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This review is from: Paradise Lost (Penguin Popular Classics) (Paperback)
Milton's great epic poem was written "to justify the ways of God to men", thus telling the story of Lucifer's expulsion from Heaven and Adam's subsequent banishment from Eden. The classic representations of idyllic Eden, fiery Hell, and glorious Heaven are as rich now as when they were first created in 1667.
Paradise Lost is a very complicated, yet rewarding, Epic poem. It is by far the best of its kind in the English language, and where it lacks in original conventions, it more than makes up for it in its pure power of poetry. For those readers of translations who are unable to enjoy Homer's Greek, Virgil's Latin or Dante's Italian, Paradise Lost can offer them a unique chance to enjoy an epic poem in its original vernacular.
However, you must bear in mind that Paradise Lost is one of the most difficult pieces of poetry to read, and is by no means as simple as reading a translation of Homer or Virgil. The language is lexically dense, with complex grammar structures at times. These hurdles will be found considerably easier for experienced readers of Shakespeare, and those who are already aware of common traits of epic poetry.
Milton's use of language is majestic, boasting an impressive metre. The poem is lavished with many famous quotes that have become ingrained into everyday English, with such examples as "Pandemonium" and "All hell broke loose". Paradise Lost is, without a doubt, a must read for any intellectual English reader.
Like all epic poetry Milton's piece of art is highly indebted to Homer's conventions, with typical imitations of the Iliad's list of warriors and the Odyssey's garden of Alcinous. But Milton's debt to the Classics manifests itself as a representation of learned study, (with links to such writers as Aeschylus, Sophocles, Plato, Shakespeare and Spenser), therefore it does not so much as pilfer from great literature, as it instead endeavours to become a part of it.
Paradise Lost offers the epic reader a new form of subject, not just the usual heroes and large battles, but a theme which captivates the reader - the devils fall and man's respectively. The rebel Angels' descent from heaven to hell and Adam's from Eden to a desolate "outside" world, captivate the reader with an intriguing theme: the loss of innocence and the fall into experience. Why must Man sin? What is his relationship to Satan's loss of grace? And where does God's image of himself measure with his own maker? Milton's poem may lack the great Achilles and the gleaming towers of Troy, but it does offer much intellectual food for thought.
This very inexpensive Penguin edition is a rare find of value for money, especially when considering the informative footnotes, which are far better than the flip-flapping that endnotes incur to readers. Obviously the scholarly output in these notes is very limited, but come on ... please bear in mind the tiny price tag on this book - for less than half the price of a pint of beer you can own the English language's greatest poetic feat!
But it is the Miltonic Satan that really comes to the forefront of this poem. The cunning fallen angel, who decides that "All good to me is lost; Evil, be thou my Good" (IV.109-10), is as appealing to the reader as Marlowe's "Nun-poisoning" Barabas the Jew. It is with some guilt that this present commentator must own to rooting for this most infamous baddy throughout the poem. With a display of wit almost as sharp as Ovid or Nonnos, Milton indisputably gives his best lines to God's antagonist. This Devil is not just a superficial evil being, but instead a complex character; one that feels remorse for his fall, love for his close friends, and a harrowing jealousy of Man. What we are given by Milton's villain is not just a rewarding psychological study of Christianity's Devil, but also a commentary upon our own ignoble actions.