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Epic Document Transcript

  • 1. Epic ConventionsJust as we expect the American Western movie story to have certain elements-- the saloon scene, the cardgame, the bad girl with a heart of gold, the solitary hero, the showdown gun fight in the street, the chasescene, and so on--just so were the ancient Greek stories put together with certain conventions, or"expectations."Some EPIC CONVENTIONS are as follows:1. The story begins in medias res. In Medias Res is Latin for "it begins in the middle of things" and thenhas flashbacks to explain action leading up to that point. In THE ILIAD, for example, the story beginsafter the war between the combined forces of Greece and the forces of the walled city of Troy and theirallies has been in progress for nearly ten years.2. The story begins with an invocation (prayer) to a god or gods. The poet, who in those days would havebeen reciting the epic to an audience, say, at a banquet, began by calling for a blessing--for a god or godsto attend this effort of his. They probably literally believed that the called upon god or muse came intothem and, therefore, that it was not the poet who recited, but the god in the poets body. Poets, then, wereconsidered very sacred, for they could call down a god and have the god in them, at least temporarily. Wecontinue to have remnants of this belief, of course. We often think of poets or of any true artist as beingdifferent or touched by a special hand. In the case of the beginning of THE ILIAD, the poet sayssomething like"Sing, goddess of epic poetry, the story of the anger of Achilles."3. The story begins with a statement of theme. Always, because these poems are so long and so complex,although the basic stories would have been familiar to the audiences, the poet would begin withannouncing what the recitation was to be about. That way, everyone could focus and appreciate, not somuch WHAT was being said, but the WAY THAT IT WAS PRESENTED. We are no stranger to thatconcept: we go to concerts where we may already know all of the songs. So, we go to hear thepresentation of the songs, which add to our concepts of the meaning and significance of those songs.4. The story has many epithets. These epithets are renamings of the characters, gods, or things by stockphrases. An example is the re-naming of Agamemnon and Menelaus as "Atreus two sons" or "the twineagles." It is important for us to notice these epithets, first, because they add description, and second,because we get confused about who is doing what if do not recognize the epithets as well as the names.5. The story uses catalogues of things and characters; there are many lists, both long and short. Just as theOld Testament has catalogues of genealogies--you remember all those begets--just so do ancient epics
  • 2. keep track of the lists of history. In one book of THE ILIAD, for example, there is a list of the ships thatsailed from Greece to Troy.6. There are long and formal speeches by many characters. You will not have any trouble spotting these.Sometimes they happen in the heat of battle and other seemingly inappropriate times, but more often theyoccur at various kinds of meetings, as in an assembly of the chieftains.7. Gods intervene in the affairs of human beings in these stories. For example, in Book I of THE ILIAD,Achilles, getting very angry at Agamemnon, starts to pull out his dagger to kill him. Suddenly, a goddessrushes to the side of Achilles (Of course, no one else present can see her. I am not making this up.) Towarn him not to be so hasty.8. Epics frequently have epic digressions. These are passages that do not further the action of the storybecause they are asides or because they are repetitions. Remember that these recitations did not have TVreplay shots. The audience had to remember a vast amount of material, so redundancy or reminding themof background material would have been helpful to them.9. The settings of these stories are vast. The known world was used, from the top of the --mountains to thehomes of the gods to whatever islands the culture knew of.10. The stories use the epic simile. An epic simile is a long comparison of two things that are in differentclasses. They make vivid an image and describes or clarifies. An example can be found in the longcomparison of Paris Alexander, a Trojan prince, to a fine horse that has been manger fed a long time in astable. When released to pasture, it races out with quick, sure strides, neck arched, knees high, maneflowing, proud it its beauty and strength , to race to drink from a clear flowing stream. So Paris ran tobattle.11. The heroes embody the values of their civilization. The physical strength and stamina of Achilles, forexample, is made much of. The lifting of the latch of the door of his stockade requires the strength ofthree soldiers, but Achilles lifts it with one hand. His spear, thrown so lightly, is eighteen feet long. He isa power machine. Today, we all know, a tiny female can have more killing power than Achilles everdreamed of. We have created compensations--weapons.Note: Another well-known example of a culture personifying or creating a metaphor to represent thevalues of that culture is in the Old Testament. It is a literature that was being recorded about the sametime that Homer was weaving his stories. In the Old Testament, JOB was depicted as sick in body, butstrong in spirit--a value of the Hebrew civilization.
