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Alexander Jenders Prof. Dr.

Ralf Haekel
Dr. Kirsten Sandrock
Philosophische Fakultt

Englisch

Prof. Dr. Ralf Haekel

The Influence of the Classics on Miltons Paradise Lost

Abschlussarbeit im Fach Englisch des (Zwei-Fcher-)


Bachelor-Studiengangs zur Erlangung des Akademischen
Grades Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) der
Georg-August-Universitt Gttingen

Vorgelegt am 31.10.2016
Von Alexander Jenders
Aus Salzgitter
Table of Contents

1 Introduction ..........................................................................................2
2 Milton ...................................................................................................3
2.1 Miltons biography .......................................................................3
2.2 Miltons Prose Works ...................................................................6
2.3 Miltons Paradise Lost .................................................................7
3 Paradise Influenced ...........................................................................10
3.1 Allusions and Intertextuality ....................................................... 10
3.2 Miltons Decorum.......................................................................19
3.3 Miltons Style and Language ..................................................... 21
4 The Epic ............................................................................................ 25
4.1 The Ancient Epic .......................................................................25
4.2 Paradise Lost as an Epic ........................................................... 29
5 Conclusion ......................................................................................... 33
6 Literature Cited and Consulted ........................................................ 33
Plagiarism Declaration for written work in Anglistische Literatur- und
Kulturwissenschaft
Name of Student: Alexander Jenders
Matriculation Number: 21157337

Name of Instructor: Prof. Dr. Ralf Haekel, Dr. Kirsten Sandrock


Title of Course: Bachelor Thesis
WiSe 2016/17

Title of essay/thesis: The Influence of the Classics on Miltons Paradise Lost

Date of submission: 31.10.2016

I have read and understood the University of Gttingens (Georg-August-Universitt-


Gttingen) rules on plagiarism.
I hereby declare:
This piece of written work is my own independent scholarly work.
All material and ideas from the work of others (in books, articles, essays, dis-
sertations, and on the internet) are acknowledged, and quotations and para-
phrases are clearly indicated in the proper form.
I have provided the sources for all figures, diagrams, tables, data, etc., that
are not my own work.
I have not submitted (nor am I submitting concurrently) any part of this written
work as examination material at this or any other educational institution, in-
cluding school.
I have not made use of the work of any other student(s) past or present with-
out acknowledgement.
I have not used the services of any professional persons or agencies to pro-
duce this work.

In addition, I understand that if I make any false claim with respect to this work
I will fail the module and the Prfungsamt will be notified.
Date and place: 31.10.2016, Gttingen

Signed:________________________________________

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1 Introduction
John Miltons Paradise Lost, firstly published in 1667, is one of the most prolific texts
in the English language, and this holds true not only for the seventeenth century, but
at all. It is regarded a poem, but is unlike most modern ones. The reason for this is
its larger-than-life scale. Milton (1608 74) skilfully incorporates elements of the epic
genre into his work, such as elevated style, assemblies, and voyages, in order to
create a sense of greatness for the subject-matter of Paradise Lost. However, it does
not only serve as one of the pinnacles of heroic poetry in the seventeenth century,
but also includes many a grand topic. As the name of the epic poem suggests,
Christian religion is a vital part of the story, but there are also certain motifs that see
play within this larger topic. Throughout all ten books there is a constant dichotomy
of light and darkness, good and evil, reason and passion, creation and destruction,
as well as supernal grace and sinfulness (cf. Rajan 59).

The variance of themes and topics also makes for a multitude of ways in which
Miltons text has been interpreted. Eves character and her thoughts and actions
make her the subject of Feminism, religious scholars considered the text in search of
interpretation of the Scriptures, and Neoclassicism tried to emulate Milton, an
endeavour that was not always successful. The neoclassicist problem in writing
epics was that in their day and age it was harder to find heroes to write about, which
caused people to lean towards antiquity. Miltons solution of writing an epic using the
characters of the Scriptures as well of those of ancient myths and stories is a
stratagem that authors after him were unable to copy properly.

Over the course of this bachelor thesis I will attempt to highlight the influence of the
classic epic, language, and mythological content on Miltons work and look at
allusions to authors such as Homer or Virgil in order to analyse in how far the
Classics have influenced Paradise Lost. The ties to the Bible, which are obviously
present in large parts of the twelve books, are of little importance for this
undertaking, but in analysing also the syntax, lexis, and style I hope to shed some
light on what makes Paradise Lost so unique. I will focus on the epic genre as it is
represented strongly within Miltons poem. For the comparison of ancient epic to
Miltons work, I will be leaning on Greenes norms of epic for the most part.

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2 Milton
2.1 Miltons biography
John Milton, possibly the greatest English poet of the seventeenth century, lived from
1608 until 1674. Milton was born just a few years into the reign of James I, and died
about half way through the reign of Charles II (Patterson, p.15). He was not only a
writer with texts so sought-after that the government offered money for Paradise
Lost, but was also an active polemicist and engaged in politics. His visit to Italy and
correspondence with most of the important Italian intellectuals (Goldberg, Orgel, ix)
showcases his intellectual range and capacity. Over the course of his travels in Italy,
Milton aggregated a vast number of resources for his interest in the classical world.
Milton visited Galileo in Florence, which is recorded in Paradise Lost: the broad
circumference // Hung on his shoulders like the moon, whose orb // Through optic
glass the Tuscan artist views // At evening from the top of Fesole (PL I. 287-290).
Parallels between both men were not just their blindness, but also their interest in
astronomy and science. This is particularly interesting given the day and age when
they lived. Galileo himself was constrained to his house and under arrest because of
his theses, and references to astronomy and science not in line with the church were
risky for Milton, too. On the other hand, PL V, 361-263 refers to Galileos scrutiny of
the stars and moon in a manner related to God rather than Satan. Most of what we
know about Miltons continental tour stems from the account he himself provided in
1954, in the Latin tract Defensio Secundo pro Populo Anglicano (Patterson, p.19).
Within it we learn that Miltons plans to visit Sicily and Greece were cut short
because of the First Bishops War against the Scots. Milton wrote, I thought it base
to be travelling for amusement abroad, while my fellow-citizens were fighting for
liberty at home (19). In light of this statement, however, it is unknown why Milton
spent another several months in Florence and Venice and only returned home in late
July or early August 1639. At this point the war had not been decided, yet, but the
Scots had drastically altered their system of church government (20).

Milton entered political spheres through involvement in debates over episcopacy.


When Charles I tried to install Anglican methods and prayer books within the
Presbyterian Church of Scotland, he caused a huge rebellion. Religion was one of

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the dominant factors in 17th century politics and life. It was not only a vital part of
everyday interaction amongst people, but apart from that there was little tolerance
regarding deviations from religious beliefs. Although the four nations of the British
Isles were culturally, politically, and religiously highly diverse, Charles I sought to
transform all parts of the kingdom into a single Anglican community with himself as
both spiritual leader and head of state (Goldberg, Orgel, x). The structure which
Charles I built was then attacked by a group of Presbyterian ministers, including
Miltons former tutor. To this man Milton lent his support and defended his theses.

Miltons most political texts were about the importance and justification of kings.
When Charles I was put on trial under Lord Protector Oliver Cromwells jurisdiction,
Milton refuted the divine rights of monarchists and argued that the people had the
right to overthrow a tyrant. Although Parliamentarians wanted to put as much power
as possible into the hands of parliament, very few people wanted Charles I to be
executed. Therefore, when Oliver Cromwell had the former king killed instead of
merely imprisoning him, causing a major upset in the whole of England, he sought
Miltons help in order to defend his actions. Royal sympathisers had published Eikon
Basilike shortly after the execution of Charles I in which they highlighted the
circumstances of his death as well as parliaments partiality. Milton wrote a piece to
refute the text, but it did not stop its circulation. However, he managed to confute an
attack on the regicide by Claude Saumaise successfully, which gave Milton
international reputation (Goldberg, Orgel, xii-xiii).. This was probably asked for by
John Bradshaw, the presiding judge (Patterson, 26).

