The Epic Form & Conversation Followed by John Milton

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The Epic Form (Epic and Romance)

      Paradise Lost belongs to the group called Epic poems. The term Epic (Greek Epos) was originally applied to a narrative poem, in celebration of some great achievement, of personal enterprise or national glory. In its broadest sense, the tenn can be applied to any narrative in verse, even the smallest ballads. But in practice the term has been restricted to a narrative poems like the Iliad or the Aeneid, the characteristics of which are (1) that it deals with one grand complex and complete action; (2) it has heroic characters in the narrative and (3) that it is expressed in a grand style. The essential or fundamental concepts in this definition are (1) Action; (2) Characters and (3) Grand Style. In the sense that Heroic characters are present in the poem, the term Heroic Poetry has become a synonym for Epic Poetry. Milton himself applied the term Heroic, not Epic, to his poem. Heroic comes from the Greek Heroes, which originally meant a demi-god. Heroic conveyed the sense that there were demi-gods or super-human characters taking part in the story. The Epics of Homer and Virgil are Heroic in the sense that there are gods and goddesses participating in the action—as also heroes in the sense of demi-gods. Achilles, Hector, and Paris and Ulysses had a god or goddess somewhere for their grand-sire or grand-dame. Helena, the heroine of the Iliad, was a daughter of Jupiter, Achilles was the son of a sea-nymph; Aeneas was the son of Venus and so on and so forth. All but two of Milton’s characters are super-human.

      But these super-human characters take part in the main action of the Epic. And that action is one central action to which everything leads. In the Epic in its true restricted sense, this central action is a momentous action in the history of the nation about whom the story is told. It deals with a moment of supreme interest to the nation concerned and fraught with grave consequences to its destiny. Such was the Siege of Troy in the History of the Greek nations in the Bronze Age. Such was the arrival of Aeneas into Italy and his marriage with a Latin princess for the future destiny of Rome and the Roman Empire. Such—to take Indian instances—was the war in the Ramayana which pushed the Aryan standards into the Dravidian south and effected the first conquest of Lanka or Ceylon. Such was the Great War of the Mahabharata, a fratricidal war, though it was.

      But it is not only a momentous action that the epic poet deals with. It is fundamentally one action to which everything leads. It is at the same time a complex action, so that it has many episodes, though the stern rule of epic art requires that they should be intimately interconnected with the central web of the story. In some epics, this rule is more rigidly followed than in others. The latter are more episodical, and their episodes sometimes just touch the main action at a point but then go off at a tangent from the main story, and the poet just returns to start off on another episode. This is what happens in parts of the Indian Mahabharata. But this is the essential characteristic that marks the Romances of the Middle Ages of Europe from the true Classical Epic. Various romances were written about the shadowy King Arthur of England and the shadowy Knights of his mysterious Round Table, or about Charlemagne and his paladins, or the Knights of his palace, the chief of whom were the brother Orlando and Oliver. Upon these romantic stories—both in verse and prose—continued to be written till after the onset of the Renaissance period. Chief among them are the later Italian poems—Orlando Furioso (Orlando Insane) by Ariosto and the slightly earlier Orlando Inamorato (Orlando in Love) by Boiardo. We call these epics romances, or what is perhaps a better term, romantic epic. Then there was Garcia de Montalvo’s romance, on original Portuguese or Spanish sources about a mythical English prince in love with a mythical English princess Oriana, called Amadis di Gaul and the Spanish romance of The Cid, afterward the subject of Corneille’s tragedy,—both of which figure so largely in Cervantes’ Don Quixote. In all these romantic epics—some of which are in verse and some in prose—there is no unity of subject, as in the classical epic. But there is a rough unity in as much as, all the incidents and adventures range around one hero, whose valiant exploits and love romances they chronicle. As opposed to the classical Unity of Action, which the true Classical Epic possesses, this loose sort of Unity is generally recognized as the Unity of the Agent, or to give it its full title and feature, the Gothic Unity of the Agent. Homer’s Odyssey contains a good deal of this romantic stuffy for their adventure follows adventure, all ranged round the person of Ulysses. At the same time, it possesses a Unity of Action, in as much as all the incidents take place during the ten years during which Ulysses is trying to reach his home in Ithaca after the end of the Trojan War. Large parts of the Indian Epics read like romances, but about them also there is a central Unity of Action. The medieval romances have no such Unity of Action at all. Spenser had a complicated plan for a loose Unity of Action which might have glimmered into view, if his poem had been completed. But the Faerie Queene is incomplete and besides the fact that each book has its own separate Unity of the Agent, rather than of Action, its unabashed allegorical character and insistent didacticism removes it altogether from the continent of true Epic Poetry. It is an Allegorical Romance, or string of six allegorical romances—that is what it is, in the state, it has been left to us by the author. In all these long narrative poems which adventure out under the banners of medieval romance, in Aristo, Boiardo, Spenser, in Tennyson with his Idylls of the King, there is no unity of plan in the action, nor have they the treatment essential for the true epic.