  • 3. A list of epic conventions might look something like this:Long Narrative Poem Religious ObservancesHero of High Position/Characters of High Lives of the GodsPosition Prophecy/OmensNationally or Historically Important Episodes Descent into UnderworldEvents and Persons of Legendary Significance Elevated and Majestic Language and ImageryA Vast Setting–a Nation or the World Oral or Literary FormulationDeeds of Valor and Courage Begins in the Middle, In Medias ResA World Changing Event Epic QuestionGod and Demigods (Supernatural Forces) Wrath or GuileThe Arming of the Warrior/Hero InvocationsAncestry of Men and Inanimate Objects Formal Speeches and Boasts (and Flyting)Allusions to Stories, Science, History, orCultural Beliefs Epic CatalogsTopical Digressions Dark Humor; Wry WitEpic SimileEpic Epithet or Kennings
  • 4. "Milton used and recreated, in strongly functional ways the standardconventions of the epic." Discuss and illustrate from Paradise Lost Book-I. A Christian Epic: In Paradise Lost Milton has created a Christian epic on classical lines. As anepic, it involves the basic conventions of the classical epic. But these conventions and devices aregiven new meaning by Milton within the scope of Christian theology.As such the supernatural machinery, the roll-call and council of leaders, the plunge into the middle ofthe subject, and the unfolding of the future events are epic devices not just used by Milton; thesedevices are recreated in a functional way – to give point or illustrate and elaborate the Christiantheme. The revolt of the angels, thus, has echoes of the wars of giants and the Titans of classicalmythology. The entirety of action and vastness of scope demanded by classical epic convention isfulfilled by Paradise Lost - it encompasses the universe as conceived by Christian theology. Its action“contrived in Hell, executed upon Earth, and punished in Heaven.” How epic convention are adapted: Milton begins with the classical convention of invocation tothe Muse. But the appeal, though classical in form, is really addressed to the Holy Spirit for divineinspiration. Milton’s Muse does not dwell on Mount Olympus. The significance of the epic conventionhere lies in Milton’s choice of the power to be addressed. Indeed, he uses the classical poetic device tospeak for the superiority of the Heavenly. Muse, for she will inspire him to poetic heights greater than the Aonian Mount which representsclassical poetry. Milton’s Muse inspired Moses on Sinai and on Oreb; thus, Milton associates himselfwith Moses as a shepherd-prophet-poet. Furthermore, the invocation in Milton’s case is not mereform: it is the expression of an actual feeling in Milton that he was divinely inspired in his task ofjustifying the ways of God to men. Milton goes beyond invoking the Heavenly Muse; he emphasisesthe creative aspect of his Muse. After the invocation comes the statement of the epic’s subject in trueclassical style. Subtle use of similes: A prominent convention of the classical epic is the use of similes,especially the elaborate and extended type. There is no dearth of similes – simple and “long tailed”in Paradise LostBook I. But the similes convey more than mere comparison; they reinforce Milton’sreligious intention. The first epic simile which compares Satan’s huge bulk with “Leviathan” goes intoseven lines. On the superficial level, it conveys the sense of great size; but it conveys also theimpression of trickery, falseness of appearance, the lack of caution on the part of man when close todanger. These impression are associated with Satan-they will be elaborated later in the epic when Eveis deceived by the serpent just as the unwary sailor may be deceived by Leviathan. A series of similes are employed by Milton to indicate the huge number of Satan’s followers. Thefallen angels lie “thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks in Vallombrosa”. The term” autumnalleaves conveys the diminished glory of the angels. The simile produces the effect of the confusion inwhich they lie. Next, they are compared to masses of seaweed floating on the Red Sea; again thesimile conveys the sense of confusion. When they are compared to the locusts called up by Moses, notmerely is their vast numbers suggested, but also the evil and destruction associated with locusts. Thecomparison with the barbarians who decended upon and destroyed the ancient Roman civilizationreinforces the image of evil. The simile of the sun in eclipse once again suggests evil, for eclipses wereconsidered to portend disaster.
