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Definition of Epic:

The word epic has been derived from the Greek word ‘epikos’, it means a speech, song, or word. Epic is defined as a grand long narrative poem in verse that revolves around an important theme in a very elegant style as well as language. It deals with the heroic characters and their heroic deeds. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, an epic is a long narrative poem in a dignified style about the deeds of a traditional or historical hero or heroes; typically, a poem like Iliad or the Odyssey with certain formal characteristics.’

Examples of epic:

Paradise Lost by John Milton

Paradise Lost as a Classical Epic

Paradise Lost is considered a classical epic as it fulfills the requirements that an epic should possess. It is an epic due to the following features or characteristics:

Long Narrative Poem:

The first feature of an epic is that it is lengthy and bulky size. Paradise Lost is a long narrative poem that consists of twelve books, monologues, and several scenes. It is a poem as it is written in ‘verse form’ i.e. basically a blank verse where an iambic pentameter pattern is followed. Blank verse is a literary term in poetry in which, there are five meters, each consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. In paradise lost, unrhymed iambic pentameter is followed. The first opening, 10 lines, shows that it is one long sentence and has no rhyming feature at all:

Of Mans First Disobedience, and the fruit

Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste

Brought Death into the world, and all our woe

With the loss of Eden, till one greater Man

Restore us, and regain the blissful Sea

Sing Heavenly Muse, that on the secret top

Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire

That shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed,

In the Beginning how the Heavens and Earth

Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill

These lines do not rhyme and are free from this obligation of rhyme scheme. But these lines follow the blank verse and the poem itself is extremely long, accomplishing the first feature of a classical epic.

Presence of a heroic figure:

An epic is centered upon a hero and his actions and adventures. Every epic consists of a hero and his deeds, character, and personality. Paradise Lost, being an epic revolves around a heroic figure, which is named Satan, and the poet discusses the traits that make him a heroic figure.

Satan is the one who is presented as a hero as he has an unconquerable will and undefeated spirit, which all leaders should have. He has pride and shows defiance as stated in these lines in his first speech:

All is not lost; the unconquerable will,

And a study of revenge, immortal hate,

And courage never to submit or yield:

And what is else not to be overcome?

These are the most heroic lines spoken by Satan as he says that it doesn’t matter if they have lost one battlefield as everything is not lost. This shows his daunting spirit, determination, and defiance and he doesn’t accept his defeat, and the one who doesn’t accept defeat is considered as a hero. He doesn’t lose hope, even though; he has been dragged into hell and lost his status in heaven. He possesses courage and isn’t willing to supplicate before his enemy, which is another feature of a heroic character. In addition to this, he requires revenge, courage, and hatred to restore his seat as only then he would be able to stand up against his enemy. For Satan, to be weak is being miserable, and weakness is worst and unacceptable. He addresses Beelzebub in his second speech as someone who is acting weak; therefore, they must remain strong as their sole pleasure is to commit evil. He says:

Fall n Cherub, to be weak is miserable Cherub, to be weak is miserable

Doing or Suffering: be of this be sure,

To do ought good never will be our task,

But ever to do ill our sole delight

Satan is a powerful, persuasive, and convincing leader who leads his followers, even in this chaotic and dismal situation.

Grand Theme:

Paradise Lost has a grand and unique theme that is significant for every society of the world, even though it is biblical, as traditional epics often had a religious and patriotic theme, but it implies to everyone. Milton explains the central statement of the theme in the first five lines of the poem. He says:

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Of Mans First Disobedience, and the fruit

Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste

Brought Death into the world, and all our woe

With the loss of Eden, till one greater Man

Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat

The theme of this poem revolves around the ‘first act of disobedience of Man’. The Man, here, is actually being referred to as Adam. It is stated that by eating fruit from the tree of knowledge, the fruit being fatal, death was given birth to in this world as a punishment for man. Man disobeyed his creator so death came and it arrived with suffering. The suffering involved losing paradise and suffering in fate forever as they would never be able to go back to heaven again. This persisted until one great ‘Man’ (Christ) came. According to them, he will save mankind from suffering and the state of happiness would be reinstated and that is paradise. The complexity in these lines is associated with terseness i.e. the use of few words to convey something. These lines not only talk about Man’s disobedience but also about the devil’s so the overall theme is based on disobedience. Satan also defies God’s orders and therefore is punished by depriving him of heaven and enduring Pain in hell where he becomes more rebellious against God. Ultimately, Paradise Lost attains the aspect of a grand theme in an epic as it has an extraordinary theme of disobedience and its consequences as no other poet has discussed this kind of theme before.

