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Epic Simile In Milton's Paradise Lost

Epic Simile In Milton's Paradise Lost

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Published by kshithisingh
A brilliant essay by Eleanor Tate describing the extensive use of the genre of Epic Simile in Milton's The Paradise Lost.
A brilliant essay by Eleanor Tate describing the extensive use of the genre of Epic Simile in Milton's The Paradise Lost.

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Published by: kshithisingh on Jun 15, 2010
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02/04/2015

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The
Epic
Simile in
Paradise
Lost
Eleanor
Tate
A
study
of
Milton's
use ot
epic simile leads
one
into several basic issues
of
Paradise
Lost
aspects
of
Milton's
method,
his
attitude toward Satan,
the
relationship
of
heroic
to
Christian values,
for
instance.Throughout
the
I.c. poem
Milton
observes Ciceronian decorum
in
handling
his
characters, letting each speak
in
character.
It is
Milton himself
as
author
who
usesthe
classical
images.Forinstance, Raphael,indescribingtoAdamthe war in
Heaven
(
surely
thematerialforclassical
figures
), inkeeping withhisangelic
character,
draws
only on the cosmos or nature for his illustrations. Michael usesnoextended similes
in the
prophetic vision given
to
Adam
in
Books
XI and
XII.
And
Milton uses
none
indescribingGod orChrist, treating Heavenassupreme
in
its ownabsolute terms.By far themajorityof thesimilesareusedtodescribe
Satan,
his
legions,
or
Hell, although Eden
is
compared
to
classical gardens (alwayssuperior
to
them
) and Eve to
classical goddesses
who met
unfortunate fates.Interestingly, apart from
the
references
to
heroic material
in the
introduction
to
Book
IX,
there
are
only
two
classical allusions
in
connection with Adam.
His
love
for Eve is
compared
to
Jupiter's
for
Juno
(IV.499
- 501 ),
perhaps
suggesting
its
questionable nature (Juno, with
the
girdle
of
Venus, beguiled Jupiter intopassionate love
in the
Iliad),
and
their
fall
is
likened
to
that
of
Deucalian
and
Pyrrha
after
the
mythical flood
(
IX14
). One
Biblical simile compares Adam
to the
shorn Samson. Milton uses
the
phoenix
and
"Maia's
Son" figures
in
connecticnwith Raphael,
and the
Biblical Jacob
and
natural mist figures
in
connection withMichael, along with
the
Janus-Argus
and
Iris
allusions. Apart from carrying
the
ideas of amessenger,
watchfulness,
andbeauty, these classical figuresareemotiorally
1
 
rather
neutral.
A
further generalization
or two
concerning
the
over-all nature
of
Milton's epicsimiles might
be
worthwhile before considering individual figures
in
their relation
to
Milton's
attitude toward Satan
or
toward heroic values.
There
is a
wide range
in the
similes, indicating both Milton's learningand versatility. Classical figures outnumber the others, with
those
drawn fromnature
or the
universe running
a
close
second
(a
number
of
these,
of
course,have a classical history). Milton drew also on history, geography, and contemporaryevents
and
interests,
as
well
as on
legends
and
folklore.
He
used
several
militaryfigures, several
musical
ones,
and a
number
relsted to the sea and
ships,
these
last,
for
the most
part,
describing Satan. Again, it is interesting to note that there areonly about seven Biblical figures. Through his many classical allusions Milton does
gaina
sense
of
remoteness
in
time,
and
through
his
geographic ones
a
sense
of
vastness
in
space.
As
Kingsley Widmer
has
noted, Satan
and his
world
are in a
state of constant
flux,
in contrast to the immutability of God and Heaven.
Much
of
this
effect
is
achieved
through
figures
such ss the ship and sea images.
1
Theimpression
of
change
and
motion
in
Satan,
in
fsct, works constantly
on
severallevels at once, all conveyed through the similes, ss will be demonstrated through
individual
examplesin amoment.Abalanceismaintsined betweenup anddownimagery, greatness
and
smallness, heat
and
cold,
light
and
darkness.
This
shiftingtakes placeinspiteofSatan— onefeels thathe isbeing heldinperfect checkby
forces
beyond himself.
The
first epic simile
of the
poem
(1.197-208)
in a
real sense
sets
the
tore
ofthe
figures describing Satan.
His
great size
is
suggested
by
comparing him, first,
to the
Titans,
who
warred against
the
Olympisn
goPs,
and
then
to the
great
sea
1
"The Iconography
of
Renunciation:
he
miltcpic
Simile,"
ELH,
XXV
(Dece-mber, 1958), 258-69.
9
 
monster,
Leviathan.
But as
soon
as
Leviathan
is
mentioned, thoughts
of his
future
Judgment
come to mind (Isaiah
27.1).
Milton does not rely alone on
these
associations,
however,
to
undercut
the
impressive view
of Satan
just
set up. He goes
on
to recount the old legend of the seamen who, mistaking the slumbering whale
for
an
island, anchored
in its
side
and
found
shelter till morning.
The
figureembodies one of the main themes of the poem, borne out by its context. In
spite
of
itself, Leviathan
offered
shelter to the "night-founder'd Skiff," a
term
whichsuggests the whole
fallen
world of mankind. Out of evil God will bring good toman. The next few lines, supporting
this
ironic interpretation of the
image
as an
anticipation
of all that is to
follow,
describe the limiting power of
"all-ruling
Heaven"
upon Satan, adding:while
he
sought
Evil
to others, and enrag'd might seeHow all his malice serv'd but to bring
forth
Infinite
goodness, grace
and
mercy shownOn Man by him
seduc't,
but onhimself
Treble
confusion,
wrath
and
vengeance pour'd.(I.215-20)
The
next simile
works
in the
same ironic way. Satan
and his
forces glory
at
their escape
from
the
"Stygian
flood"and
their
arrivalatHell(astateno
better!),
under
the
illusion
that they had done this "by thir own recover'd strength,/Not by
the
sufferance
of
supernal Power"
(I.240-1).
The
figure
of the locusts, ostensibly used to praise the order among
Satan's
forces,
works
in
just
the
opposite way,
effecting
condemnation
on the
sub-surfacelevel. The
fallen
angels obey their
"General's
Voice"
As
when
the
potent
Rod
Of
Amrarin's
Son in
Egypt's
evil
dayWav'd
round
the
Coast,
up
call'd
a
pitchy
cloudOf
Locusts,
Warping on the Eastern Wind,
That
o'er the Realm impious
Pharaoh
hung
Like
Night,
and
darken'd
all the
Land
of
Nile.
(I.338-44)
3

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