The Great Epics of European origin, which generally deal with a subject of national importance, are the following:—


(1) The Iliad

(2) The Odyssey

(3) The Aeneid

(4) The Divine Comedy

(5) Jerusalem Delivered

(6) The Lusiad (Os Lusiados)

(7) Paradise Lost

(8) Paradise Regained

      To this list two names may be added: both relate, in the earlier part at least, the same story. The second is erected on the scaffolding of the first but it has the remarkable characteristic of the true Epic that in the end every action and adventure leads to one catastrophe, with a thin mist of a historical atmosphere about it. Of these two, the first is nothing more than a romance, the latter is a romance with an Epic catastrophe. The first is of Norse or Icelandic origin and in its present form, it is a prose version of a lost romantic epic. It is the Volsunga Saga—the story of Sigurd the Volsung. There is no unity of action. The prose rendering before us may be ascribed to the twelfth century. The language is Icelandic, the mythology that of Odin, Thor and Frea,—the old Scandinavian and Teutonic mythology. The name of the writer and writers is unknown. The original of it must have lain among the Icelandic Eddas. The hero Sigurd and his wife are connected with the second romantic epic, above referred to and described as developing a unity of action towards the catastrophic end. It was written about the 14th century by an unknown author, or rather authors. It was written in one of the older dialects of the German. It tells a German national story, which all considered is not very creditable to Germany. But the heroine Kriemhilda (who in the former poem is named Gudrun) is a noble German princess. She is married to Sigurd, the hero of the Volsunga Saga—only the name of that hero in the Gennan story is changed to Sigfried. The Volsungs Saga is the story of the Volsungs and their great hero, Sigurd the Volsung. The story of the latter epic is the story of the Nibelungs, the Children of the Clouds. The Nieblungs profit by the services of Sigfried, give their sister in marriage to him, but contrive to kill him by treachery. For which Kriemhilda (or Gudrun) takes a bitter revenge. She marries Aetle, or Attila, the leader of the Black Huns who overran the Roman Empire about 500 A.D. and invites her brothers to a feast at Attila’s palace, causes the palace to be set on fire while the feast is at its height, and causes her brothers, the murderers of her (first) husband, Aetle (Attila) her Hunnish spouse and herself to be burnt to ashes under the consuming flames of that fire. The bringing in of Attila puts in a spice of History. It would seem these German princes, the Niblungs, submitted to Attila and gave their widowed sister in marriage to him. This epic seems to have been composed by its unknown authors about the 14th century. It is known as the Niebelungen Lied i.e. the ‘Lied or Lay of the Niblungs.’ On account of a certain Unity of Action in it, it may be ranked among true epics. The Volsungs Saga is a pure romance of adventure.

      There is an Old English poem—of a certain date, but contractually the MS of it is ascribed to the 10th century. It is Beowulf—name of the poem and of the hero, King of the Geats, a tribe living south of Sweden, who helped Hrothgar, King of the Danes by killing a great dragon named Grendel and his mother. A second part shows Beowulf as King and again fighting with dragons, one of which he kills and gets mortally wounded by it. This is again another strange romantic epic of adventure. Its merit is that it is written in Old English and is perhaps the oldest among these romantic epics.

