Milton was a conscientious
artist; he weighed every word he used for its meaning, weight and sound. "He taxes every line to
its fullest capacity, and wring the last drop of value from each word. " "His poetry," says
Macaulay, "acts like an incantation". Its merit lies less in its obvious meaning than in its occult
power. There would seem at first sight to be no more in his words than in other words. But they
are words of enchantment. No sooner are they pronounced than the past is present and the distant
near. Change the structure of the sentence, substitute a synonym for another and the whole effect
is destroyed. "Milton is often not satisfied with one meaning from a word, but will make it do
double duty. Words derived from Latin served this double purpose. To the ordinary reader they
convey one meaning and to the scholar they suggest another. This gives a suggestive power to
Milton's language. "The most striking characteristic of the poetry of Milton is the extreme
remoteness of the associations by which it acts on the reader. It effect is produced, not so much
by what it expresses, as by what it suggests, not so much by the ideas which it directly conveys
by other ideas which are connected with them. He electrifies the mind through conductors... The
works of Milton cannot be comprehend or enjoyed unless the mind of the reader cooperates with
that of the writer. He does not paint a finished picture, or play for a mere passive listener. He
sketches and leaves other to fill up the outline. He strikes the key-note and expects his hearers to
make out the melody." (Macaulay).
An essential quality of Milton's poetic style is its allusiveness. He, no doubt pressed to the
service of his poetry all that he observed in life and nature; but his vision was often coloured by
his knowledge. The whole treasury of poetry, ancient and modern, and the whole storehouse of
learning were at his command; and he seemed to assume that they were also at the command of
his readers and so he loaded every rift of his verse with myth and legend, historical, literary, and
scientific fact. Classical and Biblical allusions are most abundant, and are woven into the very
texture of his language. Hence Pattison remarks: "The appreciation of Milton is the last reward
of consummate scholarship. "His scholarly habit of mind is illustrated in the comparison of the
army of Satan to various military assemblage mentioned, in legend and history at the close of
Book I of Paradise Lost
...for never since created man
Met such embodied force, as named with these

Epic Similes
A striking feature of Milton's style in Paradise Lost is his use of epic similes. These go far
beyond the limits of comparison, and are expanded to draw complete pictures. Satan's huge bulk
is compared to the huge Leviathan, who may be mistaken for an island:
Him, haply slumbering on the Norway foam
The pilot of some small night-foundered skiff.
Milton uses these expanded similes to ennoble his narrative rather than merely to illustrate
By all these devices and many more, "he attained to a finished style of perhaps a more
consistent and unflagging elevation than is to be found elsewhere in literature... No poet, since
Milton's day has recaptured the solemnity and beauty of the large utterance of Gabriel or Belial
or Satan" (Raleigh). In the epic similes the use of alliteration produces strange musical effects.
Did Milton "Corrupt our Language"?
Dr. Johnson called attention to the peculiarity of Miltonic diction saying that it is so far
removed from common use that an unlearned reader when he first opens the book, finds himself
surprised by a new language "Our language". Addison had said before, "sunk under him."
Milton's is a personal style, which T.S. Eliot points out, is "not based upon common speech or
common prose, or direct communication of meaning. It violates the accepted rules of English
grammar and syntax, so much so that Dr. Johnson said that he "wrote no language". Milton had a
preference for the unusual and recondite in vocabulary and construction, which led him to
archaism, on the one hand, and to the substitution of foreign idiom particularly Latin, for English
idiom, on the other. We have frequent uses of ablative absolute with preposition, irregular
pronouns, ellipses, constructions changed by changes of thought, interchange of parts of speech,
transposition and inventions and unusual compound epithets similar to those in Homer. We also
find sentences with gnarled and involved structure, inversions of the natural order of words and
phrases and grammatical superfluities. These devices impart a classical tone of Milton's style but
at the same time they are out-landish and inconsistent with the normal use of English language.
In general, Milton's style may be described as almost uniquely literary and intellectual. But,
fraught as it is with learning and bookish phrase, and elaborate as it is in construction and alien
in vocabulary, it achieves uniform effect of dignity and becomes a means for expressing the
elevated and intensely passionate personality of its author.