Milton also wrote a number of popular and influential poems before his tour of
continental Europe, and thereby he claimed himself a major religious poet. Most
important for this endeavour was his early On the Morning of Christs Nativity, but
later religious poems would prove more beneficial for his reputation. Maybe partly
because of his anonymity regarding some of his works, Milton had, however,
accomplished very little when compared to other ambitious writers of the time, such
as Thomas Randolph or Abraham Cowley, both of which he compares himself to in
Sonnet 7 (Patterson, 18).

Miltons marriage to Mary Powell (Patterson, 18) happened to bring about another
work of prose in deference to traditional Christian values. Disappointed with the way

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his marriage had progressed, Milton wrote four pamphlets advocating a change in
Englands divorce laws (Patterson, 23), the first of which was Doctrine and
Discipline of Divorce, published by August 1, 1643. Milton argued that marriage
should be defined less by corporeal matters of consummation and procreation than
by emotional solace and intellectual support.

When in August 1644 Milton had published five pamphlets on church reforms, he
had established himself as one of the most outspoken writers on religious topics.
However, his opinions had not gone unnoticed by influential Presbyterians who took
offense with Miltons tracts and sought censorship of writers not merely on religious
topics, but also in general. Milton therefore was not able to simply withdraw and
focus on his poetry, but felt himself forced to answer. Arguably, this was for the
better, because it resulted in one of the most prolific of Miltons works, Areopagitica.
The tendencies he displayed in this work were probably more liberal than before,
seeing as Milton was under immense pressure and was interested in absolving
himself. The Areopagitica became one of the founding texts of early modern and
modern liberalism (24).

Ultimately, Milton wrote three Defenses addressed to a European audience (22), one
of the English commonwealth (1651), another of Cromwells Protectorate (1654), and
a third, Pro Se Defensio (1655) of himself and his polemic.

Although several prose texts of Milton remain, first and foremost his Areopagitica,
praising free and uncensored speech, his most influential work was Paradise Lost,
an epic poem written in blank verse, i.e. metrical but unrhymed lines. At a time of
religious upheaval, the thematisation of controversial statements and passages
pertaining to Christianity was brave. Paradise Lost brought Milton a great amount of
success, elevating him to a famous national poet (16). It also caused him to be the
object of critical debates and scholarly interest. Milton followed up on his magnum
opus with Paradise Regained, which, although popular, never received the attention
of his masterwork.

The fact that Milton received only ten pounds for Paradise Lost is negligible when
held against the 1300 copies sold within eighteen months after its release in a time in
which copying a text, let alone a lengthy epic of elevated style such as this, was not

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an easy task (cf. Ward & Trent). Furthermore, the style of Miltons work was
gradually imitated by others, and the blank verse was dubbed the style of Milton.

Even though Milton never wrote an actual autobiography, his works are always
prone to contain large parts of autobiographic content. John Diekhoff published
these references to Miltons own life under the title of Milton on Himself (Patterson,
16).

2.2 Miltons Prose Works


Miltons prose work is very different from his poetry in that it deals with actual
problems of contemporary Britain as well as philosophy rather than fiction, but that
difference is based mainly in the conventions of genre. It is easy to lose sight of the
significance of Miltons prose writing in the presence of the magnificence of his
poetry, but his writings were popular as well as well-conceived in both respects. A
similarity between the skills of prose and poetry writers and an overlapping of both
authors has been commonplace since antiquity, and Milton was considered not only
as a great poet but also as an influential writer of theoretical texts in general. He
wrote a great deal about religion and Christianity, such as De Doctrina Christiana
(1823), Of True Religion (1673), and The Reason of Church-Government Urged
Against Prelaty (1642) on the one hand. On the other hand, his writings were largely
concerned with government and civil power. The Tenure of Kings and
Magistrates (1649), The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Commonwealth (1660),
as well as A Treatise of Civil Power (1659) are a few of the better-known works in
which he challenged king and government, and it displays Miltons defiant spirit.

First and foremost, his Areopagitica, a polemical tract opposing the censorship
enacted by the state, gained strong influence amongst its contemporary political
minds and is an important document for the development of the principle of free
speech. Even today it is regarded as one of the most prolific and well-written
treatises on the subject and serves, among similar texts, as one of the foundations of
the modern justification of press freedom. Much like Paradise Lost, Areopagitica
used motifs present in the Scriptures, but in the latter case Milton employed
arguments from the Bible to refuse the politics of Calvinist Presbyterians in
parliament. Additionally, Milton begins his discussion of the origins of censorship with

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the argument that neither Ancient Greece nor Rome, both of which were still
considered highly pivotal for the development not only of antiquity, but of human
society as a whole, endorsed censorship.

Other than these, Milton has written various abstracts on philosophical and juridical
topics, e.g. Defensio pro Populo Anglicano (1651) as well as a History of
Britain (1670). What is characteristic of all of Miltons prose, however, is his
aggressive manner of writing. His aim is often to fight a prize, as Ward and Trent call
it, and in doing so he arrogantly challenges respectable and learned men like Usher
and Hall with arguments that take premises for given that both would completely
deny to begin with.

Another point which disfavours Miltons prose is his reluctance to change his way of
writing from the poetic style to one suited better for prose. For example, Paradise
Lost begins with a sentence spanning sixteen lines, and more instances can be
found in his poems. Regardless of how beneficial and poetic this style of versifying
may be in poetry, it greatly exacerbates understanding in prose. Whereas poetry
favours beauty, prose endorses clarity. To list and summarise each and every one of
Miltons prose works would neither be helpful nor entertaining, and except for
Areopagitica none of them can be said to aspire to such heights in their respective
categories as Paradise Lost has aspired to in the realm of epic literature. What
Miltons style in prose does show to the modern reader, however, is his unwavering,
straight-forward, and honest character. We can experience his desire to shape and
create language amidst a tension of epic and poetic conventions on the one hand
and his interest in experiencing and tinkering with variety on the other hand. Miltons
prose writing may, at times, have been of excessively elevated style, obscuring his
actual arguments, but nevertheless it has given the English language access to a
perspective of change regarding both language itself as well as prose writing.

2.3 Miltons Paradise Lost


The origin of Paradise Lost and its circumstances have been the subject of many
studies concerning English literature. What is known is the fact that Miltons epic
poem was handed in and made ready for publication on 20 August, 1667, after
Milton had struck a deal with Samuel Simmons for four payments of five pounds

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each. Over the years Paradise Lost changed, what can for example be seen in
Massons Miltons Poetical Works or Life of Milton in Connexion with the History of
His Own Time. At first, there had only been ten books in the poem, and there were
some variations of the title-page and text. However, and in contrast to the reception
and publication of the work, next to nothing is known about the composition period
itself. Nevertheless, it is safe to assume that Miltons interest in Latin and Greek
literature propelled the creation of Paradise Lost. His Latin poems display the wish to
write a great epic, and careful deliberation whether British heroes could star in them
to have a national work of the likes of the Iliad or Aeneid. Ward and Trent refer to the
existence of an actual list of potential subjects from both the legends of Britain and
Biblical texts at Trinity College in Cambridge, which does not only feature Paradise
Lost, but also four successive drafts of the poem.

Miltons mastery of literature evokes thoughts of Beethovens mastery of music


whereas the latter turned deaf when he grew older, Milton suffered from increasing
blindness. Testimony to this is PL III 23 where the lyric I mourns his blindness. Milton
has been known to dictate his words to a scribe, which must have complicated the
process of composing a poem with that high an amount of cross-references,
attention to details, and structure greatly. Although not a driving force to the influence
of the Classics, this is particularly noteworthy because it may strengthen the sense
of oral tradition that is peculiar of the epic genre.

