Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 6


Epic Conventions or characteristics common to both types include:

1. The hero is a figure of great national or even cosmic importance,
usually the ideal man of his culture. He often has superhuman or
divine traits. He has an imposing physical stature and is greater in
all ways than the common man.
2. The setting is vast in scope. It covers great geographical distances,
perhaps even visiting the underworld, other worlds, and other
3. The action consists of deeds of valor or superhuman courage
(especially in battle).
4. Supernatural forces interest themselves in the action and intervene
at times. The intervention of the gods is called "machinery."
5. The style of writing is elevated, even ceremonial.
6. Additional conventions: certainly all are not always present)
• Opens by stating the theme of the epic.
• Writer invokes a Muse, one of the nine daughters of Zeus. The
poet prays to the muses to provide him with divine inspiration to
tell the story of a great hero.
• Narrative opens in media res. This means "in the middle of
things," usually with the hero at his lowest point. Earlier
portions of the story appear later as flashbacks.
• Catalogs and genealogies are given. These long lists of
objects, places, and people place the finite action of the epic
within a broader, universal context. Oftentimes, the poet is also
paying homage to the ancestors of audience members.
• Main characters give extended formal speeches.
• Use of the epic simile. A standard simile is a comparison using
"like" or "as." An epic or Homeric simile is a more involved,
ornate comparison, extended in great detail.
• Heavy use of repetition and stock phrases. The poet repeats
passages that consist of several lines in various sections of the
epic and uses Homeric epithets, short, recurrent phrases used to
describe people, places, or things. Both made the poem easier to


In literature, an epic is a narrative poem on the grand scale and in

majestic style concerning the exploits and adventures of a superhuman hero
(or heroes) engaged in a quest or some serious endeavour. The hero is
distinguished above all men by his strength and courage, and is restrained
only by a sense of honour. The subject-matter of epic includes myth, legend,
history, and folk tale. It is usually set in a heroic age of the past and
embodies its country's early history and expresses its values. Battles and
perilous journeys play a large part, as do gods, the supernatural, and magic;
scenes are often set in the Underworld or in heaven. The high sounding,
bombastic and ornate language, war like speeches, ancient and mythical
references and the use of supernatural machinery are some of the main
features or essential ingredients of the epic writing. The Epic can be defines

“An Epic is a highest form of poetry i.e. a long narrative poem in

which characters and actions are of heroic proportions. It is
written in an elevated style with a serious theme at least of
national or international level. “

An epic must accord with the technical principles of great epics of classical antiquity set
by the classical writers like Homer and Virgil. But when we analyse “Paradise Lost” as an epic,
following the set principles, we can aptly say that John Milton, a puritan, and a scholarly person,
surpasses even his favourite masters Homer and Virgil in producing a model structure of epic
writing for rest of the times.

Unlike the national subjects taken up by Homer and Virgil, Milton succeeds in writing an epic
having more serious rather universal subject that is the fall of man on the model of the Greek
and Latin epics. The subject, whom Aristotle, Tasso, Homer, Virgil and other epic poets took are
ancient and their themes are nation but Milton’s subject is more ancient than that of any other
epic. He deals with the subject

“Of man’s disobedience and the fruit

Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste,
Brought death into this work and all our woe
With loss of Eden”

Characteristics of Paradise Lost as an Epic

Aristotle described six characteristics: "fable, action, characters,
sentiments, diction, and meter" most important elements of epic.

Fable or story is the basis of the epic. Bossu is of the opinion that “the
poet’s first business is to find a moral, which is perfect or imperfect
according as the action is more or less so.” The subject of the Paradise lost concerns
with not only a nation or a particular country, rather the destiny of the whole mankind is
associated with it. In this particular sense, Paradise lost excels others epic as its action is
contrived in hell, executed on earth and punishes by heaven. Coleridge commenting on the
Universal appeal of Paradise Lost says,
“The superiority of Paradise Lost is obvious in this respect that the
interest transcends the limit of a nation… it contains the matter of deep
interest to all mankind; forming the basis of all religions and the true
occasion of all of all philosophy what so ever”

Besides, Milton has filled his story with so many surprising incidents which bear so close an
analogy with what is delivered in Holy writ, that it is capable of pleasing the most delicate
reader, without giving offense to the most scrupulous.

The first conviction of epic writing is that it carries a serious theme at least of nation or
international level. The destiny of a nation or region is associated with it. The theme of an epic,
according to Aristotle, must be “probable and marvelous”. Milton, however, makes some
changes in choosing theme as in the very early lines he declares that his aim was to attempt,

“Things unattempted yet in Prose or rhyme”

Explaining subject or theme of Paradise Lost, Hallam says that it is “the

finest ever chosen for heroic poetry, it is also manage by Milton with
remarkable skill. The Iliad wants completeness; the subject of Odyssey is
hardly extension, the Aeneid is spread over too long a space: the Pharasalia
is open to the same criticism and the Iliad: the subject of the Thebaid
possesses no interest in our eyes: yet the fall of Man has a more general
interest than the Crusade.”

The characters in the epic, like other classical epics, are of high status rather more high and
noble than ancient heroes of Homer and Virgil. The characters in Milton’s Paradise Lost are the
most sublime that human beings can conceive. They are God, Christ, the good and evil angels,
and Adam and Eve, the Parents of whole human race and their status enjoying heavenly life.
Addison says

“It is impossible for any of Paradise readers whatever nation, country or people
he may belong to, not to be related to the person who is the principal actor in it;
but what is still infinitely more to its advantage, the principal actors not only
our progenitors, but our representative.”