  • 5. Milton borrows some similes from classical sources and adapts them to his own use. Homer andVirgil often used comparisons of trees to indicate the stature or the fall of herties. Milton uses thestriking similes of forest oaks or mountains pines struck by lightning to convey the withered glory ofthe fallen angels. Another borrowed simile is that of the swarm of bees in spring time. Milton adapts itspecially to suit the situation of the fallen angels. It not only suggests the rustling murmur of a largecrowd, but also their having come to discuss “state affairs”. It is to be noticed that the simileemphasizes not the industry of the fallen angels, but rather the “mass-insect” quality. The long roll-call of the devils is another use of an epic convention. But Milton associates thedevils with pagan deities at once suggesting something hateful to the Puritan reader. The descriptionof Pandemonium as the golden “straw-built citadel” shows the impermanence of the gold from whichPandemonium has been built. By the end of Book-I, the fallen angels have been reduced to beingcompared with dwarfs and pygmies and faeryelves-all associated with evil and wickedness. Speeches of Satan are also modelled on epic conventions. But they have a hollow sound ofvainglory. Conclusion: In Paradise Lost familiar features of the epic such as war, perilous journeys,marvellous buildings, similes and allusions are to be found in abundance. But these are sotransformed that their significance and even their aesthetic appeal are new as C.M. Bowra remarks.The similes are often taken from the Orient, the Near and far East. As B.A. Wright points out, “forMilton and his contemporaries the East was the home of depotism, the scene of wordly pride, andambition, of barbaric luxury, cruelty and lust, of idolatry and dark-superstition.” Thus the epicconventions used by Milton often have ironic undertones. He has adapted them to his own purpose.
  • 6. What epic conventions does Milton follow in writing of his ‘ParadiseLost’? Elucidate. (P.U 2008) “Epic” is the name given to narrative poetry which deals, in dignified and elevated style, with some importantaction, usually heroic. (An epic is a narrative poem, of considerable length, of exalted style, celebrating heroicadventures, mythical or historical). The great examples of classical epics are the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer,which are unmatched in any other language.In Latin, the Aenied by the ancient poet, Virgil, is almost equally famous. The Iliad, a poem in twenty-four books, hasas its central theme the wrath of Achilles. The Odyssey, also a poem in twenty-four books, deals with the adventuresof Odysseus. Aeneid is a poem in twelve books: it is a national epic, designed to celebrate the origin and growth ofthe Roman empire, the ground-work of the poem being the legends connected with Aeneas. Paradise Lost can properly be classed among epic poems. It is undoubtedly one of the highest efforts of poeticalgenius and, in one great characteristic, majesty and sublimity, it is fully equal to any known epic poem, ancient ormodern. It has the Graeco-Roman form of the epic which follows ancient models. Its aspect, its divisions, and its styleare those of the Iliad or the Aeneid. It depicts a unique event, which is the fall of man. The subject is derived from theOld Testament and it is astonishing how, from the few hints given in the scripture, Milton was able to raise socomplete and regular a structure. The subject is one for which Milton alone was fitted and, in the conduct of it, he hasshown a stretch both of imagination and invention, which is perfectly wonderful. Besides, the nature of this theme issuch as to give the poem a universal character. Following the classical precedent of Homer and Virgil, Milton indicates the theme of his poem at the very outset:Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruitOf that forbidden Tree, whose mortal tasteBrought death into the world, and all our woe,With loss of Eden,…..The subject thus is the transgression committed by Adam and Eve in eating the fruit of the forbidden tree and theirsubsequent expulsion from Paradise. Curiously enough, Milton makes no mention in his opening statement of Satan’sfirst disobedience, of the generation of Sin and Death, or of Hell’s infernal plot, all of which occupy the first threeBooks. The characters in a classical or traditional epic are generally portrayed as men of heroic proportions, becauseonly such characters can stir our imagination and rouse our sympathies. Not only the hero, but also his associates, areexpected to show heroic powers and capacities. In Book I Satan is undoubtedly cast in a heroic mould. His vastLeviathan-like dimensions, his huge shield and spear, his