Modern literary critics like Ezra Pound, Herbert Read, Middleton Murry, F.R. Leavis and
above all T.S. Eliot have condemned Milton's style for the following reasons:
(i) Apart from its intrinsic difficulties, it is harmful in its extrinsic effects.
(ii) Modern critics point out the artificiality of the inflated and Latinised diction, idiom and
syntactical structure of Milton's style.
(iii) The fabrication of heavy, inflexible and unnantural speech rhythms.
(iv) The reliance on pompous and meaningless sound.
(v) The baneful influence of his verse, strangled the metaphysical style.
However, there are many critics who defend Milton against these charges. C.S. Lewis
maintains that the essential requirement of an epic style is continuity. Milton produces this
stylistic continuity and in order to do this the idiom and rhythm of normal speech have to be
altered. Also that a ritualistic and incantatory effect is inevitable in the best of epic verse.
Moreover, Milton chose blank verse as the medium of his expression, one hitherto unused in the
epic field.
According to Prof. Bush, Milton's style is ideally suited to the sustained narrative of the epic
action. An epic style is narrative, didactic, rhetorical and continuously elevated and directly
exemplary. It cannot become colloquial, witty or intimate without ceasing to be epic. It cannot
have flexible rhythms nor can it modulate the tones without causing disharmony.
All the characteristics of Milton's style may be found in English literature before Milton, but
in Milton they become habitual features of style. Spenser, for instance, uses archaisms much
more persistently than Milton. The use of the Latinisms was common enough in English prose in
the seventeenth century. But no other poet before Milton has resorted to Latinised diction as a
means of removing his speech from the sphere of daily life, and he, therefore, employed style,
corresponding to the dignity of his subject. And this style, which has been called 'grand style',
was something personal to Milton, with his classical training and vast intellectual equipment.
This style was quite suitable for Milton, dealing with a subject 'unattempted in prose and rhyme',
but when the pseudo-classical poets of the eighteenth century employed the devices of Miltonic
style, the result was the artificial poetic diction, which was vehemently condemned by
Mathew Arnold remarked: "Milton, of all our English race, is by his diction and rhythm the
one artist of the highest rank in the great style whom we have; this I take as requiring no
discussion this I take as certain."
Allusions and Vocabulary
The first aspect of the grand style that most readers notice is the number of allusions and
references, many of which seem obscure, along with the arcane and archaic vocabulary. In just
the first few lines of the poem references to "Oreb" (7), "That Shepherd" (8), "chosen seed" (8),
"Siloa's Brook" (10), and "Aonian Mount" (15) occur. The purpose of the references is to extend
the reader's understanding through comparison. Most readers will know some of the references,
but few will know all. The question thus arises whether Milton achieves his effect or its opposite.
Further, words such as "Adamantine" (48), "durst" (49), "Compeer" (127), "Sovran" (246) and
many others, both more and less familiar, add an imposing tone to the work. Paradise Lost was
not written for an uneducated audience, but in many editions the explanatory notes are almost as
long as the text.
Sentence Construction
Besides the references and vocabulary, Milton also tends to use Latinate constructions. English is
a syntactical language using word order in sentences to produce sense. Latin, in contrast, is an
inflected language in which endings on words indicate the words' functions within a sentence,
thereby making word order less important. Latin verbs, for example, often come at the end of the
sentence or a direct object may precede the subject. In Paradise Lost, Milton seems purposely to
strive for atypical English syntactical patterns. He almost never writes in simple sentences.
Partly, this type of inverted, at times convoluted, syntax is necessary for the poetics, to maintain
the correct meter, but at other times the odd syntax itself seems to be Milton's stylistic goal.
In this passage from Book VIII, the exact meaning of the words is elusive because of the Latinate
soft oppression seis'd
My droused sense, untroubl'd though I thought
I then was passing to my former state
Insensible, and forthwith to dissolve (VIII, 291-296).