Some of Miltons contemporaries styled the poem as one that was the product of
reading of very particular sources, insinuating the accuse of plagiarism. But although
parallels between Milton and a number of works can be found, such as Andreinis
Adamo (1613), Grotius Adamus Exul (1601), or Sylvesters Du Bartas (1605),
Miltons critics failed to realise that Paradise Lost was still distinctly Miltonic.
Regardless of whether Milton makes frequent use of other texts, his magnum opus is
unique, and it is highly unlikely that someone else would have created a poem that is
anything like Paradise Lost out of the sources used. Milton has managed to create
the epitome of a biblical Epic despite criticism. Likewise, the criticism that he
endured on the matter of Paradise Lost is largely a question of personal taste and
genre conventions. For example, whereas it is true that Milton has an abundance of
religious topics in his work, it is not objectively speaking a bad thing to have, but
rather an aspect of the poem which some people feel more and others feel less

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inclined to like. In a very similar fashion, and as later chapters of this thesis will
show, Paradise Lost is a hybrid that follows some of the epic conventions while
neglecting others. It is difficult to name an epic hero throughout all 12 books of
Miltons poem, and many answers have been given as to who it might be, Satan,
Jesus, Adam and Eve, etc., but none of them are sufficient. Satan is surrounded by
epic matter and motivations, epic genre conventions, and constant allusions to
specific passages in famous heroic poems (Lewalski, 55) and is the most promising
choice, but he is not the only one. Additionally, by measuring Satan against the
heroic standards, we become conscious of the inadequacy [] of [] heroic virtues
celebrated in literature (78).

The first chapter provides the reader with a heroic undertone. The lyric I asks the
perhaps most important question within the whole poem: say first what cause
moved our grand parents in that happy state [] to fall off from their creator, and
transgress his will [] Who first seduced them to that foul revolt? (PL, I, 27-33). And
interestingly enough, the answer is given right away: The infernal serpent []
deceived the mother of mankind (PL, I, 34-36). What makes this so striking is the
fact that the answer is given by the lyric I as a matter of fact. At this stage, there can
be no debate that the culprit of mankinds defiance of god in all its grave
consequences is Satan alone. However, once we look beyond the poems first
chapter, pinpointing evil and good characters as well as the fine line between them,
becomes increasingly difficult.

Paradise Lost shows close structural affinities to Virgil's Aeneid and can certainly be
viewed as an attempt to create a form of Christian epic that combines classical ideas
and heroism with religious motifs.

There is, however, a range of genres and ideas contained within it. Lewalski names
death and woe resulting from an act of disobedience as its Iliadic subject (7-19),
whereas Satan's cunningness resembles the craftiness of Odysseus, when he has to
abandon his former 'homeland' and undertakes battles in order to find his place in
the world.

But it is also the pastoral that finds its way into Paradise Lost. In order to evaluate
the influence of the Classics on Milton's work, at least some heed has to be paid to
how strong it is compared to the influence of religion. Aside from the overlaying topic

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that is the human condition as a result of the fall from grace and the characters of the
story, which include angels, devils, and even god himself, Milton makes use of Chris-
tian ideas. In its carefreeness, heaven is a source of tranquility. Paradise offers "a
fresh fountain" (PL, IV, 229), a river of nectar (PL, IV, 240), as well as "[g]roves
whose rich trees wept odorous gums and balm" (PL, IV, 249). Paradise Lost features
"psalmic hymn of praise and thanksgiving, submerged sonnets, epithalamia" (Lewal-
ski p.4) and more.

3 Paradise Influenced
3.1 Allusions and Intertextuality
Paradise Lost is an epic poem ripe with allusions to either other texts or motifs
ranging from antiquity to the seventeenth century. Milton, himself an avid reader of
Roman authors such as Ovid and Virgil, makes no secret about his inclination to
make use of their works. However, as Martindale reminds us in a chapter called The
Limits of Allusion, in general the number of allusions in Paradise Lost has been
overestimated (Martindale, p.1). He contrasts allusion with similarity and influence
and challenges the idea that all of Miltons alleged allusions are consciously
designed and able to be identified as such by the common reader. Because of this
deliberation Martindale suggests to rely on eighteenth-century critics knowledge of
classical literature in order to evaluate which passages of the ancient works are
memorable and which are not. The more familiar passages, such as Medeas video
meliora proboque // deteriora sequor (Met. VII, 20-21: I see the better things and
approve [of them], [yet] I follow the worse) can be alluded to confidently by Milton,
because he can expect people to recognise the reversed structure in Adams yet
still free // approve the best, and follow what I approve. (PL 610-11).

Likewise, borrowing Martindales example, Sibyls response to Aeneas request to


descend to the Underworld (Aen. VI. 126-9) is mimicked by Milton in PL III. 19ff.:

Tros Anchisiade, facilis descensus Averni

Noctes atque dies patet atri ianua Ditis;

Sed revocare gradum superasque evadere ad auras,

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Hoc opus, hic labor est.

(Trojan son of Anchises, easy is the descent to Avernus night and day the door of
black Dis is open, but to recall ones step and get out to the air above, this is the
task, this the toil).1

Taught by the heavenly Muse to venture down

The dark descent, and up to reascend,

Though hard and rare: thee I revisit safe,

And feel thy sovereign vital lamp; but thou

Revisitst not these eyes

These lines not only display the parallel to the passage of the Aeneid, but also
Miltons tendency to use antitheses (thee I revisit [] thou revisitst not). Martindale
criticises the notion that Blessington among other scholars subscribed to, namely the
assumption that motifs like the assemblies in Paradise Lost are direct allusions to
other texts. A great chunk of book II deals with the assembly of devils, demi-gods,
and other mythical creatures under command of Satan himself. Blessington takes
this to be an allusion to Agamemnons assembly during the Trojan war, as can be
seen in the second book of the Iliad. What he does not take into account is that
accounts of war councils are a conventional feature of epic, and the reader would
be just as likely to think of (say) Latinus council of war in Aeneid XI (Martindale,
p.5). Although the connection to Agamemnon is one that is understandable and
easily made, much rather than linking Satans assembly to a concrete scene in
Virgils work, Milton evokes a general sense of antiquity and epic texts in the reader.
Similar to this is Blessingtons note of Pandaemonium as Didos palace in Aeneid I
(cf. Martindale, 5). Dido serves as a tragic hero, she is betrayed by Aeneas, and, in
some poems (compare Didos song to Aeneas in the Heroides) even portrayed as
pregnant, what makes Aeneas departure even more cruel. As with the council,
however, there are a lot of possible sources for Pandaemonium, the name is a
commonplace. Martindale does not find sufficient evidence to support the claim that

1
Both in the Latin text and the translation I follow Martindales version.

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Milton would want the reader to be reminded of Didos island, let alone that he would
have such a sympathetic view of her (cf. 5). The simile in PL I. 301-4,

[his legions], angel forms, who lay entranced

Thick as autumnal leaves that strew the brooks

In Vallombrosa, where the Etrurian shades

High overarched imbower

is reminiscent of a scene from the Iliad (VI. 146ff.) in which Glaucon compares men
and leaves, as well as other passages that feature dead in comparison to falling
leaves (Aen. VI. 309-10; Inferno III. 112-17).

What is noteworthy about the way in which John Milton makes use of similes and
allusions is that he imprints his characteristic stamp onto them. Martindale points out
that Milton does not only use the similes provided by e.g. Virgil, but that he changes
them and makes them more specific. In this particular case, Milton creates the
atmosphere of Vallombrosa, undoubtedly expecting the reader to understand the
etymology of valles, valley, and umbrosus, shadowy. Likewise, understanding the
way that leaves are likened to the angels the alert reader understands that their
being autumnal has the implication of impending doom, or at the very least of them
falling in the near future. Also, entranced conveys a sense of stillness that is present
amongst the angel forms. The simile ends with the grim sense of high overarched
shades, which explores a feeling of being constrained to a place and imprisoned. All
of these stylistic devices and the lexis change the original simile in a meaningful way
that not only foreshadows further parts of the plot but also evokes memories
regarding other epic texts in the reader.