supreme self-confidence and the courage never to yield orsubmit, his unwavering resolve, his sympathy for his fallen comrades are all heroic qualities. (That does not, ofcourse, entitle him to be called the hero of Paradise Lost or even of Book I). Then there are the epic or Homeric similes of which we have quite a number in Book I. Milton follows thepractice of Homer, Virgil, Statius, Lucan, Spenser, Tasso, and others in introducing similes of this kind, and evenborrows in some cases similes already employed by his epic predecessors. Where he is original in employing a simile,the materials of his comparison may be derived from a simple observation of Nature, from myth and legend, fromhistory, from travel, etc. Superficially the essence of the long-tailed or epic simile is that it develops a comparison atsuch a length that it seems to become ultimately almost independent of its point of departure. If this impression of anindependent, self-contained picture were not given, the device would be pointless. At the same time, at the heart orcentre of the simile there must be some point of exact resemblance to the first term of the comparison. The first epicsimile employed by Milton in Book I is the comparison of Satan’s huge bulk with the sea-beast, Leviathan. Thiscomparison, elaborated in seven lines, while dominantly concerned with size, produces also other impressions such astrickery, the falseness of appearances, the lack of caution on the part of man when close to danger, all of which areassociated with Satan and will be amplified later in Paradise Lost. (Subsequently Eve is deceived by the Serpent, evenas a sailor might be deceived by Leviathan).
  • 7. The use of epic similes and invocations has been objected to by some critics on the grounds of strict relevance.But, in reply to this, it may be pointed out that though the invocations and some of the similes have a very limitedrelevance, none of them seems undesirable or unwanted. Dr. Johnson regarded the invocations as superfluities but healso said: “Superfluities so beautiful who would take away?” The same defence can be put forward in the case ofsimiles. Almost all of these similes are so rich and so highly imaginative that one cannot accept the criticismsometimes made of them, namely that, though a traditional part of the epic, they are part of a poor tradition. Finally, Milton followed the epic convention of writing his poem in a style that is truly elevated. In speaking ofthe style of Paradise Lost, it is difficult to use temperate language. Paradise Lost is a “divine” epic. Accordingly Miltonstrove for the untrammelled expression of the imaginative development of his inspiration, and therefore rejected “thetroublesome and modern bondage of riming”. And Milton used blank verse in a manner that lent distinction to thisform of writing. “No one,” says a critic, “has ever attuned our language to such mighty harmonies as Milton.” Thechief characteristic of Paradise Lost may be summed up in the word “sublimity”. The poet’s imagination is lofty, andhis style grand, majestic, and sonorous. The meaning of the words, the syntax, the division of sentences, and the useof ablative absolute, constantly remind the scholarly reader of classical authors. The periodic style and the unrhymedline with its beauty dependent only on its cadence and its inversions, have a severe solemnity, an unbending energy.As examples of Milton’s grand style, one may refer to the following passages in Book I: (1) the opening sentence whichis an example of a “suspended” passage;(2) the first sentence of Satan’s first speech to Beelzebub, also an example of “suspension”; (3) Satan’s speech onsurveying the infernal regions; and (4) the description of Satan’s shield and spear. Dryden, in spite of his sense of Milton’s greatness, declared that Paradise Lost was no “true epic”. He said that thepoem did not have war as its chief subject and was therefore not heroic enough, that it ended unhappily while a trueepic had a happy ending, and that, unlike the traditional epics, it had only two human characters, the others being“heavenly machines”. Addison made a suitable reply to these objections but even he did not claim that Milton’s poemwas wholly regular. In fact Addison pointed out some defects in the poem. The fable, according to him, is defective,being that of tragedy rather than of epic. Some of the incidents have not “probability enough for an epic poem.” Thedigressions and the allusions of heathen fables in a Christian poem “sin against the canon of unity”. To other criticseven these reservations were unacceptable. They said that Milton was not to be judged by the neo-classical code. Hehad invented a new type of poem, the divine epic, superior to anything in antiquity.