Lewis, and others who admire the grand style, argue that in passages such as this, the precise
meaning matters less than the impressionistic effect, that the images of drowsing, insensibility,
and dissolution occurring in order show the breakdown of a conscious mind, in this case Adam's,
as God produces a dream vision for him. Certainly this passage, as difficult to understand
literally as it is, is not bad writing. The reader understands what Adam is experiencing. However,
in the hands of lesser talents than Milton, such writing becomes nonsense.
Extended Similes
Another aspect of Milton's style is the extended simile. The use of epic similes goes back to
Homer in theIliad and Odyssey, but Milton uses more similes and with more detail. A Miltonic
simile can easily become the subject of an essay, perhaps a book. Milton's similes run a gamut
from those that seem forced (the comparison of Satan's arrival in Eden to the smell of fish [IV,
166]) to those that are perfect (Eden compared to the field where Proserpine gathered flowers
[(IV, 268]). But, in all cases, a critical exploration of the simile reveals depths of unexpected
meaning about the objects or persons being compared. Once again, Milton achieves a purpose
with his highly involved language and similes. The ability to do this seems almost unique to
Milton, a man of immense learning and great poetic ability.
Repeated Images
Besides extended similes, Milton also traces a number of images throughout the poem. One of
the most apparent is the image of the maze or labyrinth. Over and over in the poem, there are
mentions of maze like the tangled curls of Eve's hair which finally culminate with the
serpent confronting Eve on a "Circular base of rising folds, that tow'r'd / Fold above fold a
surging maze" (IX, 498-499). Other images also run throughout the poem as a kind of tour de
force of imagination and organization. Each image opens up new possibilities for understanding
Milton's ideas.
No doubt, particular aspects of Milton's style could be presented at great length, but these are
sufficient. Milton intended to write in "a grand style." That style took the form of numerous
references and allusions, complex vocabulary, complicated grammatical constructions, and
extended similes and images. In consciously doing these things, Milton devised a means of
giving the written epic the bardic grandeur of the original recited epic. In so doing, he created an
artificial style that very few writers could hope to emulate though many tried. As with the unique
styles of William Faulkner and James Joyce, Milton's style is inimitable, and those who try to
copy it sometimes give the original a bad name.
Milton's style is certainly his own. Elements of it can be criticized, but in terms of his
accomplishment inParadise Lost, it is difficult to see how such a work could be better written in
some other style. Milton defined the style of the English epic and, in a real sense, with that style,
ended the genre. After Milton and Paradise Lost, the English epic ends.

The Theme and Moral Purpose of "Paradise Lost" Book-I
Since all epics of antiquity deal with personalities and events of divine or superhuman
dimensions, it has become a fixed rule that an epic worthy of the name should deal with an
action or story which has universal or even cosmic appeal. The affairs of small people do not
interest us since there is nothing heroes or noble about them at first sight. The Iliad dealt with
Gods and heroes, lovely women and romantic lovers, doughty deeds on the battle-field and
heroic achievements and death.
The Ramayana deals with the heroic virtues of constancy, parental duty, filial love, chivalry,
succouring the oppressed, loyalties and treacheries on a grand scale. In the Mahabharata, we
have the endless complication all springing from the rivalries of brothers for power and
dominion. As the fortunes and misfortunes affect all human beings, all are interested in following
the adventures of such exceptional beings. We see what man is capable of, what man has to
contend with and what man has to suffer as a result of transgressing the rules of Dharma. From
such knowledge we come out chastened and inspired to order our lives more honorably and
But the ancient epics dealt with men and events which we know could not have happened as
described. Much of it is pure imagination, much of it is fantastic or incredible and many other
parts are beyond human agencies. They help us to realise that we are surrounded by invisible
powers which can shape us to some extent, and which exert a continuous influence over us for
good and ill. Faith in God and a divine order is thus inculcated, and we do not feel as strangers or
helpless beings in this world. Death is the final end of all mortal men. But before death comes,
we are impelled to do something worthy of our higher natures so that it may remain as an object
of inspiration to all mankind. Thus, epics give us delight, instruction, edification and consolation.
