Paradise Lost as an epic

John Milton’s Paradise Lost is an epic according to the Webster’s New Dictionary definition of epic as “a long narrative poem in a dignified style about the deeds of a hero or heroes” (p. 219).  To classify Paradise Lost as an epic forces the reader to take into consideration the subject matters of the fall of Lucifer from Heaven; the fall of mankind from the Garden of Eden; and, if a reader can classify the actions of Adam, Eve or even Lucifer during these events as “heroic”.   Taking into consideration that a hero is defined as “any person, esp. a man, admired for courage, nobility” (Webster’s New Dictionary, p. 303), I can think about what actions I might personally consider noble or courageous.  Some of the things that I consider courageous are accepting responsibility for one’s one actions; speaking out for the greater good when it is unfavorable; or fighting against overwhelming odds to accomplish a goal.

In Milton’s poem, both Adam and Lucifer acted in ways that I consider courageous, albeit a little foolish but courageous nevertheless the fact that they faced death or banishment for their actions.  Surprisingly, the actions of Lucifer are the ones that stand out as the more heroic despite the notion that he is generally perceived as the source of evil and hatred in the world.  Lucifer’s plans to pervert all that is “good” to “evil” becomes heroic when the reasoning for his evil actions becomes what appears to be the desire to be free from life of servitude rather than jealousy.  “…but rather seek / Our own good from ourselves, though in this vast recess, / Free, and to none accountable, preferring/ Hard Liberty before the easy yoke / Of servile Pomp.” (Milton, 252-257)  It becomes harder to consider Lucifer a villain when he is the main focus of many of the twelve books of Paradise Lost.  The reader does follow Adam as well but Adam’s actions when compared to Lucifer’s appear more consequential.  Adam only accepts responsibility for disobeying God after initially denying all blame and then tries to repent for his actions.

Works Cited

“Epic.” Webster’s Fourth New World Dictionary. 2003. Print.

“Hero.” Webster’s Fourth New World Dictionary. 2003. Print.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost.  New York: Signet Classics, 2010. Print

Lucifer the antihero

My favorite character in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” happens to be Lucifer.  I preferred Milton’s depiction of Lucifer as an antihero against the typical notion of a hero because I find it easier to relate to a character that has their flaws but makes up for their shortcomings with commitment to action despite overwhelming odds.  I found many of Lucifer’s speeches in Book I inspiring as he tells his followers to not give up hope but to make the best of their situation.

“…Here at least

We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built

Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:

Here we may reign secure, and in my choice

To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:

Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heav’n.” (Milton, Book I, line 259-263)

Lucifer’s portrayal as a leader of the fallen angels seeking their freedom of the oppressive forces of heaven in the poem is an intriguing juxtaposition to the archetypical portrayal of him as an angry defiler who seeks to destroy things for the sake of destruction.  One such villainous depiction of Lucifer in the King James Version of the Bible is in the First Book of Peter, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (5:8)

It is hard to hate a person for desiring to live free, though I found Lucifer’s resolve in the later Cantos of “Paradise Lost” to seek vengeance instead of victory on his battle for freedom disheartening.  “Which if not Victory is yet revenge.” (Milton, Book II, line 105). I think it was the transition from the desire to live free to cause harm that transforms Lucifer from the realm of antihero to tragic hero because despite all of his inspiring words and noble ambitions he becomes corrupted by hate and despair and abandons his dreams.  I truly enjoyed reading about Lucifer and his schemes throughout Milton’s work even though I knew how the story would end because I wanted to see how this interpretation of Lucifer would handle things differently than the devil I learned about in Sunday school.

Works Cited

Milton, John. Paradise Lost, Book 1. The Northon Anthology. Ed. Steven Greenblatt. Norton & Company, 2006. 1831-1850. Print.

The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York: American Bible Society: 1999; Bartleby.com, 2000.