  • 8. Eight Epic Conventions inParadise Lost1. Epic poems tell an already well-known story, like when your roommate tells you how hard heboned his Trinidadian boyfriend last night even though said boyfriend already told you about it through atext message as soon as you woke up that morning, but its equally as gay. Here, Milton tells the story ofAdam and Eve, and anyone who has been to Sunday school for more than two weeks in a row knows howthis story is going to end. Plus, as if the story wasn’t well known enough, he titles the poem PARADISEFUCKING LOST! Hey, just in case you were wondering what’s gonna happen to the paradise thesecharacters have been given, Milton is right here to make sure you don’t. It’s as if he wants to sap anypossible enjoyment or intrigue out of the poem as soon as possible. This convention basically equates totitling a movie something like Bruce Willis is a Ghost, The Kid Who Plays Puck Is Gonna Shoot HimselfIn The Head, or Juno and Bleaker Lie in Bed and Cry Like Bitches.2. Epic poems always begin by invoking a muse. Milton invokes his muse in no less than 17,000words. Traditionally, muses were thought to be female, so naturally the poet of the epic poem has toshower the muse in adoration, compliments, and very clear instructions on the task at hand before thebitch will do her job. Said adornment typically takes up at least 16,997 of the 17,000 allowed. When itcomes to epic poems, remember; no matter how many pages you’ve read, if the poet hasn’t said the word“muse” yet, the poem hasn’t actually begun. It is well-documented that many lesser-known epics areentirely made up of flattering, muse-invoking wankery.3. Epic poems explain the purpose of their existence early on. This is seen as an earlypredecessor to the hipster college douche who’s minoring in film and can’t stop talking about howsymbolic, satirical, and (brace for impact) epic their eleven-minute long midterm project is. They talkabout it so much and so often, that you actually want to believe their tragic story about a whore who fucksa guy and then cries when she sees a cross is going to, somehow, topple capitalism, or homophobia, orsome shit. Equally ambitious and equally pointless, Milton seeks to use Paradise Lost to “justify the waysof God to man.” Well, doesn’t someone think very highly of his iambic pentameter? Someone should’vetold Milton that God Himself already tried to use literature to justify his ways to man; it was called thebible and didn’t do a great job. Since the bible never invoked a muse, it is hard to tell exactly which epicwork of literature more epically fails at this pursuit.4. Epic poems typically contain some type of celestial conflict, which is, by far, the coolestsounding part of epic poetry. Although the term goes out of its ways to sound really uninteresting, celestialconflict can be alternatively referred to as Super Powerful Gods Bringing War On Other Super PowerfulGods. Remember when you were a kid and you used to argue about whether or not Spiderman can beat upBatman (he can’t)? Well, congrats; you were an epic poet. How awesome of an epic poem would ParadiseLost be if it were all about Satan’s pride-driven war against heaven, demons versus angels, Ho-Oh versusLugia? Well, as is the case with Milton, a perfect opportunity to create interest is wasted, all thanks to #5.5. Epic poems begin in media res. This means they start in the middle of the action, or in the caseof Paradise Lost, after all the interesting things (see: #4) have already happened! Instead of explodingmagic bombs and flaming swords OF DOOM, we get to hear Satan whining over his loss like you used todo when the older kids stole your Tonka Trunks (and you call yourself an epic poet).6. Epic poems introduce a shit ton of unnecessary characters somewhere towards thebeginning of the story. In the case of Milton, we get a bunch of Satan’s generals coming up with reallystupid plans for getting back at God, none of which include any type of bloody, awesome, violentcampaigns to try and win back the throne (or maybe they did; I’m not sure exactly when Milton stoppedinvoking the muse so my comprehension of the story is a little weak). Modern day versions of thisconvention can be found in the phone book and in the song “Mambo #5.”7. Epic poems feature an epic hero. Milton’s epic hero is Satan. Srsly. His achilles heel is hisambition, which causes him to aim too high and end up falling on his face, kind of like a certain epic poet Iknow who tried to justify the ways of God to man, but just ended up giving lazy college students a tale that