Miltons Subject: Fall of Man
Milton was a profound student of the classics, and from a very early period of his life, he
was seized with the ambition to write an epic poem. But the course of his life was chequered by
many interests, conflicts and crosses which prevented him from taking up the work on which he
kept on brooding. At last he hit upon the subject of the fall of Man as narrated in the Bible as a
fit theme for his epic, and planned and completed his Paradise Lost. The actual story of Adam
and Eve, of their blissful state of innocence in paradise and the manner of their fall from it is
very briefly narrated in the Genesis. Taking it as the kernel of his work, he decided to enrich it in
all possible ways with the resources of his poetical faculties, his wide knowledge, learning and
Coleridge commenting on the theme of Paradise Lost said: It represents origin of evil and
the combat of evil and good, it contains matter of deep interest to all mankind, as forming the
basis of all religion and the true occasion of all philosophy whatsoever.
Universal Interest
The fall of man is a subject of universal interest. Unlike other epics of ancient times, he
could treat it in such a way as to ring conviction to the modern mind. But as mythology is a very
essential aspect of all epics, he decided to make use of all his classical lore to embellish and
illustrate his own narrative. As an epic should provide for the free play of all the nova rasas as
we call them, he developed a plot which provided scope for them in ample measure. Biblical
history is a part of the Sematic racial heritage; and the ancient Hebrews had come into contact
with the pre-classical body of knowledge which goes back to a much more ancient past than that
of ancientGreece and Rome. At the same time, according to the Christian religion, all mankind
has been cursed as a result of the disobedience and fall of Man. Also that religion connects it
with the coming of Jesus Christ as the Saviour of mankind from the sin of which Adam and Eve
were guilty.
Raleigh remarks: A prerogative place among the great epics of the world has sometimes
been claimed for Paradise Lost, on the ground that the theme it handles is vaster and of a more
universal human interest than any handled by Miltons predecessor. It concerns itself with the
fortunes not of a city or of an empire but of the whole human race, and with that particular event
in the history of the race which has moulded all its destinies..
A.C. George states: We can state the essential theme of Paradise Lost as the sustained
opposition between love and hate, God responds to the destructive challenge of Satan with the
creative expression of love. Milton has combined two traditional elements the story of the
challenge and response through an indirect agent. The former theme is the direct physical
conflict of the Celestial Battle, and the latter is Satans challenge of God-indirectly through
Gods own creature man. The second theme arises out of the first.
Another interpretation is that the theme of Paradise Lost is the Fall of Man from Paradise
on account of his sin. Here Milton has tried to show that every action of man, however,
insignificant, has its consequences. His principal concern is that man must make the right use of
every moment of life because his actions are irrevocable. Miltons object in this poem was also
to emphasize the role of Christ as the Redeemer of mankind and to justify the ways of God to
According to Tillyard, when the passions get the upper-hand chaos ensues, all peace is gone
and man falls from true liberty to moral anarchy. According to F. Kermode, Paradise Lost points
the contrast between the true delight of love and the false delight which leads to sorrow.
The doctrine of Free Will has been insisted on by Milton frequently and emphatically. The
kind of action or state of mind Milton felt desirable was one perfectly controlled by the
conscious will. Any deed, however significant, performed instinctively or without the full
significance of the issue realized, was of little value. Milton has not condemned the element of
desire in human nature but the difference between love that is genuine and passion that is not
controlled by reason has been brought out.
Gods Pity on Mankind
As every sin has to be punished so was it the lot of mankind to suffer death although they
had been promised immortality by God. But God himself took pity on mankind after a time, and
resolved to come down in human shape to save men from hell and death. So Christ is represented
as the Son of God, who came on earth and suffered Himself to be crucified, thus taking on
himself the sin of mankind. This is known as the doctrine of vicarious suffering. God as man,
suffered despite being pure and guiltless. By following Christ men were thus giving a chance of
regaining their lost Paradise. This is the main topic which Milton has elaborated in his two great
epics calledParadise Lost and Paradise Regained. The first deals with the entire story of the
Universe from the moment of the creation of the world and of Adam and Eve, down to the
disobedience of Adam tempted by Satan.