      Homer’s Iliad deals with Achilles and the end of the Trojan War and the Odyssey with the adventures of Ulysses after the Trojan War. Virgil’s Aeneid deals with a Trojan prince who is to be the ancestor of the people that founded Rome. Of these, we have spoken enough. They are the models for all true literary epics that follow. Dante’s Divine Comedy is an Italian epic written about 1300 A.D. dealing with the poet’s own visits to Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatory) and to Paradise (Paradiso). On the first two occasions, Virgil is Dante’s guide and in Paradise, it is Beatrice, a lady the poet had loved with a Platonic love and who has become an angel after her death. The three parts give us visions of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. The last is a vision of a world of beauty, light, and song. The poem is full of symbolism and allusions to the history and in a masterly manner unveils before our view all the scholarship of the medieval world. But there is no central unity, no single catastrophe towards which the poem can be said to move. It, therefore, lacks one of the fundamental attributes of the true epic. The poem is an exposition of the future life from the pious Christian’s point of view. Each part may be said to be an epic by itself.

      Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered, 1581, is an epic of the wars of the Crusades, full of romantic and fabulous elements like Armida and her enchanted gardens. The hero is Godfrey de Bouillon, the leader of the Christian host besieging Jerusalem, but the romantic element gathers around Ronaldo, prince of Este, who plays the chief part in the conquest of Jerusalem. Camoes (1524-1558), the author of the Portuguese epic Os Lusiados deals chiefly with the exploits of Vasco Da Gama, the first great Portuguese navigator to reach India. The poem was published in 1572.

      We must not forget the two Indian epics—the Ramayana of Valmiki and the Mahabharata of Vyas, which are perhaps the most ancient epic poems existing in any language, These are truly national epics and express the national sentiments and achievements of the Indian people. The stories are too well known to call for any notice here. The Shahnameh of Firdousi (950-1020 A.D.) recounts the deeds of the Persian heroes from the earliest times. If so, it does not center around one hero, nor under one theme. Matthew Arnold turned a fragment of it into the glorious little epic poem of Sohrab and Rustom.

The Epic of Growth and the Epic of Art or the Primitive Epic and the Art Epic

      We have all along spoken of Homer as if there was a particular individual of that name, who wrote the epics ascribed to him. The traditional account about him is that he was an old man who went begging for bread while he lived in his native town, but that after his death, his fellow nationals were very proud of him and claimed that their town had the unique honor of having given birth to this most illustrious of poets. Seven towns vied with each other for the honor of being considered the birth-place of poor old Homer, who is also reputed to have been blind, like Milton. Of these seven towns, some like Smyrna and Colophon were in Asia Minor, some belonged to Greece proper, some to the Aegean isles like Rhodes, Chios and Samos. Among towns in Greece, proper Argos and Athens claimed Homer as native and fellow-citizen. The first note of dissent from the traditional view about the authorship of the Homeric poem was struck by the Neapolitan Vico, who in 1730 published his surmise that there were several authors of the Homeric poems, of whom the earliest wrote the Iliad in Northern Greece and the second wrote the Odyssey in Southern Greece. But Vico’s theory was not supported by argument. The great change in the traditional opinion came in 1795, when a German scholar, Friedrich A. Wolf, in his Prolegomena to Homer (Latin) exploded the ancient myth and unfolded the bold theory that the Odyssey and the Iliad are composed of numerous ballads by different minstrels strung together by subsequent editors. This view is now with some reservations accepted. Wolf’s contention was that some Homer who perhaps came at the end rather than the beginning of a poetic period wrote an Achilleid, or Wrath of Achilles poem and into this later minstrels and rhapsodists interpolated various incidents. He pointed out that the hero of Book V is Diomede and of Book VI, Ajax. Achilles disappears from the first book and reappears only towards the end of the epic. There is also the story that there were various floating versions which were re-edited at Athens, under the supervision of Pisistratus, the benevolent “tyrant” of that city and the “canno” of Homer was only then formed about 600 B.C. Wolf held that the dispersed lays and ballads about different heroes were for the first time written down and united, under their present titles the Iliad and the Odyssey by Pisistratus of Athens, and were afterward still further altered and brought into harmony by revisers and critics. This view was of course disputed. Even Gladstone wrote a book on the subject. But it is obvious it does hold within itself a nucleus of truth. It is however a much more probable conception that the Iliad so far from being a mere collection of original short lays and ballads pieced together by comparatively insignificant men of the sixth century B.C., was in its original design a great epic, though based upon a vast mass of popular legends and ballads, but still in its original draft intended to be a complete poem. Hence it is now commonly held that the Iliad, as we have it, is greatly expanded from the epic of the original Homer by the insertion at different periods of episodes; which accounts for inconsistencies and discrepancies: that Homer who came rather at the end than the beginning of a poetic period, wrote a primary Achilleid or Wrath of Achilles poem, finished and complete in itself: that the interpolations were due to the rhapsodists who recited it and the piecing together of interpolations and original were due to the school of followers of Homer, the Homeridae, who established themselves in Chios. Into various other points that arise from this discussion, it is impossible in this sketch to enter. A similar view is held by European scholars about the Indian epics.