A further instance in which a commonplace [might be confused] with an allusion


(Martindale, p.6) is a passage about the value of worldly things. Men also, and by
his suggestion taught, ransacked the centre, and with impious hands rifled the
bowels of their mother earth for treasures better hid (PL, I. 685-688) is a passage
that deals with Mammon. His hint at the precious metals of the earth is not to be
understood as just an allusion to Ovids critique of wealth, but much rather to the
motif of locus in divitias, which appears for example in Ovids Metamorphoses I.
130ff., also having the original viscera terrae, the earthly bowels, but also in Horaces

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Odes III. 3. 49, aurum irrepertum et sic melius situm, gold undiscovered and thus
better placed2. The difficulty, or rather the danger in assuming a closer relation
between an allusion to a motif and a specific text from antiquity is the way in which a
modern reader can interpret Milton. Whereas in seventeenth-century literature said
motifs are present in various texts, making references to Homeric poems as a witty
variation instead of a deep metaphor might readily be misunderstood by many a
modern scholar, Homers influence being overestimated. A good example for this
can be found in book VIII of Paradise Lost:

With goddess-like demeanour forth [Eve] went;

Not unattended, for on her as queen

A pomp of winning graces waited still (PL VIII, ll. 60-61)

The origin of this passages motif, namely a woman of high rank being accompanied
by others, has clearly Homeric origins. Multiple instances of this can be found in the
Iliad (III. 143; XXIV. 573), and the Odyssey (I. 331, VI. 84, XVIII. 207). If we follow
the suggestion that Eve is likened to Helen, however, and accept it as an explicit
allusion to the passage of the Iliad, we have to notice a few shortcomings of this
theory. Firstly, anyone who argues that a motif like this relates to a specific scene in
a different text also has to explain why other passages, like the ones from the
Odyssey, are not relevant and its allusions to be neglected. Nausicaa and Penelope,
images with widely different associations, would have to be discarded convincingly.
Secondly, for the allusion of Eve and her attendants being like Helen and the
characters accompanying her supposes that Helen, an antique character that
symbolised sexual lust as well as peril, is likened to Eve herself. Even if we assume
that this is a critique of Eve and challenges her purity, Penelope as a symbol of
chastity could always be held against it, making it that much harder to hold the
argument. For these reasons one should rather think of allusions to passages of
Homer as a play on traditional motifs with connotations of tone and style rather than
explicit statements. Milton adapts the topos (Martindale, 8) to the surroundings
displayed in Paradise Lost, but does not express that Eve going unaccompanied
tarnishes her status. At this prelapsarian point, too, there can be no doubt about her

2
See Martindales translation.

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chastity and uprightness. Therefore, the ambiguity of potential allusions can, in a
certain way, foreshadow her later fall from paradise. The lines after the passage
quoted show her shooting darts of desire (cf. PL VIII. 62-3), delicately evoking a
sexual side to be seen in Eve. Ricks explains that this evocation is diminished by the
sentence structure, which pairs the desirous darts with the wish to have her still in
sight (ibd.). The reader therefore is able to pick up on these subtle clues, which is
one of the reasons for Milton to use a Latinised version of English grammar so
effectively.

A play on the same motif, again without concrete allusion to a specific passage in
Homer, but rather to the tradition of a following for people of importance itself,
appears in the fifth book:

Meanwhile our primitive great sire, to meet


His godlike guest, walks forth, without more train
Accompanied than with his own complete
Perfections; in himself was all his state
More solemn than the tedious pomp that waits
On princes, when their rich retinue long
Of horses led and grooms besmeared with gold
Dazzles the crowd, and sets them all agape (PL V, ll. 350-7).

The noteworthy phrases here are the act of having a procession, walks forth, to
allude to the motif, without more train to have a play on it, his own complete
perfections to set him apart from other characters one might think of, and more
solemn than the tedious pomp, to have a contrast to Eves procession, a pomp of
winning Graces (62), later on in the poem. In the way Milton uses and expands on
the common Homeric formula, Martindale sees a moralising attack on external
trappings of rank. In a sense, the virtue that Adam holds just retained in himself is
worth more than what the eye could openly see, and is there regardless of its outer
appearance.

It is important to be aware of the fact that these allusions strengthen the image that
is being created in the inner mind of the reader. They are important in bringing out
notions of the text that would otherwise be lost. In spite of all this, however, a reader
ignorant of major classic literature and its motifs is still able to understand the

14
passages quoted above and make sense of them. Knowledge of the manifold
potential for interpretation opens up a whole new layer of insinuations without being
mandatory for the poem to be enjoyable.

Among the other topoi that Milton accesses in Paradise Lost is the one that Virgil
uses in his Georgics IV. 176: he compares the small things he writes about, namely
the keeping of bees, with giant titans. In similar fashion, the early authors of Roman
love elegy, traditionally seen as more of a light form of entertainment in comparison
to proper Roman poetry, that is to say epics. Ovid, for example, laments in his first
elegy of the Amores (1,1) that although he set out to write about weapons and war,
playful Amor has stolen one of his feet3 and he is about to write something of little
consequence. Milton makes use of this topos, but again adapts it to feature the ironic
insight that it is by no means a small matter Milton writes about. Whereas elegy was
indeed perceived as something lower than epic poetry, no contemporary of Milton
would have considered a treatise on religion negligible, let alone a whole text about
the origin of men and the state of heaven and hell both pre- and postlapsarian.
Likewise, the fight of two personalised planets, Two planets rushing from aspect
malign // Of fiercest opposition in mid sky, // Should combat (PL VI. 313-5) is hardly a
matter of setting forth [g]reat things by small (PL VI. 310-11). Milton thus takes up
the motif that his predecessors had established, and in the same way that the avid
reader of Ovid will have no problem to ascertain that Ovids literature still displays
the artistry to be expected of him, Miltons audience knows about both the tradition of
Miltons understatement and its status, namely that everything about Paradise Losts
content is far from trivial.

A further allusion to the ancient Roman, and also Greek style of writing epics in
Miltons Paradise Lost is the ekphrasis. This refers to a vivid description of a scene
or of an item. Especially prominent in the Aeneid in the form of carvings on the wall
of the temple which Aeneas visits in Carthage, as well as in Homers description of
the shield of Achilles in the Iliad, the technique is a vivid description of a place or
scene using imagery. This may well be compared to a passage from book six of
Paradise Lost:

3
Roman love elegy is comprised of elegiac couplets in which the first verse has 6 metrical feet and the second
verse 5. The allusion is to the dactylic catalectic hexameter, which features 6 feet throughout. By taking away
one of the feet the whole piece of literature therefore changes from being an epic to a simple elegy.

15
There is a cave

Within the mount of God, fast by his throne,

Where light and darkness in perpetual round

Lodge and dislodge by turns []

Such as in highest heaven []

Covered with thick embattled squadrons bright,

Chariots and flaming arms, and fiery steeds

Reflecting blaze on blaze, first met his view (PL VI. ll. 4-18).

Milton makes use of said method in the beginning of Paradise Lost VI. 4ff, when he
gives a very detailed description of both time and place of the scene he describes in
the first three lines.

To illustrate how interwoven different motifs and traditions of ancient epic are in
Milton, we can analyse the passage used to showcase the ekphrasis based on its
language. After having portrayed heavens circle of light and darkness, which
incidentally is a great transition to descriptions of Satans armies, Miltons epic uses
vocabulary which might be expected in military texts, such as dislodge, shot,
issues forth, and even the twilight, that might be the time for attack. This goes
hand in hand with texts like the Iliad and Aeneid that show us bigger-than-life war
scenes.

A way in which allusion should not be considered, however, would be plagiarism.