Invocation to Muse:

Another essential feature of an epic is an invocation to the muse. At that time, the poet used to seek inspiration from the goddess of poetry and the subject of that poetry. Before starting the poem, the poet used to be humble and informed that he is unable to write without the help of that goddess or Muse. In Paradise Lost, Milton also asked for aid from the ‘Heavenly Muse’. He doesn’t depend upon Muse from mythology or any ancient Muse but calls for help from the heavenly Muse. Milton then further explains the Heavenly Muse:

Sing Heavenly Muse, that on the secret top

Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire

That shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed,

In the Beginning how the Heavens and Earth

Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill

The shepherd mentioned here is Prophet Moses who used to visit the mountain tops of Oreb and Sinai so he could get direct revelation from God, who taught him how He created the Heavens and Earth. Milton wants the Heavenly Muse to inspire him in the same way as he is the one who brought revelations upon Moses. Heavenly Muse is actually God Himself. Milton has shown a sign of intelligence here as he chooses Heavenly Muse rather than an ordinary one.

Setting:

The settings of the paradise lost are very grand, unique, and supernatural as these were uncommon among the poets of that era and also hell and heaven could not be perceived through common human senses. These grand settings are the demands of an epic that is completely fulfilled in the paradise lost by John Milton. The setting of the poem comprises the earth as in the end Satan refers to mankind and foresees the coming of such kind of beings. These grand settings are the demands of an epic that is completely fulfilled in the paradise lost by John Milton. The setting of the poem comprises the earth as in the end Satan refers to mankind and foresees the coming of such kind of beings.

As the epic opens, we notice Satan and his companions lying devastated in the heated Hell:

Nine times the Space that measures Day and Night

To mortal men, he with his horrid creed

Lay vanquish, rowling in the fiery Gulf

Confounded though immortal: But his doom

Reserved him to more wrath; for now the thought

Both lost happiness and lasting pain

Torments him;’ (PL. 1. 50-5)

Hell remains as the most important setting as Milton gives a vivid’ and effective Picture of Hell. It is a place of torment where the sinners and damned ones are deprived of the sight of God and remain in eternal despair. Hell is a place of sorrowful darkness and is far removed from the light of Heaven. The greatest punishment is to be deprived of the beautiful vision and to be drowned in eternal despair.

Here we may reign secure; though in Hell,

To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell,

Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.’

In these lines, ‘Here’ at the start and ‘Hell’ at the end refers to the supernatural setting of the poem which is located in hell. In these lines, Satan tries to overcome despair and create heaven out of hell. The reference to the heaven that is made by Satan in the last lines indicates that the setting of the poem also involves heaven and also it was heaven from where Satan fell down into hell.

Morality:

Morality is a key characteristic of an epic. The poet’s foremost purpose in writing an epic is to give a moral lesson to his readers. For instance, Johan Milton’s Paradise Lost is a perfect example in this regard. The moral lesson and theme of this epic are certainly of great importance and deal with the entire humanity. It aims to justify the ways of God to man and to explain the need for religion. It provides a logical and reasonable basis for good deeds and to follow the ways of God. Milton tries to remind the readers of the paradise which is lost due to the wrong deeds and ways. The poet wants to justify the ways of God to man through the story of Adam. This is the most important theme of the epic. The theme of the epic is sublime, and elegant, and has the element of universality in it. It is not confined to a specific time, place, or a certain group of people but it holds great importance for the entire humanity.

Milton’s motive behind writing the epic seems to correct the wrong ways of man and get man connected to God by justifying the ways of God to man. He aims to tell that whatever God does is right and makes it reasonable and logical that human beings should submit their wills to the will of God. Similarly, in the first lines, the poet has mentioned the very first act of disobedience on behalf of humans which implies the sense that Adam should have obeyed the will of God and remained on the right path but he disobeyed the will of God and in the result, death came into being and all this chaos of earth was created. It was the true morality for Adam to follow the will of God but he went astray of the right path and thus was deprived of heaven and all the luxuries he enjoyed over there. In other words, Milton attempts to say that it is morality that makes a difference in the end.

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