      But hence a general view has arisen and increasingly gained ground that the ancient national epics of the ancient heroic ages were at basis originally different small lays or ballads. From time to time some minds collected them and revised them, and edited them and re-edited them and dovetailed them into their present frame. From this argument, it follows that the ancient epics have not been the product of a single master, but that they are poems of a slow growth, into which with the accretion of time any fresh material—or drifting episode or ballad-story could be thrown,—but that these poems as originally springing from different sources and joining together different ballads were truly representative of the thought, sentiments, aspirations, religion and history of the people considered. This theory has also been applied to our two Indian epics. They are all described as Epics of Growth that have slowly grown with the growth of their people. Among these Epics of Growth—whether they are the classical Epics or romantic Epics (whether with a Unity of Action or a Unity of Agent)—among these slow-grown national epics—we may class:—the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata the Volsunga Saga, and the Niebel ungen Lied These epics are of spontaneous growth.

      On the other hand we have epics which were written by poets who were conscious artists. These are epics of Art. Foremost among them stands the Aeneid of Virgil and only next in rank to the Aeneid, Milton’s Paradise Lost takes its place. It is an art epic. It has not grown, though Milton had before him the medieval Lucifer legend, which had slowly grown. But Milton consciously set to write the epic and he has done it. We place Paradise Regained in the same category. Between Virgil and Milton, we insert Dante’s Divine Comedy, Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered and Camocs’s Os Lusiados. These epics take their rank in between the works of Virgil and Milton according to the honor of chronology. These also are Epics of Art. We don’t make room for Tennyson’s Idylls of the King at all-not merely because it is a romantic Epic, or romance, but because that romance itself if ranked as an epic, would be an epic of Growth. Tennyson writes a Romance of conscious art upon materials found in a vague epic of growth. Firdousi’s Epic is therefore in its actual make-up an epic of romantic art, but as regards its material, it is an Epic of Growth.

Epic Conventions Followed by Milton

      What we call epic conventions are deduced chiefly from the Iliad and the Aeneid. The former as we have just seen is truly an epic or growth, but from some ancient stage of the primitive epic or traditional epic which was made up by a reduction of floating ballads, in the form in which it has come down to us, it has already reached a high artistic finish. Virgil though the first master of the epic of art has sedulously imitated the conventions set by the Iliad. We must also remember that besides Virgil, there were other epic writers in Latin literature, such as Lucan, author of Pharsalia and Valerius Flaccus, author of the Argonautica. These poets also, for most of their purposes have imitated Homer’s manner and conventions, though they found a nearer model in Virgil himself.

