Does Milton attempt to describe the indescribable? To what extent does he succeed?
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Does Milton attempt to describe the indescribable? To what extent does he succeed? Milton uses numerous literary devices in his attempt to describe the apparantly undescribable in Paradise Lost. The beginning of Paradise Lost is similar in gravity and seriousness to the book from which Milton takes much of his story: the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. This can be construed by the reader to be almost a statement of intent from Milton, who it appears is likening Paradise Lost to the Holy Bible. He seemingly seeks to elevate himself above other epics as he attempts to 'assert eternal providence, and justify the ways of God to men.' From the very outset, this appears to be a rather fanciful and audacious task, and it is dubious as to whether any mortal is able to justify such a thing. The first two sentences, or twenty-six lines, of Paradise Lost are extremely compressed, containing a great deal of information about Milton's reasons for writing his epic, his subject matter, and his attitudes toward his subject.
Then, at greater length, he compares Satan to a Leviathan, or giant sea creature, so huge that sailors mistake it for an island and fix their anchor to it. In other epics, these sorts of similes establish the great size or strength of characters, and on the surface these similes seem to do the same thing. At the same time, however, these similes have an unsettling effect, for they remind us that we really do not know Satan's true size. No one knows how big the mythical Titans were, because they were defeated before the age of man. The image of a Leviathan confuses, too, for the Leviathan's size generates deception and confusion. Whatever Satan's true size, he is never again likened to such enormous objects. He assumes many shapes, and Milton compares him to numerous creatures, but the size of these creatures steadily diminishes, reflecting the steady diminishment of Satan's moral stature. The similes used to describe Satan also make us aware that we do not know the size of anything in Hell-not the burning lake, the hill, Pandemonium, or the fallen angels themselves.
Milton refers to numerous exotic and remote places for the reader, such as 'Abarim' and 'Hesebon', and this contributes to the remote and distant picture of hell that he seeks to paint. The poem's realism is that of a myth, and its credibility dependent on the outlines of Christian belief, rather than specific historical details. The entire concern or major theme of Paradise Lost is to refute predestination and justify the freedom of will. However Satan is portrayed as an almost romantic, recognizable character with whom we have shared every twist and turn his thinking takes throughout his physical and mental journey thus far. Satan can easily be perceived as the bold colonist, not lacking the courage of his convictions, be it at the expense of being exiled from the realms of heaven. With the strength of classical precedents, the introduction to Paradise Lost refracts a seemingly incomprehensible description of fantastic proportions, utilising allusive language, epic similies, literary devices such as paradox, emotive language and vivid descriptions to apparantly describe the indescribable, be it the message of god, or the extent of torment in the vaults of hell.
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