  • 9. would justify said laziness, if they weren’t too lazy to read it. All that irony provides a good transition into#8.8. Epic poems contain a certain level of dramatic irony. In Paradise Lost, once Milton hasfinished invoking the muse, explaining how epic his epic poem is going to be, and listing the name ofevery two-bit demon in hell, we eventually get into the story of Adam and Eve being tempted by Satan.The dramatic irony here is that the audience (the lucky reader) knows that a tempter is in the garden, butthe characters do not. Well, God knows he’s there, but Adam and Eve don’t. Actually, Adam knows he’sthere too, but they don’t tell Eve because… I really have no clue why they don’t tell her. Hey Milton,instead of trying to justify the ways of God to man, can you take a second and justify the ways of Adam toEve? Just seems like more annoying anti-feminism from the epic poets, who somehow find it OK portrayEve as some nagging bimbo who is never told there is a tempter in the garden even though her husbandand her deity know there is, and yet is somehow totally to blame for the fall of mankind. I’m no feministby any stretch of the imagination (I use The Awakening as a placemat when my bitch makes the spaghettitoo watery), but even I can’t back this one up.
  • 10. 7 termsTerms DefinitionsEpic Hero Lucifer, Achilles heel was ambitionmedia res PL begins after the War in Heaven, which will be described in later books.catalogues For example, when he catalogs the prominent devils in Hell and explains the various names they are known by and which cults worshipped them, he makes devils of many gods whom the Greeks, Ammonites, and other ancient peoples worshipped. In other words, the great gods of the classical world have become—according to Milton—fallen angels. His poem purports to tell of these gods original natures, before they infected humankind in the form of false gods. Through such comparisons with the classical epic poems, Milton is quick to demonstrate that the scope of his epic poem is much greater than those of the classical poets, and that his worldview and inspiration is more fundamentally true and all-encompassing than theirs.Invocation to Miltons speaker invokes the muse, a mystical source of poetic inspiration, to singthe muse about these subjects through him, but he makes it clear that he refers to a different muse from the muses who traditionally inspired classical poets by specifying that his muse inspired Moses to receive the Ten Commandments and write Genesis. Miltons muse is the Holy Spirit, Miltons speaker announces that he wants to be inspired with this sacred knowledge because he wants to show his fellow man that the fall of humankind into sin and death was part of Gods greater plan, and that Gods plan is justified.divine Raphael comes down to Paradise; his appearance described; his coming discernedintervention by Adam afar off, sitting at the door of his bower. He goes out to meet him, brings him to his lodge, entertains him with the choicest fruits of Paradise got together by Eve; their discourse at table. Raphael performs his message, minds Adam of his state and of his enemy; relates, at Adams request, who that enemy is, and how he came to be so, beginning from his first revolt in heaven, and the occasion thereof; how he drew his legions after him to the parts of the north, and there incited them to rebel with him, persuading all but only Abdiel, a seraph, who in argument dissuades and opposes him, then forsakes him.
  • 11. Journey to the the poem starts off when Lucifer is in hell and starts to gather his angels for theunderworld battle.epic similies 192-208 Satan is huge, long, snakelike. Compared to mythological and ancient Biblical creatures, Typhon and Leviathan. Yet Satan lies chained on burning lake under Gods control.