Lofty Theme

      Most epic poets have taken an ancient subject, from the cobwebs of legendary history. Milton’s is also an ancient subject—the most ancient that we can imagine. But Lucan’s subject is comparatively modem. His hero is Pompey the Great and his subject is the battle of Pharsalia, 48 B.C; in which the great Pompey was defeated by the great Caesar, followed by his tragic death. These events were not ancient in Lucan’s time. Scarcely half a century had passed from the death of Pompey to the birth of Lucan. Camoes’s Art Epic too takes a comparatively modem subject. With these exceptions, it is practically a rule of epic poetry that its theme should be ancient. Milton’s epics easily satisfy this test.

      The Epic theme is generally sought from the legendary history of the epic poet’s nation. Alone among the masters of the Epic of Art, Milton, has not fulfilled this condition. Addison, in his Spectator essay on Milton, has chivalrously defended Milton from blame, because Milton’s theme belongs to a time before the nations were born. He does not deal with the legendary history of his nation: he deals with the legendary history of mankind—with the cradle of the human race.

      That the epic theme should be a momentous event, that it should have heroic characters and that it should be dealt within a grand and gorgeous manner are conditions that Milton’s epic easily satisfies. Milton claims in Book IX, 13-19 that his subject is more heroic than that of the Greek and Latin epics.

Typical Beginning

      The epic should begin with a brief statement of his theme at the very outset. Homer states his subject in the very first line of the Iliad. Virgil states his theme in the first seven lines of the Aeneid. Milton states his theme in the first five lines of Paradise Lost, Book I.

Invocation to the Muse

      The epic poet immediately begins to invoke the Muse, with a prayer to enlighten him on the causes of the event of the poem. Homer’s Invocation to the Muse of Epic poetry begins from the very second line of Iliads Virgil’s invocation begins in the eighth line and ends in the eleventh line of Book I, Virgil again invokes the Muse in the ninth book. Milton’s Invocation begins in the sixth line of Book I [’’Sing, Heavenly Muse, that on the secret top etc.”]. But he does not invoke the Muse of Epic Poetry—Calliope. He invokes the Heavenly Muse, Urania, in Book I, and again in Book IX, 46-47, he acknowledges the help of Urania. But not confident enough about Urania’s help, he invokes the Holy Spirit of God to instruct him (Book I, 17-26). In the Iliad, the Muse’s answer begins somewhere about 1.7 or 8. In the Aeneid, the Muse’s answer begins at 1.12 of Book I. In Milton, the Muse’s answer begins at I, 34. In all cases, the epic poet claims his ability to know and recite the events from the promptings of the Muse. Milton therefore fulfills this condition also. Both Homer and Virgil begin the action of their poems somewhere in the middle, in media's res, without going through events in their strict chronological order. Milton does the same.

Characters: Human and Superhuman

      The epic poem introduces characters both human and superhuman. In Homer and Virgil, there are the gods and goddesses of the Olympic pantheon. In Milton, we have the loyal angels and the fallen angels, Satan and the Messiah. Milton’s God has many of the attributes of Zeus or Jupiter, but he is higher than Jupiter But there are no females among Milton’s angels, who whoever do not seem to have missed them very much. There are no goddesses quarreling in Milton’s Heaven as we find them in the Elysian world of Homer and Virgil. That may be a drawback, but Milton’s subject forbade a school of scandal being opened in his Empyrean Heaven. There are but two human beings, and one of them is a woman. In her sweetness, she is like many goddesses fused into one. There is but one other female, the loathsome Sin. There is nothing so loathsome in Homer or Virgil. In his own way—and the only way reconcilable with his subject,—Milton has introduced, what Addition, Pope and other eighteenth-century critics called, his “supernatural machinery.” The messages which Mercury delivers for Jupiter, God’s angels deliver for Him. But, there is no Juno and no Iris.