Imitation of earlier poetry is based in antiquity and appreciated as a form of
compliment to other authors. Even more so than in modern times, any learned man,
and authors in particular, were expected to understand references to other works in
ancient Rome. Latin fiction is full of references to gods, mythology, and the great
epics. Ovid would have written very differently without his predecessors; Horaces
Odes attest to the significance of making use of earlier literature. The ancient
masters also were very reverent in regard to their ancestors, making variations of
other authors texts a sincere form of flattery as well as displaying their own literary

16
knowledge. This notion goes hand in hand with reading habits cultivated in the era of
Renaissance. Milton himself, like many learned readers of classical literature, kept a
collection of his own favourite text passages with sections divided by topic, such as
ethics or politics. Furthermore, assemblages such as Octavianus Mirandulas
Poetarum Illustrium Flores (Martindale, 19) were in circulation, providing passages
from Latin works for various occasions, such as abstinence, youth, and adversity.

Either way, Miltons poetry has two primary sources, if we ignore minor allusions to
books of his contemporaries. And although, as shown above, the skilful handling of
classical literature is one of Miltons biggest achievements, the importance of biblical
references cannot be overestimated. Coleridge goes so far as to say that there is
not perhaps one page in Miltons Paradise Lost, in which he has not borrowed his
imagery from the Scriptures (Coleridge, 164). John Carey, on the other hand, thinks
that the references to Christianity, although plentiful, cannot compare to the
evocative power of, for example, the passages on Orpheus (Carey, 76). His view
seems to be skewed, however, since several passages of Biblical origin are
qualitatively unobjectionable. For instance, Eves speech in book 5 of Paradise Lost
(28ff.) is stylistically not inferior to the passages Carey mentions.

Nevertheless, the ambiguity between Paradise Lost being on the one hand an epic
text and on the other hand an emulation of biblical work creates genre-specific
tensions. E.R. Curtius speaks of the Biblical epic as a hybrid with an inner lack of
truth (462), a false genre that loses its pastoral authority by being intermingled with
an antique form like the epic. In his eyes it is an oxymoronic idea that is impossible
to maintain, and he attributes its success to the need for an ecclesiastical literature.

Milton, however, did not pay heed to this contradiction and incorporated the tightrope
walk between both worlds into Paradise Lost. Regardless, he made it very obvious
that he was well aware of the issue at hand. Whereas the first eight books feature a
mix of classical and biblical topics with allusion to both, the opening passages of the
ninth book display Miltons awareness to the discussion about biblical epics:

No more of talk where God or angel guest

With man []

I now must change

17
Those notes to tragic []

Sad task, yet argument

Not less but more heroic than the wrath

Of stern Achilles on his foe pursued

Thrice fugitive about Troy wall; or rage

Of Turnus for Lavinia disespoused,

Or Neptunes ire or Junos []

If answerable style I can obtain

Of my celestial patroness [i. e. the muse invocated in the beginning of Paradise Lost]

[]Not sedulous by nature to indite

Wars, hitherto the only argument

Heroic deemed

This passage serves as a sort of praepositio, opening the theme of the ninth book,
which seems in itself an allusion to epic poetry. Furthermore, it starts in medias res,
has, if not an invocation, at least a mentioning of the muse (l. 21), and also holds
true to the convention of the enumeration in having a catalogue of heroic events and
persons. The mythical examples brought up by Milton in these lines 1-29 are prime
examples of key moments in Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid and will as such have been
recognised by any of his readers. But in the form of a lyrical persona Milton
challenges his predecessors ideals and subject-matter:

The skill of artifice or office mean,

Not that which justly gives heroic name

To person or to poem. Me of these

Nor skilled nor studious, higher argument

Remains, sufficient of itself to raise

That name [the name of epic literature] (l. 39-44)

18
Again, Milton engages with the way in which prior authors have styled their epics.
Very live to the genres heritage and origin he still denounces them, explaining that
he is unskilled (l. 43) in matters of war, tournaments, and heraldic symbols. The
lyrical I claims that higher argument remains, giving clear precedence to Christian
ideas over the conventions of a genre.

In ways that seem almost focused on expressing how all-encompassing Paradise


Lost as an epic poem could be with regard to references to Latin, it is also interesting
to note how readily Milton copies whole passages following the Classics. A striking
parallel between Milton and Ovid is the story of Narcissus. In book three of the
Metamorphoses, Ovid relates how the boy lies down on the ground and is drawn to a
fountain by its looks. While he drinks from the water, he is seized by the vision of his
reflection and falls in love with it, not realising that it is a reflection he seeks out. By
comparison, Eve famously mirrors Narcissus behaviour and is only brought to her
senses by a warning voice:

I thither went []
and laid me down
On the green bank, to look into the clear
Smooth lake []
[]
A shape within the watery gleam appeared
[] I started back
It started back, but pleased I soon returned,
Pleased it returned as soon with answering looks
Of sympathy and love; there I had fixed
Mine eyes [] pined with vain desire (PL, IV, 456-466)

3.2 Miltons Decorum


Decorum refers to particular requirements in good taste and propriety and is closely
linked to style and language. For this chapter, it is referred to mainly as the way
Milton styles the elements of his text. On various occasions, as illustrated above in
the chapter on allusions, Milton uses epic devices and motifs that are so closely
connected to each other that they seem to overlap. His epic style contains aspects
found in different forms of literature, such as pastoral, satire, and elegy, apart from

19
just being epic. There are two concepts of decorum that Martindale lists; first and
foremost, he employs the idea that each genre has its own appropriate style
(Martindale, 12). This means that whereas comedy makes use of a light and playful
rhetoric and is expected to follow its lex operis, the conventions of its genre, epic
texts are subject to their very own rules. However, a poet might also decide to break
with the rules and deliberately forego some aspects of any given genre in order to
either make a metatextual point or to improve its stylistic flexibility. In the case of
Paradise Lost, Milton seems to have ignored parts of the traditional epic
conventions. For example, several of his expressions appear almost ironic, his
Paradise of Fools (III. 440ff.) links the passage with the satiric text Orlando Furioso,
different parallels can be found in Martindale. This raises a question which is not
always easy to answer: What effect does this have on Paradise Losts appeal? The
response of neoclassical critics to these specific blending of genres was mostly
negative. Addison (60) and Dr Johnson (187) speak of a disgrace of Paradise Lost in
the emulation of Ariostos lighter language, as well as of lacking probability enough
for an epic poem (cf. also Martindale). Martindale, however, is able to disarm further
complaints of Addisons convincingly by pointing out that being the description of
dreams and shadows (Addison, p.61), a complaint that the latter raises, is exactly
what Milton is addressing in that passage.

A further point to consider for the perception of Miltons decorum and the sincerity of
his epic style is his language. Throughout the whole of Paradise Lost a number of
puns can be found, and particularly in the passage adjacent to the one about the
Paradise of Fools they are plentiful. Martindale lists the word plays of dissolved
things awaiting final dissolution (457-8), of devious air (489) in conjunction with
heavy puns such as in vain (457) and pass (480ff.). He falls a bit short of properly
explaining and elaborating on the consequences of these plays on words, but is
correct in his observations. Nevertheless, Miltons poem should not be regarded as
comical, and his verbal intricacies do not undermine the style of Paradise Lost.

What is inherently positive in Miltons willingness to disregard borders of genre from


time to time is that this, too, is likened to the Scriptures. George Wither points out
that common psalms entail aspects found in heroic poetry, tragedy, pastoral, and
satire (cf. Martindale, 13) because of the sheer scope of the subject-matter included
in them.

20
Sometimes his odes are heroical, sometime tragical, sometime pastoral, sometime
satirical, and this is by reason of the necessity of the matter. For one while he
introduceth Adam and his posterity bewailing their miserable condition [] But when
he intends either to set forth the wondrous works of the eternal God or the glorious
magnificence of our redeemers empire, then his divine muse mounts the height of
heroical poesy (Wither, 77).

To conclude, Miltons flexibility in style upset certain neoclassicist scholars, in their


eyes tainting his work, but found acceptance in the eyes of modern critics.
Additionally, even though before-mentioned scholars were unhappy with his
decisions regarding style at times, Paradise Lost was still the epitome of seventeenth
century epic literature. It was emulated widely, and its success was undisputed.