The heroes of ancient epics have the outstanding personalities, heroic mould and stuff, but
Adam is bestowed with more heroic qualities than any other hero. Whereas Satan, an Archfiend,
revolts and preaches disaffection against God, yet, Milton portrays him so skillfully that he
appears to be more exalted and most depraved being. The quality of Satan as leader is hence
responsible for most of the critics to consider him to be a hero of this great epic. Even the critics
like Robert Burn is forced to say "Give me the spirit of my favorite hero, Milton's Satan"

Like the classical epic writers, Milton succeeds in lending “Paradise Lost” with perfect unity of
plot. Everything or even in the poem leads up to or flows from it. The plucking of the fruit of
the tree of knowledge, the war between God & Satan, followed by the fall of Satan, Long
descriptions of hell and heaven and seduction scene all these events are closely woven and seem
a single and a compact action.
As a masterly person, Milton plunges into the middle of the story, instead of beginning,
but in the middle he traces the earlier story and forwards the story to a striking end. During this
Milton still is following a rule of epic writing. In the course of the events Milton convincingly
shows the utter powerlessness, helplessness and depravity of evil beside the almightiness, beauty
and benevolence of God. Evil never succeeds; it never does under any circumstances. Milton
shows this in the defeat of Satan:

“so stretch’d out huge in length the Arch-fiend lay,

Chain’d on the burning lake; nor ever thence
Had ris’n, or heav’d his head, but that the will
And high permission of all-ruling heaven,
Left him at large to his own dark designs.”

Diction & style:

War like speeches is another feature of epics. Through these speeches, the poet actually explains
the background and the scenery, the characters themselves speak fully explaining their thoughts,
feelings and motives. Milton once again seems at the top, while presenting the war like
speeches of Satan, who emerges as a giant leader with all heroic qualities inspiring all the
In Book-I Satan has been represented in heroic dimension. He displays unyielding
courage, shrewdness as leader. From the very first speech, he appears to be a great orator with
profound leadership qualities.

“What though the field be lost, all is not lost,

The unconquered will ……… immortal hate”

He like a great leader arranges a council and gives them the urge to wage another war against
The Supreme Victor. Thorough analysis of their defeat is done to formulate new strategy. He
like a great leader praises his fellows and gives them boost by calling them Princes, The Knights
and the Warriors he also pinches them by his words
“Wake up or be fallen forever”

The whip of words works and all of the fallen shrubs rise and whole dark hell resounds with
their slogans and flashes with blazing swords and shields as Milton describes the scene in these
“Highly they raged
Against the highest, and fierce with grasped arms
Clashed on their soundings shields, the den of war
Hurling defiance towards the vault of heaven.”
The use of similes, metaphors and allusions are another ingredient of epic writing and
‘Paradise Lost’ is the best blend of this quality. Especially Book-I can aptly be declared as one
of the best example of Milton’s skill in using similes and metaphors. Milton being the most
learned uses similes, metaphors and allusions to suit their appropriateness adding to the grandeur
of the poem. He found an inexhaustible store of learning and experience in classical literature
and mythology, from which he drew material for his similes. He tells us that the palace of hell is
far beyond the magnificence of “Babylone, or great Alcairo”, and the army of rebel angel far
exceeds those,
“That fought at Thebes and Ilium, on each side
Mixed with auxiliary gods; and what resounds
In fable or romance of Uther’s son,
Begirt with British and Armoric Knights;
And all who since, baptized or infidel;
Jousted in Aspramount or Matalban,
Damasco, Morocco, or Tribisond,
When charlemain with all his peerage fell
By Fontarabia.”

The classical writers set another tradition ie, the use of supernatural machinery, which develops
the plot and solves its complications. John Milton’s skill once again excels other poets in
exhibiting the superb usage of supernatural machinery in the poem. There are only two human
characters, Adam & Eve, rest of all the characters including God, angles, Satan and rebellion
angels all are supernatural beings.
Thus the use of supernatural machinery in this epic is very convincing.

As paradise Lost primarily deals with supernatural powers and agencies, there is very little
scope for the expression of human sentiments. Adam and Eve are the only two human
characters. Their sentiments both of fears and repentance have, of course, been beautifully and
forcefully rendered. The anguish rising from the horrors attending the sense of the divine
displeasure are very justly and powerfully described. But the real greatness of Milton lies in the
fact that he has rendered supernatural powers as human beings and ascribed to them human
sentiments. Dr Johnson says that,

“The sentiments, as expressive of manners, are appropriated to

characters are, for the later part, unexceptionally just.”

To conclude it would be very apt to remark that “Paradise Lost” fulfills all the requirements and
the convictions laid down by the classics and is one of the best epic ever written in English
literature. A sane critic is justified in giving these remarks;
“There is nothing in English literature, but Paradise Lost”

English literature will remain indebted to Milton for his remarkable and glowing piece of
literature for all the ages. Milton following the classical tradition matches his own purpose i.e.
“justifies the ways of God to men” and has transformed the classical secular epic into a
theological and universal one. He actually has enriched the epic tradition and it is apt to say that
‘Paradise Lost’ is the best example of the tradition and the individual talent. Therefore, it’s
confirmed that the subject of this epic is more ancient, serious and lofty than any other epic. It
promotes a universal view of man’s life.