Grand Style: Influence of Older Epics

      As regards the grandeur of language and sublimity of style Milton has certainly equaled Virgil, if not surpassed him. Something of the awe and sublimity of the epic poem arises from the fact that the scenes of the epic are not all enacted on earth. In a great epic, there is action both on earth and in heaven. In Milton we find this condition fulfilled. In Virgil, in Book VI a small part of the action lies in Hades or the Lower World, when Aeneas goes down to visit the shades of his father through the pit of Avernus, with the help of the old enchantress Sibyl of Cumae. But in Milton, the whole action of his first two books lies in Hell and a small part of the action of Book X as well. In addition to this Milton takes the reader to the realm of Chaos and Night. Milton therefore fulfills more even than Virgil himself the conditions that part of the action of the epic should lie beyond the confines of the Earth. In Milton, we have action in Hell, in Chaos, in Heaven and on Earth and again in Heaven, and Earth and Hell. The only drawback in Milton is that a great part of the story comes in not directly in action, but by report of Raphael. But then the action of the second and third book of the Aeneid is also by report of Aeneas.

      The epic poet believes in prophecy and works in scenes of prophecy. In Homer, Cassandra is always prophesying the fall and destruction of Troy. In Virgil, we have a great prophecy on the future greatness of Rome and the Roman Empire delivered to Aeneas in Elysium by his deceased father, the old Auchieses. Similarly in Milton’s Paradise Lost, the Archangel Michael prophesies to Adam the future of mankind, the descendants of Adam, in Books XI and XII.

      In Homer and Virgil, we find a scene or two in which Jupiter is represented as weighing in golden scales the fortunes of the combating parties. In Virgil, this device occurs in Book XII, when Aeneas and Turnus are about to join their deadly encounter. In Homer, Zeus weighs the fortunes of the Greeks and the Trojans, from the top of Mount Ida. In Paradise Lost, Book IV, God is shown weighing in his golden scales, (viz. the constellation Libra) the desirability or otherwise of a fight between Gabriel and Satan (IV, 996-1004).

      Lastly, in Homer, Earth is shown to be hanging by a golden chain from Heaven—i.e. from the throne of Jupiter. Milton follows the same convention. At the end of Paradise Lost, Book II, we find that Earth is hanging by a golden chain from Heaven, but there is also a golden stairway by which God’s angels are passing and repassing up and down, and later on there begins a bridge-way between Hell and Earth, over which Sin and Death begin their commerce with Earth, as also the Spirits of Hell. Milton has therefore not only followed Homer’s model, but created some original links of his own connecting Heaven with Earth and Earth with Hell.

Other Epic Conventions

      One of the Epic conventions is the catalog of the Heroes. Milton gives us his catalog of the fallen angels in Book I of Paradise Lost. Homer gives it in Book II of the Iliad. Virgil gives us his muster roll of the Italian armies at the end of Book VII of the Aeneid and continued in Book VIII. Among these catalogs that in Homer’s Iliad is the most beautiful. Helena is on the walls of Troy and she describes to old King Priam the names and genealogy of the great Greek heroes, their acts of prowess done and glory achieved.

      When we speak of these catalogs, we cannot but point to one great difference. In these ancient epics—as also the Indian epics—the heroes have all their patronymic names. It is not Ulysses, but the son of Laertes, not always Achilles, but the son of Peleus, not Diomde but the son of Tydeus, of whom Homer speaks, or Virgil speaks, and the heroes are referred to, each of them, by half and dozen names. In Milton’s Paradise Lost, we cannot find this from the very nature of the poem. For how could there be patronymic names? Man is just born, and as to the angels, both loyal and rebel, there is no paternity to boast of. There is of course the Messiah—Son of God. There is Satan and his daughter Sin and there is Death, who is both a son and grand-son, rolled into one. But no patronymic names can be given to these. The pomp of the muster-roll of the heroes of Homer and Virgil and we believe similarly in the Indian epics—lies in these patronymic names.