3.3 Miltons Style and Language


Miltons style is interesting in many ways. It is very carefully constructed and
elaborate and at times evokes a notion of being art rather than just text. His interest
in Classics, and Latin in particular, shapes his usage of English, too. Throughout
Paradise Lost as well as the rest of his writings, Miltons language is rife with
Latinisms. Latinisms can be described as the felt presence of Latin diction and usage
within the English, interacting with it (Hale, 105). This creates a conformity in style to
Latin models and is not limited to syntax, but includes lexis, too. Pickard points out that
Miltons use of Latin is something less than code-switching, but something more than
using words of distant Latin origin4.

Miltons Latinate Lexis

Miltons job as a Latin secretary undoubtedly left a mark on his writings. The
meaning of different words of Latin origin appear to have been a plaything to him.
This becomes apparent when looking at what his contemporaries thought of his use
of English. In various instances, they point out that he uses words of Latin origin in a
context that is reminiscent of its classical, etymological sense rather than the

4
http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~cpercy/courses/6362Pickard1.htm

21
meaning they hold in the English language of that time5. Pichard analyses a specific
passage in Paradise Lost which showcases this:

Up stood the corny reed


Embattled in her field: add the humble shrub,
And bush with frizzled hair implicit: last
Rose as in dance the stately trees, and spread
Their brances hung with copious fruit; or gemmed
Their blossoms (VII 322-326)

Ignoring the syntax, which I will talk about afterwards, multiple words strike out as
unusual. Corny alludes to the Latin cornu, horn, and implicit must be understood
based on the Latin word for to entangle, implicare, rather than the current to imply.
Likewise, gemmed alludes to gemmare, to bud, rather than actual gems.

Other than that, Milton is prone to inventing neologisms based on Latin words. For
example, he describes the bridge that Sin and Death build to earth as Pontifical,
alluding to the Pope as well as the Latin word for bridge, pons (X 314). In addition,
he coins words such as omnific (VII 217), in the sense of creating everything rather
than referring to such traits with more common phrases of his time.

Latinate Syntax

As I already alluded to in the excerpt quoted above, Miltons text also exhibits a
number of phrases that are syntactically unusual for the English language. He twists
the English language in a way that it appears as if he was writing a Latin poem using
English words. Johnson says that he was desirous to use English words with a
foreign idiom6 (Milton 491). To explain this, I will quote the first six lines of Paradise
Lost in the original and juxtapose it with how it would usually be phrased in English.

Of mans first disobedience, and the fruit of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
brought death into the world, and all our woe, with loss of Eden, till one greater man
restore us, and regain the blissful seat, sing heavenly muse []

The way in which this sentence, that drifts off into a number of relative clauses and
conditionals, and finds a full stop only after sixteen lines, is constructed shows how

5
Corns, Thomas N. Milton's Language. Oxford: Blackwell, 1990, p.95.
6
Milton, John, Paradise Lost. Ed. Scott Elledge. New York: Norton, 1993.

22
Milton is leaning towards Latinate diction. Because of its structure, Latin has no
problem with complex, hypotactic sentences. This can be found both in poetry as in
prose. By emulating this at such a striking position, Milton proves his familiarity with
Latins grammar and style. Additionally, choosing to make his first sentence so
Latinate shows that he has little reluctance to hybridise English and Latin.7

It is therefore no surprise, that the entire epic exhibits a coexistence of both


languages both on the lexically and syntactically. Miltons choice of genre itself
underlines this, as the epic is a traditionally classical idea. By making this decision,
Milton grants a form of gravitas8, solemnity, to the plot by utilising the authority of
the Latin language9.

English is a language that primarily uses short, concise sentences. Due to its nature
of having only two distinguishable cases, nominative and genitive, the meaning of
words can become convoluted when their relation to each other is held ambiguous.
Latin is different from this in that substantives are declined and have up to five
clearly distinguishable cases. This and the fact that Latin verbs clearly indicate the
subject of a sentence allows for hyperbatons and similar freedom of word placement.

Miltons Latinisms have been criticised frequently and harshly, and advantages and
disadvantages have been portrayed. F. R. Leavis bemoans that Miltons idiolectical
inventions cause passages, that have to be read through several times before one
can see how they go10. On the other hand, this also leads to a sense of elevated
complexity, which elevates the text.

"New words are [...] markedly less frequently coined in Paradise Lost than in Co-
mus." Corns mentions fewer than twice as many, although the major poem has ten
times the length.

In Paradise Lost Milton employs great freedom in the formation of words through a
negative prefixation. For example, he describes Belial's anxieties with three nega-
tives: "There to converse with everlasting groans. Unrespited, unpitied, unre-
prieved." (PL II, 184-5). By using this device, Milton puts greater emphasis on what is

7
Pickard
8
Hale, John. Miltons Languages. Cambridge: CUP, 1997. P. 7
9
Pickard
10
Leavis, F.R. Reevaluation. London: Chatto, 1959.

23
not than on what is. That means in this particular instance that Satans host is char-
acterised as not only miserable but actively lacking something. Corns goes so far as
to call Milton's inclination to use these words a "stylistic motif", and indeed it is at
times increasingly obvious. At some occasions, Milton even negates four adjectives:

"unmoved,
Unshaken, unseduced, unterrified
His loyalty he kept" (PL V 898-900)

at others three:

"[Grace] comes unprevented, unimplored, unsought" (PL III, 231)

but mostly two:

"As [Satan] supposed, all unobserved, unseen" (PL IV, 130)

"Lest [Adam] pretend Surprisal, unadmonished, unforewarned" (PL V, 244-5)

"[Satan resolved to] leave Unworshipped, unobeyed" (PL V 669-70)

"in fight they stood Unwearied, unobnoxious to be pained" (PL VI. 403-4).

Highly interesting is also Milton's tendency to use descriptive adjectives asyndeti-


cally, as the examples above show. Their effect is to make a passage more dramatic
and effective by speeding up its rhythm and pace. Especially the four asyndetical ad-
jectives in book II, which I mentioned above, help to heroise Abdiel by means of em-
phasising his positive character traits one after another, without even pause for con-
junctions (Corns, 84-85).

Regarding Miltons choice of words, "Broadbent, who offers much good sense on the
style of Paradise Lost, avows that 'Milton invented very few words'. However, by 'in-
vented' he seems to mean something specific if undefined, 'formed ex nihilo' [...] and
by 'few' he seems to mean 'few in comparison with the fertility of Shakespeare's lexi-
cal inventiveness (86-87)."

Although this is true enough, Shakespeare's influence on the creation of English


vocabulary is unparalleled, so this alone does not dismiss Miltons inclination to use
neologisms (85-88).

24
It is noteworthy that Miltons language is Latinate, but creates an effect quite unlike
Latin (Greene, 383). The uncommonness of his idiolect has an effect in itself,
because even though Milton enriches English words with Latin meanings on the one
hand, this has the downside of making it harder to understand.

In summary, however, it is apparent that Miltons vocabulary and style is greatly


influenced by that of the Classics. If it were to be translated into Latin, it would
largely have the same structural identity. English can never quite replace Latin, but
Miltons imitation of it certainly comes close.

4 The Epic
4.1 The Ancient Epic
In this chapter, I will present the characteristics of epic poetry based partly on
Greenes work. Epic poetry consists of lengthy poems that have a serious subject-
matter at their centre. Its tone is largely sincere, and it has an elevated style. Several
of the ancient epic texts have the foundation of a state as their content, first and
foremost Virgils Aeneid, which tells the story of Aeneas path from Troy to Italy,
where he would later become the ancestor of the Roman race. Epic literature has a
big impact on the Classics and is of great importance for this paper in particular,
because it is deeply connected to Paradise Lost.

Greene makes several notes about epic conventions concerned with their imagery,
their hero, their structure, and their language. He goes into detail to describe what he
calls the norms of epic.

