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Essay on John Milton’s Paradise Lost – Defense for the Allegory of Sin and Death

Defense for the Allegory of Sin and Death in Paradise Lost

Milton claims his epic poem Paradise Lost exceeds the work of his accomplished predecessors. He argues that he tackles the most difficult task of recounting the history of not just one hero, but the entire human race. However, he does not appear to follow the conventional rules of an epic when he introduces an allegory into Paradise Lost through his portrayal of Sin and Death in Book II. Some readers denounce his work for this inconsistency, but others justify his action and uncover extremely important symbolism from this “forbidden” literal device.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines an epic “a long narrative poem in elevated style recounting the deeds of a legendary or historical hero” (“epic,” def. 1) and allegory as “the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence” (“allegory,” def. 1). Based on these definitions, it is unclear whether allegories fit into a true epic. From one perspective, such extended symbolism is not appropriate because it relies on “fictional figures” whereas an epic is based on a “historical hero”. For this reason, some readers may dislike Milton’s extended symbolism of Sin and Death since it violates the traditional form of an epic. However From another point of view, an allegory is an acceptable literary component to an epic because it is considered an element of “elevated style”. Therefore, other readers may see nothing wrong with Milton’s literary decision.

Milton’s poetic license entitles him to write as he pleases and therefore justifies his adaptation of an allegory into his epic. It is clearly apparent that Milton recognizes this privilege when…

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…ilton relies heavily on the Bible for much of his information.

With Milton’s timeframe and era for writing Paradise Lost in mind, we can justify his choice to incorporate an allegory into his epic. Allegories present meanings on two levels, one literal and the other hidden, which often expresses a moral or idea produced by the author. With this in mind, the allegory is key to understanding many parts of Paradise lots since Milton addresses so many issues in this one scene. Within the allegory alone, we discover extensive symbolism and wonder if there are more details to be uncovered each time we study the epic. Milton effectively elicits his readers’ attention by raising such controversy and holds our fascination with his intriguing hidden ideas, meanings, and symbolic relationships.

Works Cited

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. New York: W.W. Norton, 1993.

Confessions in the Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Confessions in the Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Byblis and Myrrha, two of Ovid’s impassioned, transgressive heroines, confess incestuous passions. Byblis yearns for her brother, Caunus, and Myrrha lusts for her father, Cinyras. Mandelbaum translates these tales effectively, but sometimes a different translation by Crane brings new meaning to an argument. As Byblis and Myrrha realize the feelings at hand, they weigh the pros and cons of such emotions. Despite the appalling relationships in question, each young girl provides concrete support and speaks in such a way that provokes pity for her plight. Their paths of reasoning coincide, but Byblis starts where Myrrha’s ends, and visa versa; Myrrha begins where Byblis’ concludes.

The language used by Byblis and Myrrha arouses sympathy. Right away, Byblis exclaims, “What misery is mine!” to draw attention to her suffering (Mandelbaum 308). Later, she discusses her “grief” caused by the “evil fate” that makes Caunus her brother (308-9). Myrrha points out her “misfortune” in having not been born to those tribes that would allow her to fulfill her desires. Instead she is “forlorn- denied the very man for whom [she longs]” (339). In Crane’s translation, Myrrha considers herself “most depraved” (on-line). All of these revelations compel readers to feel sorry for the girls in their situations; they seem to be victims of their desires.

Byblis and Myrrha both denounce their passions. After Byblis awakes from dreaming intimately about her brother, she claims she would never want to see this scene in daylight (Mandelbaum 308). Later in her speech, she refers to her incestuous pursuit as a “forbidden course” and to her burning desires as “obscene, foul fires” (309). According to Cran…

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…irl’s speech draws further pity. Aside from all the similarities, each girl travels a different path in her mind. Readers feel more compassion for Myrrha and less for Byblis based on the paths they have followed. Ironically, Myrrha becomes the one who acts out her desires. As a result, she is metamorphosed into a Myrrh tree; in this form she will not contaminate the dead or the living with her foul actions. Regardless of Byblis’ drive to build a relationship with her brother, she is denied the passion she seeks. She grieves over her loss profusely, so she becomes a fountain, never-ending in its flow.

Works Cited

Mandelbaum, Allen, trans. The Metamorphoses of Ovid. By Ovid. San Diego: Harcourt Brace

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