      Another epic convention is the Council of chiefs and the speeches held there. Most great epics have such a Council of Kings and princes. Homer’s great council is placed in Book I of the Iliad and eloquent are the speeches held there. Milton places his council in Book II and equally eloquent are the speeches held there. Keats, following Milton, has his council of the older gods of Greek Mythology—Cronos and Titans—Also in the second book of Hyperion and eloquent also are the speeches held there. Virgil speaks more about embassies than councils. But whether there are councils or not, a great feature of an epic poem consists of long discourses—of speeches between one person and another. This device relieves the tediousness of a long narrative. In Milton, we find long orations almost in every book of Paradise Lost.

      One feature of the old epics which Milton has imitated is sports and races. In Homer, we have funeral sports celebrated by Achilles in honor of the death of his friend Patroclus in Book XXIII. In Virgil, we have funeral sports held by Aeneas in honor of the death of his father Anchises. In Milton’s Paradise Lost also, we find the spirits in Hell celebrating their sports after the dissolution of the council in Book II. But they have their sports—which show their huge strength— they have even chariot racing there, but how they got their horses in Hell and how black and sooty they were is not described—only for their own amusement, not in celebration of any Death, for nobody has yet died, though death is born and mounts guard at Hell-Gates!

      Then there are the rites of friendship and hospitality. These are found in most epics. These within the limitations of his subject are also found in Paradise Lost. The limitations are however very important. In Paradise Lost, V, Adam entertains Raphael to a meal of the choicest fruits of Paradise got together by Eve. Adam and Raphael become very good friends indeed, as far as friendship could exist between a man and an angel. In the same way Achilles entertains with hospitality King Priam of Troy who has come in the darkness of the night to ransom the dead body of his son Hector. In the same way Dido entertains Aeneas to a feast (Aeneid, I) and hears from his lips the story of his adventures, just as after the hospitable meal Adam hears from Raphael’s lips the story of the War in Heaven. Milton has therefore followed this epic convention with a fair measure of success. In the Aenied, VIII, Aeneas enjoys the hospitality of Evander and concludes an alliance with his Arcadian and Etruscan subjects, and sends his son Pallas to fight under Aeneas’s banner. This is a sort of thing that Milton could not copy, for Adam had no wars to fight and Raphael can only give his advice to Adam as regards the insidious war with Satan that awaited him. Again in Miltons’ story, there is no room for the display of hereditary friendship and exchange of presents as between Glaucus and Diomede (whose grandfathers had once friendly and hospitable relations with each other, though chance made the grandsons fight on. opposite sides) as described in the Iliad, VI or the chivalrous spirit of camaraderie in arms which we see in Nisus and Euraylus in their gallant attack on the Rutulian camp which we see in the Aeneid, IX. But the epic spirit of hospitality and friendship Milton has picked up so far as the nature of his theme permitted it.

      A great epic is diversified with episodes. The meeting of Hector and Andromache in the Iliad and the suicide of Dido in Virgil are to be considered as episodes. These are no extraneous episodes in Paradise Lost, unless Raphael’s description of the War in Heaven and his recital of the story of Creation in Book V to VII are considered as episodes. As these describe the very cause of Satan’s malignant treachery towards Eve and Adam, they are more vitally connected with the main plot and cannot really be regarded as episodes.

      We have now considered various features of the literary epic which passed into a convention, most of which Milton has successfully imitated in his work. There are three things we may now mention: These are the Epic Epithet or the Pennanent Epithet, the Epic simile or Homeric Simile and Epic Repetitions. In the later books of Paradise Lost, Satan’s general appellation become The Spent. Tennyson’s bold Sir Bedevere is not such a concretely sculptured individual as Virgil’s mezentius, contempt or deum, the “contemner of the gods”. Belial comes before us only once—but “his tongue dropping manna” would have been a regular part of his character and furnished him with an Epic Epithet, for Milton has in view the honied eloquence of Old Nestor in book in the Iliad I, who at the age of ninety could yet fight and speak with an impressive eloquence. Mellifluous or honey-flowing became the Epithet for Nestor. Milton conforms successfully to the epic conventions of Epithet, Simile and Repetition, and his similes indeed outshine those of his masters because the pupil could muster up a variety of learning which the masters could not attain.

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