The Uneasy Alliance Between The Sacred And The Secular In Milton's Paradise Lost

2188 words - 9 pages

In this essay I intend to evince John Milton’s conflation of the Biblical and the Classical in his magnum opus, Paradise Lost, and investigate his reasons for juxtaposing the sacred with the profane. I will also be drawing ideas and argument from Thomas N. Corns and his essay, The English Epic, in order to assert that this conflation is part of Milton’s desire to fuse the Classical and the Christian, to create an epic not merely on par with those of Homer or Virgil, but one superior through its similar poetic form and the sublimity of its Christian message. Furthermore, this essay will also explore the milieu in which Milton lived and wrote, and consider the writing of Paradise Lost in ...view middle of the document...

This, she believes, served as a message of hope to those dissidents after the Restoration who were being persecuted for their religious beliefs[3]. After Charles II’s accession to the throne of England, numerous Acts Of Parliament were ratified to outlaw all religious worship that did not conform with that of the Church of England. Milton himself was not an orthodox Protestant; he expressed numerous beliefs that would have been deemed as heresy, such as his refusal to accept the concept of the Holy Trinity. Milton instead believed that Jesus’ station was subordinate to God the Father, a position known as Arianism or Subordinationism.[4] More explicitly, in the 1674 preface to Paradise Lost, Milton explains to confused readers why he has eschewed rhyme in favour of blank verse. Here, in his justification, with much vitriol aimed directly at the literary tastes of the Restoration establishment, he accuses rhyme of being “but the invention of a barbarous age” and describes his preference for blank verse, as in the works of Virgil and Homer, as a return to “ancient liberty”. It is quite possible, then, that Milton’s political leanings bore some influence in the content of his epic. It is the opinion of this paper’s author that it was not a coincidence that Milton’s was both a lover of the classical world and a supporter of the Parliamentarian’s cause. Milton’s anti-monarchist stance may well be the result of nostalgic desire to see a return to a Republican system of government, such as that used by the Greeks and Republican Rome, that saw them produce highly esteemed poets such as, respectively, Homer and Virgil. Also worthy of consideration is the fact that the Classical epics were usually written after the passing of great cultures or civilisations, exalting their heroes, history and way of life to mythic status. The Odyssey, for example, celebrated the Greece that existed hundreds of years before Homer, and Virgil’s Aeneid, which was written in a state of flux as Rome transformed from a republic into an imperial power, celebrated the old Rome in much the same way. [5] Milton in writing Paradise Lost may well have intended us to see allusions here to the passing of the short-lived English Commonwealth and its lofty ideas, with the passing of these great civilisations.

Milton’s reverence for the Classical - one half of the “uneasy alliance” - cannot be overstated. The overarching intention of Paradise Lost may be an overtly Christian one, to “justify the ways of God to men” (Book 1, 26), but his execution is heavily steeped in the mythology, form and language of the Classical period. The prologue contains the obligatory invocation of his Muse, and then the action begins, in the tradition of Classical epics, in medias res with the rebel angels lying, disarrayed, in the wastes of hell, expelled from Heaven after losing the great battle against God’s armies. Milton’s juxtaposition of the Classical and Biblical...

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