On the level of scale, a major quality of the epics imagination is its vastness
(Greene, 9). Different from comic or tragic imagination, the epic is not as limited to
certain aspects of a story but rather tries to be universal. It is free in time and space
and seeks to be explored by the human imagination. Greene uses the death-agony
of Troy as an example to show how the expansiveness of its various episodes,
locales, peripeties, its accretion of similes, its moral, historical, symbolic
associations (Greene, 11). The use of many, different levels of story-telling create a
single, giant image which cannot easily be pulled apart (12) and this image is being
supported by everything else in Virgils epic. The importance of creating a whole in

25
which all the smaller narrative units can fit is great, and such a whole is the paradise
Milton created.

The second quality of the epic is the capacity of the hero. Additionally, similar to the
heros abilities, his limitations and the way in which he might overcome them play a
crucial role in establishing him as heroic. Achilles is depicted as the mightiest fighter
amongst the Greek forces. However, when Agamemnon robs him of Briseis, who
was Achilles war prize and slave, his excessive pride causes him to risk the Greeks
defeat. The epic hero is superior to other men and the mythical creatures
surrounding him, but at the same time he is also human in nature. He cannot
transgress his mortality and reaches the limitations of his existence. In doing so, he
is denied the qualities that would separate him from the gods. This struggle is
present even in the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh. The protagonist is explicitly
described as two thirds divine, but his quest for immortality finds an end when he
realises that the human third part of him prevents him from gaining his objective.
Greene goes so far as to say that the most important recognition scenes in epic are
not between two people but between the hero and his mortality (15). The epic hero
is forced to act according to his virtus by demonstrating his control over a piece of
his world (16).

Greene also mentions the possibility of having multiple epic heroes within a poem.
He contrasts Beowulf, which has a hero who is present in all parts of the story once
he has appeared, to the French Song of Roland, which features two complimentary
heroes. Greene also considers Paradise Lost in these terms by setting up Adam as a
protagonist against God and his host of angels as a director of action (p.19).
However, this interpretation seems unsteady at best if we take into account that
scholars have looked at numerous potential epic heroes when talking about Paradise
Lost. Arguably, Satan is the most likely candidate, but attempts have been made to
depict Adam, God in conjunction with his son and angels, or even Eve as the epic
hero. In addition to that, it is also reasonable to assume multiple heroes or to claim
that none exist by looking at the poem with e.g. Christian or feminist perspective.
Still, it is beyond dispute that certain characters within Paradise Lost feature qualities
that are typical of epic heroes.

26
Thirdly, epic texts tend to feature a very specific structure. Greene calls it scenic and
divides them into two groups (20). The executive scene contains the heros struggle
between his capacity and limitation. It showcases the passages in which the
narrative is being propelled and the virtues of the storys protagonist shine. On the
other hand, the deliberative scene is more concerned with the consequences that
arise from the heros actions. A great amount of it depends on speech, which allows
for a narrative device to show the passage of time as well as anachronistic narration.
Nonetheless, these deliberative scenes take a supportive role and serve to build up
to the major executive scenes. Both kinds of scenic narration are present in Paradise
Lost, as Greene convincingly shows. He explains how the second and third book of
Paradise Lost display a balance of executive and deliberative mode of narration in
that the demonic council is speech-based, but Satans flight through chaos
executive. The following discussion in heaven is again deliberative, but after its
conclusion Milton uses the executive mode to vividly show Satan plummeting
through the planetary spheres to earth (21).

Fourthly and lastly, Greene points towards the quality of heroic energy (22) as an
epic quality. He attempts to show this quality, but struggles to pin it down to specific
parts. What Greene means by this fourth quality is a sense of inherent heroic
personality that is shaped through language. On a linguistic level, it describes a
captivating kind of excitement that exists when a characters personality and his
abilities shine through even in situations that do not call for or are untypical of them.

Traditionally, epic poetry was performed orally, which is vital for the understanding of
the structural components of epics. Homers Iliad, to give an example, features the
mighty Achilles, who is mentioned in the famous opening lines Sing, goddess, of the
anger of Peleus son Achilles (1.1ff., my translation). A close reading of the Iliad will
show that mostly the epithet swift-footed is used in conjunction with Achilles himself
(see 2.690 for example), which fulfils two functions. Firstly, it attributes distinctive
qualities to major characters within the narration, which helps to make out their
differences and strengths. Secondly, and primarily, however, this serves as a way of
reminding the audience of what they should associate the characters with.
Considering the volume of epic texts, with the Aeneid at 9896 lines, the Odyssey at
12110 lines, and the Iliad at an astonishing amount of 15693 lines, it was impossible
to have a performance of any one of these texts at a single evening. Being able to

27
retain information was made easier by this structure, and for the performers
themselves, repetitive phrases facilitated performance by, firstly, giving them pause
to think about the next lines to come, and, secondly, create an established rhythm.

A further effect that can be experienced by analysing the structure of epic literature is
repetition not only in epithets, but also as a reminder of what had happened before. It
is not uncommon for the main plot to be interrupted by a secondary story-line, only to
be summarised later before being resumed. Therefore, since the audience is not
able to simply go back and reread something if they forgot about it, it is useful for
them to be reminded of what happened before. But this also drives the way in which
the plot is presented. Whereas a modern author can easily jump in time, do fast-
forwarding as well as flashbacks without completely confusing the reader, the oral
tradition of epic texts requires the author to be very deliberate about the way he
introduces events in his story. A modern text might read: A heavy rock was inside
the water. [Multiple events in between] Because the captain did not notice the rock,
the crew was ship-wrecked. In epic texts of antiquity, however, the rock would rather
tend to be introduced right before the event it plays a role for: The captain then
failed to notice a rock, that was inside the water, and the crew was ship-wrecked.

Additionally, there are many other traditions in epic writing. They begin in medias
res, they take place in a larger-than-life, vast setting, they contain the so-called epic
invocation, an invocation to a muse, the begin with a statement of the theme (Sing of
Achilles anger), they include epithets (Achilles, the swift-footed), they contain long
lists called epic catalogues, they feature long and formal speeches, relate interaction
between gods and men, and often end with the tragic heros ruin.

Most of the epic literature that is passed down from antiquity fits, if not all, most of
these criteria. The epic tradition is older than Virgils or even Homers texts, too. The
Epic of Gilgamesh, which is widely regarded as one of the first big pieces of literature
and is dated to roughly 2100 BC, is already infused with what would later become
the basis of epic conventions. There are, however, two authors in particular whose
idiolect was taken up by Milton in Paradise Lost.

Homer
Homer was an ancient Greek author known as one of the first epic poets. He lived
somewhere between 1102 und 700 BC, born possibly somewhere on the coast of

28
Asia Minor, which alone goes to show that many facts about his life and works are
either unknown or speculative. What is certain, however, is that the great epic works
we associate with him, the Iliad and the Odyssey, are the most important epic texts
in the ancient Greek world. Their influence was so widespread that the language
used by Homer particularly in these works shaped the Greek language itself and
served as a way of standardising the language. Furthermore, both epics serve as an
archetypal map of ancient Greek mythology and the gods.

What makes Homer so unique amongst his contemporaries is his focus on a single
unified theme in his epics. In the words of Matthew Arnold, [t]he translator of Homer
should above all be penetrated by a sense of four qualities of his author: that he is
eminently rapid; that he is eminently plain and direct, both in the evolution of his
thought and in the expression of it, that is, both in his syntax and in his words; that
he is eminently plain and direct in the substance of his thought, that is, in his matter
and ideas; and finally, that he is eminently noble (Arnold, n.p.). Modern writers, such
as Joyce in his Ulysses, frequently model their own works on Homers books, and,
as shown earlier, Milton is influenced greatly by him.

Virgil
If Homer is the best-known and greatest writer in all of ancient Greek literary history,
Virgil is his Roman counterpart. As the writer of Romes national epic, the Aeneid, he
was certainly the Roman epicist whose literature was best known. His bibliographical
facts and dates are far less disputable than those of Homer, too. He was born near
Mantua in 70 BC and lived until 19 BC where he died at the age of 50. A testament
to the way that even contemporaries worshipped him is the imitation by the younger
poet Ovid. Much like Homers epics, the influence of his work was widespread, and
served as an example not only to contemporaries, but also to Dantes Divine
Comedy, in which Virgil guides the lyrical Dante through hell to heaven.

