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An epic is a long narrative poem in a lofty style,  set in a remote time and place,  and dealing with heroic characters and deeds important in the legends and history of a nation or race. 

The characteristics of the epic are:

(a) The hero is a figure of great national or international importance, 

(b) the setting is ample in scale,  sometimes worldwide or even larger

(c) The action involves heroic deeds and it should be an entire action, complete in itself,

(d) there must be the greatness of action in which the destinies of great men and nations are involved,

(e) The style of the epic must be lofty etc.  The epic employs many conventions of which the important ones are

The  epic employs many conventions of which the important ones are

1. A prayer or invocation to the Muses or to a deity 
2. Use of Homeric (epic) similes
3. Council of war and games
4. A perilous and sometimes a fantastic journey
5. Use of gods or supernatural machinery  and
6. Beginning in the middle of the story.

Generally, epics are two types ;

(i) Folk epic or the primary epic or primitive epic and
(ii) The literary epic or the secondary epic or epic of art.

Folk epics (also called the epics of growth)  are of unknown authorship. They were meant for recitation before an audience and passed along as a part of an oral tradition. Literary epics,  on the other hand,  are written by a poet employing epic conventions and are meant to be read.

Paradise Lost is an epic of art,  an immortal creation of Milton's imagination and genius. It has the following characteristics.

(i) The sublimity of both subject matter and style
(ii) Universality of theme
(iii) Unity of action
(iv) Beginning,  middle, and end
(v) Begins in the middle and invocation to God
(vi) Council of war and speeches of elaborate length
(vii) Extensive use of epic similes, metaphors, and classical allusions
(viii) Grand style
(ix) Human interest
(x) A moral tone

Paradise Lost has sublimity both in its subject matter and style. It has a unity of action and design. It says of the disobedience(fall) of Man and its consequences,  followed by his redemption. Thus it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. At the same time like other epics it begins in the middle of the action. Paradise Lost opens with the usual epic invocation ''Sing Heavenly Muse''. This invocation is a kind of Christian prayer to the Holy Spirit read by the Christians into the second verse of Genesis. The poet calls upon the Holy Spirit to raise and support him in his noble venture of writing an epic,  higher than classical epics, and help him ''justify the ways of God to men''.

Milton has introduced supernatural machinery in Paradise Lost in his own way. We find the loyal angels under the command of God and Satan with other fallen angels in Hell. Adam,  who represents the human race,  is a true hero,  although we do not find much of his activities in Book I.  In book, I,  Satan by his leadership qualities stand very prominent. Apart from Adam and Satan,  God himself is a character in Paradise Lost. He is present in the poem from the beginning to the end. The supremacy of God's power is admitted even by Satan.

Again Paradise Lost contains plenty of epic similes,  metaphors, and classical allusions. It also displays catalogs, speeches, and the Council of war. The setting of the epic is very fast,  i.e. cosmic. It includes Heaven,  Earth, and Hell.

Milton deserves appreciation for creating an epic that excels in classical epics in its sublimity of the theme and style,  in universality,  in human interest in its enduring appeal,  in its moral tone, and whatnot. Milton triumphs over all the poets both modern and ancient in the technique of Writing epic.


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