Two Groups of Angels
To explain how Satan came to be an evil spirit, we have another mythological story of how
there was formerly great war between one group of angels devoted to God and another group of
angels led by Lucifer who wished to overthrow God so that he himself might become the most
supreme of spirits, in the end, Lucifer was defeated and hurled down by God with all his hosts
into a bottomless pit there to suffer for ever. But Lucifer, thereafter called Satan rankled in his
defeat and planned to seek revenge against the Almighty. On hearing that God had created Man
to take the place of the fallen angels, he decided to tempt him and wean him away from God. He
found an opportunity to do so, since God put Adam and Eve in Paradise and gave him the
lordship of all creation with one exception alone. This was that they should not taste of the fruit
of the tree of knowledge which grew in Eden.
Satan seized the opening, and after recognising his shattered hosts and placing them in
suitable dwellings in Hell, came out, and taking the form of a serpent, entered Eden and caused
the fall of both Adam and Eve by persuading Eve to eat the fruit of knowledge. With knowledge,
Adam and Eve lost their innocence, and God cursed them not only with the loss of their
immorality and happiness but also drove them out of Eden to wander over the earth and earn
their bread by the sweat of their brow.
Various Episodes
Into this main Biblical story, Milton has woven many episodes, drawn from the entire range
of ancient lore to give his poem both substance, bulk and shape and impressive majesty and
Vastness of the Theme
Critics have admired Miltons courage in dealing with the universal subject. The scene of
action is the universal space; time is represented by eternity. The characters are God and His
creation. The epic deals with the fortunes of the whole human race and not of a particular
country and nation.
The Problem of Evil: The Conflict between Good and Evil
The problem of evil is a very old subject. Philosophers have given different views regarding
the origin of the evil. Some regarded it as something external. Others regarded it as something
eternal. For Satan, evil is the disobedience of the order of God. It is the will of the Man asserting
himself. In fact, Satan brought freedom to Man. He gave consciousness of personality to Man.
Man began to act with free choice and judgement. Now this freedom meant facing the
consequences of ones choice. Adam and Eve have, therefore, to leave paradise because they
followed their own free will. Milton condemned the act of Man. He did not appreciate mans free
will and judgement because he was a very strict Puritan. His stress was on the results of the evil
which led man to his ruin.
Some critics feel that there are two themes which are quite balanced, namely, the Fall of
Angels and Fall of Man. The first half deals with Satans efforts to do something against God.
The second half is the drama of Adam and Eve.
But this cannot be accepted. Milton clearly said that his story dealt with the Fall of Man.
Satans story is subsidiary to the main story of Adam and Eve.
Miltons Failure to Justify the Ways of God to Man
Some critics believe that the poet instead justifies the ways of Satan to men, he has not
justified the ways of god on the poetic level. Milton has tried to do so through arguments which
are unconvincing.
Moreover, the punishment given to Adam and Eve is out of proportion to their sin of
disobedience. Hanford points out that the justification of divine ways lies in the representation
of Adam as a free agent and in the revelation of the working of Gods Grace which allows to him
and his descendants the opportunity for a new exercise of moral choice and of consequent
salvation even after the Fall The poet has gone out of his way again and again to insist on the
fact of Adams freedom..Neither personally nor as a part of the system did the idea greatly
move or interest him.
Poetic Justice
The theme of the epic is the justification of Gods ways to Man. Milton justified the
punishment of Adam and Eve for the crime they committed. They are expelled from Paradise.
However, Milton is not a pessimist. He believe in spiritual development
from Hope to Faith. God through His Goodness redeems man from sin. His son namely Christ
offers his own sacrifice for the sake of Adam and Eve. At the end of the Paradise Lost, Adam
and Eve feel repentant. They are punished in Heaven by God through the angel named Michael.
David Daiches states: Miltons heart was not fully in this sort of justification. Whatever he
might have consciously thought. However, he adds that the true justification lies in the way in
that virtue, can only be achieved by struggle, that the Fall was inevitable because a passive and
ignorant virtue, with the challenge of an imperfect world, cannot release the true potentialities of
human greatness.
Miltons Puritanism and his great faith in the Bible made him choose his subject which was
of interest to all men. His great achievement lies in making such a serious subject which is
agreeable and acceptable to all. In fact, his sublimity (greatness and grandeur) can only be
maintained at high level on a very lofty subject,