4.2 Paradise Lost as an Epic


Milton did not find classical epic tradition evil, something to be replaced by the
Christian epic, but Milton did not replace the classical epic as a whole but
reevaluated it by correcting Homer and Virgil wherever necessary and by extending
them wherever he found them acceptable to reason and faith. Satan does not

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embody the classical tradition or the old heroism but represents a perversion of
Virgilian values. The Relationship between Paradise Lost and the classical epic is
more subtle and pervasive than has yet been recognised (cf. Blessington, xii).

Among the classical epic conventions are several epic motifs that Paradise Lost
features. Apart from the purely linguistic aspects, which I have talked about, and
Miltons elevated style, there is a focus on heroism as well as subjects of war and
love. In Book 6 Milton describes the battle of the angels with the rebellious side
under Lucifers command on the one hand and those that will not oppose God on the
other hand. Milton addresses the angels proficiency in war in great detail, talking
about millions of fierce encountering angels [], the least of whom could wield
these elements, and arm him with the force of all their regions (PL VI 220-23). And
not only does this speak to the quality of the battle, but the sheer number of warring
angels also grant the narration a larger-than-life magnitude that is hard to imagine.
This epic element is also showcased in various other aspects of PL. For example,
the topic of Paradise Lost itself, namely humanitys fall from grace and Satans
revolution against God with everything this entails, is as grand as a topic could be.
The scale of what is being narrated is also presented in passages akin to catalogues
such as the one in the first book. The lyric I invokes the muse in line 376 and lists a
great number of mythical beings, idols, monsters and men who assemble. This
catalogue takes place over nearly 200 lines, finding its temporary culmination in line
545: Ten thousand banners rise into the air. Although this is one of the longer
catalogues within the narration of PL, Milton uses them often, and they, too, are
present in the ancient epic.

Heroism in battle is also readily depicted, as can be seen in the sixth book. Amidst
the gigantic scale of war, the narration is focalised in the outstanding actions of
Satan and Michael:

[The battle was even until] Satan, who that


Prodogious power had shown, and met in arms
No equal, []
Saw where the sword of Michael smote, and felled
Squadrons at once, with huge two-handed sway

30
Brandished aloft the horrid edge came down
Wide wasting (ll. 246-53)

Satan notices Michael, and realises that he needs to be stopped. When they meet in
battle, they do not start fighting right away but stop to talk at first, which is not
unusual in fiction. Their fight then, again, is described in grand terms, likening their
swords to suns (l. 305) and explaining that their battle is fit to decide the empire of
great heaven (l. 303). Satan proceeds to lose the fight and thereby his pride, but he
is nevertheless depicted in overwhelming terms. The scene of two great fighters
evokes thoughts of the fight between Achilles and Hector in the Ilias, both of which
where their sides most outstanding warriors. However, this is likely mostly the case
because of the prominence of the Ilias and less so because of direct allusions to it.

Like many classical epics, Paradise Lost invokes a muse in its opening lines: Of
mans first disobedience [] sing heavenly muse (PL I, ll. 1-6). The reason why this
first sentence is so remarkable in the context of the English language, is that it
follows ancient traditions. Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, and Spenser all opened their epic
poems in this manner. Placing the subject of his work at the exposed beginning of
the sentence is in line with antique epos. The natural association seems to be
Homers Iliad, which also begins with the main topic of the text as its first word:
. The wrath of Achilleus is to be sung about by the muse because it is the main
topic of the Iliad.

The muse is also present in a few other places within the narration of Paradise Lost.
For example, she is referred to in line 376 in the first book, but only briefly, and in the
ninth book the lyric I speaks of his celestial patroness on which it relies for answers
(ll. 20-21). Apart from the exposition of the first book, the muse is most prominently
referred to in the opening of the seventh book during which she is also called by the
name of Urania (l. 1), the classical muse of astronomy. In fact, the opening of book
VII in itself is a complete invocation that spans 39 lines and is then reiterated and
summarised in the plead Say goddess (l. 40).

It has been argued by Hunter that even the invocation of the holy light in the
opening lines of book III is a reference to the muse, or rather that the muse and the
holy light are all addressed to the Son of God. Although it does not matter greatly for
the sake of the topic who is being invoked as long as we realise Milton is playing on

31
it, it is very striking that he calls out to Urania albeit the meaning, not the name
(PL VII, 5) instead of Calliope, the muse of epic poetry.

Another convention that Milton follows is to start in medias res. There is no


introduction to the characters, but instead the first book starts off by telling the reader
what has transpired beforehand. It recounts the aftermath of the war in heaven, its
consequences, and the expulsion of the angels from heaven. Milton then expands on
this in the following books of Paradise Lost. His epic begins in the underworld and
returns there after Eve has been tempted to disobey God.

What is interesting about the underworld in Miltons Paradise Lost is how closely it
resembles classic depictions of it. Milton emphasises its darkness and its torments.
Its flames inflict pain, but do not provide light, and the atmosphere is close to that of
the underworld Jove casts Typhon into in the classical tradition.

Throughout Paradise Lost Milton employs elevated subject matter and tone as is apt
for an epic text. I have talked about his grand style before, but he also uses plenty of
epic similes throughout his work, such as [a]s when Alcides from Oechalia crowned
(PL II, 542). Similes of this sort are found on various occasions in Paradise Lost, and
oftentimes they are highly demanding of the reader. Not only do we have to
understand that Alcides is another name for Hercules and Oechalia is a place name
in Laconia, but we also need to be aware of what has transpired with characters and
in places mentioned in PL in order to grasp the meaning of the sentences. In the
ancient primary texts, namely Ovids Metamorphoses, Sophocles Trachiniae, and
Senecas Hercules Furens, Hercules was brought a gift of the cloak of the centaur
Nessus. The cloak was poisoned and ended up destroying him, but he threw Lichas,
who delivered the cloak innocently, into the sea (cf. Goldberg and Orgel, 46). We
therefore get a number of connotations mixed into what is happening on the surface.
Lichas is thrown into the sea either way, but the aspect of Alcides imminent death is
lost without knowledge of the classics. Likewise, the foreshadowing that this entails
cannot be fully appreciated if we dont know the originals.

This style of writing is popular among the Classicist epic authors, too, and Milton
seems to emulate it. Epic texts have always been a playing field for intertextuality
and allusions, and Milton is all too happy to follow this convention.

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5 Conclusion
Paradise Lost is one of the most popular pieces of English literature written in the
17th century, and part of its great appeal is its uniqueness. Milton manages to
compose an epic poem that is more than the sum of its parts. Throughout this paper
I have explained the various areas in which Milton makes use of classical tropes,
diction, literary conventions, mythology, and syntax to show the influence of the
classics on his poem. Many of these points have been incorporated into the works of
others, too, but Miltons affinity with the ancient world, and in particular with Latin,
has created a poem that is in itself consistently classical.

The sheer quantity of Miltons references and allusions to topics of ancient literature,
in particular to mythology and place-names, serves as an indication to the high
influence of the Classics on Paradise Lost even to readers who are not all too
familiar with Miltons predecessors. Furthermore, on closer inspection each of the
areas I referred to above show the close relationship to the Classics. Miltons
education and life are to a certain extent focused on the Classics, and his visit to
Italy can attest to his interest in them. Miltons diction is riddled with Latinisms and he
does not avoid neologisms with classical roots, either. He explores the literary
conventions of the ancient epic and shapes his own version of it. All major themes
and motifs of the epic genre are to some degree represented in Paradise Lost, and
even though it lacks a decisive choice for an epic hero, this is not entirely novel
either.

Miltons command of Greek, Latin, and English language lays the ground for an epic
poem that contains elements of different genres, but is inherently epic and inherently
classical. The influence of the Classics on Miltons Paradise Lost is enormous, and
the epic poem is rests firmly upon it.

6 Literature Cited and Consulted


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