Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Epic Similes in 'Paradise Lost'


Epic simile is an extended simile, in some cases running to fifteen or twenty lines, in which the comparisons made, are elaborated in considerable detail. It is a common feature of epic poetry, but is found in other kinds as well.

In an epic poem similes are used for the purpose of illustration, but they serve also to decorate the epic theme or character.

Epic similes are also given the name of Homeric similes because Homer elaborated his similes in such a way that a particular kind of dignity and beauty was created in his poetry and since then it became the tradition of epic poetry.

Milton has brought in a number of such similes in the Book I of ‘Paradise Lost’.

In the first simile he compares the huge form of Satan sprawling on the lake of fire to the fabled sea-beast called Leviathan. It was a kind of big whale of such great size that when it came to the surface, it occupied many miles and gave the impression of an island in mid-ocean. In this simile though the dominant impression is size but the other impressions are also produced. The Leviathan is dangerous and tricky so is Satan.

The second epic simile is where he compares the shield of Satan to the appearance of the moon as it was observed by Galileo through his newly invented telescope. Although this is an anachronism in one sense, it helps us to form some idea of the magnificence of Satan’s shield.

With a view to give us an idea of the countless hosts of fallen angels, Milton compares their dense masses to the autumnal leaves in Vallambrosa in Italy.  In autumn all deciduous trees shed their leaves and the forest would be thickly carpeted with them. This is not so much an epic simile as a complete parallelism.

Joseph Addison is of the view that

‘The resemblance does not, perhaps, last above a line or two, but the poet runs on with the hint until he has raised out of it some glorious image or sentiment, proper to inflame the mind of the reader, and to give it that sublime kind of entertainment which is suitable to the nature of a heroic poem.’      

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