All epic poems contain some common features. Milton follows this outlinewith great precision and style. His poem uses the guidelines of an epic poem andelaborates upon them to make his poem one of the most popular epics written. Inhis poem, Milton uses the key points of an epic poem when he traditionallyinvokes a muse to speak through him, includes great deeds of valor, longspeeches, and a list of the protagonists Milton follows the tradition of epicpoetry when he asks a muse to speak through him. It is clear that for Milton itis the poet’s submission to the voice of his muse, to divine inspiration, whichultimately distinguishes the soaring creation of Paradise Lost from an insultingspeculation of what happens in the Garden of Eden.
Milton does not, however,present the hymn of a heavenly muse as his only defense against presuming toomuch. Through the book, he remains sensitive to the relationship between himselfas poet and his center of attention. While he insists on the honest intentionsof what he undertakes, he never neglects to expose the satanic aspect of hispoetic posture. In this way Milton differs a slightly from a traditional epic.
Instead of speaking through Milton, the muse is more of a second person thatinspires Milton. Never the less, Paradise Lost still follows the outline of acustomary epic poem. Another part of a traditional epic poem is that the heromust perform great deeds of valor to defeat the villain. Milton wants hisreaders to be forced to face the problem of Satan seeming invincible. Satan is,after all, an angel.
He is a mighty angel that is removed from Heaven. In orderfor us to see the power of God, it is necessary that Satan also be powerful. Itis important that Satan, a parody of God, is viewed as an eloquent, bold being;one that possesses superhuman strength, extraordinary martial prowess, andfortitude so that he can be a foil to show how great God is. In order for God tovanquish and control this awesome being, his characteristics must exceed thecharacteristics of Satan. Therefore, it emphasizes the great valor God possessesto successfully defeat Satan in their battle.
One of the last characteristicsthat this poem demonstrates that are typical of an epic poem is the long list ofthe protagonists that the plot involves accompanied by long speeches by the maincharacters. Milton dedicates a large portion of the first book of the series toa catalogue of the fallen angels. The numbers of angels that are listed are usedto give the reader the notion of being overwhelmed by the mass number ofvillains. He also provides extended formal speeches by the main characters. Itis on the basis of the eloquence and power of those speeches that much of thepersonality of the characters is shown.
This listing of villains and long,profound speeches verifies that this poem fits every description of an epicpoem. When Milton writes Paradise Lost he uses a general outline that willcategorize his poem as an epic poem. He elaborates on the generalcharacteristics of an epic poem including the relationship between the muse andhim. They are shown as two separate people with the muse as the higher being. Obviously, in spite of some adjustments and alterations, Milton undeniably usesclassical epic traits. Milton builds his epic out of views of the past and usesevery feature of epic poetry that can possibly be used.