Not Only is Paradise Lost, But It’s Inaccessible

PL06Maybe I’m over exaggerating with “inaccessible”, but reading Paradise Lost has its challenges:

  • Religion/Ideology barrier
  • Background in classics (mostly Greek/Roman mythology)
  • Elevated Language
  • Long-winded, never ending sentences

And that’s just to name a few. The thing is, I usually don’t have to deal with these barriers because I’m well equipped to face them. I am a practicing Roman Catholic, I love Greek/Roman mythology, I’ve gotten used to weird wordings and blank verse thanks to Shakespeare. This should be no different, right?

Wrong. Oh so very wrong.

The long-winded sentences certainly have something to do with it. I just can’t get over how a sentence can be 260 iambic feet long. That is a run-on sentence my good sir Milton.

And yet, I can’t say that about Milton because, for all of its superfluous extension, the sentences are beautifully written. EVERYTHING in this story is beautifully written. I have yet to read Virgil and Ovid and Homer, but I’m pretty sure Paradise Lost is some of the most beautiful epic poetry (or just poetry in general) that I have and will ever read.

And despite that, I’m going to blame Virgil and Ovid and Homer for how inaccessible Paradise Lost is to me. They made it that epic poetry demands elevated, twisted language. They made Milton want to write an epic that would put his name on the literary map. An epic that was originally going to also be based on Greek myth.

Except it wasn’t. It was based on the Bible, in the Book of Genesis–the beginning of everything.

I don’t see Paradise Lost as sacrilegious, same as I don’t see the Da Vinci Code as sacrilegious—but these two works are obviously not of the same caliber (sorry, Dan Brown).

It’s just that I can’t take anything seriously when Milton begins referencing Greek and Roman myth in (1) a religion that obviously does not view this as holy and (2) a setting where, theoretically, none of this has happened yet.

This is especially apparent with how Hades/Tartarus-like the description of Hell is. They both have the various rivers: Lethe, Styx, Phlegethon, Cocytus. This is Hell, the never ending inferno of dark flame—and it looks like the Greek underworld? If the garden of Eden or Heaven looks like the Isles of the Blest or Elysium, heads will roll.

At first it gave me hope: It made me think that Milton has a similar point of view to mine: that all religions are different interpretations of the same omnipotent force that we may or may not recognize as God. (Judaism, Christianity and Islam are so close together it makes the Crusades almost silly.) I see this especially in Book 7 when the Greek Muses are paralleled to the Holy Spirit.

But then Milton says that the Egyptian deities are actually the fallen angels misguiding the human race and my hope in that is dashed once again.

I guess Paradise Lost is just one of those books that Mark Twain calls a “classic”.

“Classic – a book which people praise and don’t read.” – Mark Twain


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