Epic poems deal with personalities and events of divine importance. Around 800 B.C., Homer wrote the “Iliad” which dealt with gods and goddesses, heroes, lovely women, and romantic lovers’ doughy deeds on the battlefield and heroic achievements and death. Similarly, there are many other ancient epics in which heroic events have been dealt with extensively. And, we know that whatever is written therein is all imaginative and could not have happened as described. However, reading these epics inculcates faith in God and we start believing in divine order. We also come to a definite conclusion that death is the final and of all human beings, and it becomes an aim of every sane person that before one may do something worthy to leave something as a source of inspiration for the entire mankind. In this regard, the epics vouchsafe us delight, instruction, edification, and consolation.
However, Milton was a profound student of classics, but ultimately he hit upon a subject, which dealt with the fall of Man. the actual story is contained in the first chapter – Genesis of Bible, and Milton thought as a fit theme’ for his epic. He also decided to enrich it with all poetical faculties by using all his knowledge and scholarship.
Coleridge and Raleigh’s Comments
Coleridge commenting on the theme of paradise Lost said:
“It represents the origin of evil, and the combat of evil and good, it contains matter of deep interest to all mankind, as forming the basis of all religious and the true occasion of all philosophy what-so-ever.”
The fall of man is a subject of universal interest and according to the Christian religion, the entire mankind has been cursed due to the sin committed by him against the very instructions of God. Due to his disobedience, he was exiled and lost paradise.
“A prerogative place among the great epics of the world has sometimes been claimed for Paradise Lost on the ground that the theme, it handles is vaster and of a moral universal human interest than any handled by Milton’s predecessors. It concerns itself with the fortunes not of a city or an empire but the whole human race, and with that particular event in the history of the race which has hounded all its destinies. “Raleigh remarks:
Similarly A.C George states:
“We can state the essential theme of Paradise Lost, as the sustained opposition between love and hate. God responds to the destructive challenge of Satan with the creative expression of Love.” “Milton has combined two traditional elements-the stories of the challenge and response through an indirect agent. The former theme is the direct physical conflict of the Celestial Battle, and the latter is Satan’s challenge of God-indirectly through God’s own creature man. The second theme arises out of the first. “
Milton, being a Christian, very much believes in the second coming of Jesus Christ as the Redeemer of mankind and justifies the ways of God to man.
He emphasizes that man has suffered due to his own fault. And according to him, Man can only regain paradise if he believes in the doctrine of vicarious suffering. “Christ is represented as the son of God who came on earth and suffered himself to be crucified. Thus, taking on himself the sins of mankind. This is the main topic and aim of writing two epics, in which Milton has elaborated how the Man lost Paradise and how can he regain it. ” (Paradise Lost Book I and Paradise Regained Book IX). The first deals with the entire story of the universe from the moment, the world, Adam and Eve were created by God. Milton also elaborates on the Fall of Man by giving a complete story of how man was tempted by Satan. (John Milton’s Paradise Lost: His Aim of Epic Poem)
Justification of Punishment
Milton justifies the punishment of Adam and Eve for the sin, they jointly committed. They are expelled from Paradise. According to Christian mythology, his son namely CChrist offers his own sacrifice for the sake of Adam and Eve. At the end of Paradise Lost, Adam and Eve fell repentant.
Some critics feel that there is tow theme, which is quite balanced, namely the Fall of Angles and fall of man. The first half deals with Satan’s efforts to do something against God. The second half is the drama of Adam and Eve. But this cannot be accepted. Milton clearly said that he’s dealing with the Fall of Man: as the central theme is stated in every opening line of the poem. The poet asks the Heavenly Muse to inspire him so that he many sing of:
Of Man’s 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
Sing, heavenly Muse
Satan’s story is subsidiary to the main story of Adam and Eve.
Theme of Poem through Bible
To find the theme, John Milton went to Bible in which he had full faith. Bible relates the truth about the creation and fall of man in its first chapter Generic. As Tillyard tells s, for his the Fall of Man was the most significant event in the history of the world. The myth of the fall of man and the Christian doctrine of the original sin has been used by Milton to justify the ways of God to man. (John Milton’s Paradise Lost: His Aim of Epic Poem)
Another underlying theme of the poem (an epic poem) pertains to the frailty of women. It is on account of her fascinating charm, that the first Man lost Paradise:
Oh, why did God,
Creator wise that people highest heaven.
With spirits masculine, create at last,
This novelty on earth, this fair defect
Of Nature, and not fill the world at once.
With men or angels, without feminine;
Or find some other way to generate Mankind?
So, in the light of the described arguments and statements, Milton was successful in writing an epic poem.