Epic Simile in Paradise Lost

Ans. One of the conventions of the epic is the use of expanded similes, in which an event, object or person is compared extensively with something quite different. Milton uses epic similes to intensify the effect he wants to produce.

The first epic simile is the comparison of Satan with "Leviathan" which is expanded to seven lines. The effect is the impression not only of Satan's huge size, but also of the falseness of appearance, deception, and lack of caution on man's part when near danger. The words "beast" and "scaly" immediately evoke the qualities of evil. "This simile not only suggests the apocalyptics sea-monster and his illusory promise but the confusing giganticism of the evil world in flux.


The comparison of Satan's shield to the moon as seen through Galileo's telescope once again suggests the huge size not only of the weapon but also of the figure which holds it. The moon is not smooth; the shield of Satan, too, has patterns upon it. It brings to mind Homer's description of the shield of Achilles in the Iliad. The simile used for Satan's spear also emphasises his size.


Milton uses a series of similes for the fallen angels to suggest their vast numbers and the sense of confusion in which they lie and their lost glory. Thus they are first compared to autumnal leaves strewing the brooks. They have lost their freshness and their brightness. The comparisons with the forces of Pharaoh and with the locusts called up by Moses have appropriateness in the Christian theme's context. They suggest the association of the fallen angels with heathens" and destruction. The comparison of the fallen angels with barbarians once again emphasizes their destructive quality, as well as a sense of relentless advance. In the roll-call of the devils, Milton identifies them with pagan deities. The classical tales lose none of their seductive beauty in Milton's hand, but he uses them at the same time to suggest the hatefulness of the devils. The simile of Mulciber being thrown out of Heaven focusses in one memorable vision all the previous identifications of he fallen angels with the pagan deities. The angels are compared to bees to suggest the thickly swarming "mass-insect" quality of the angels. Finally they are reduced to being compared with dwarfs, faery-elves and pygmies. These comparisons serve to emphasise the fallen angels wickedness.

Milton's use of the epic similes is not decorative, but functional. Even as they add variety and human interest to the poem, they answer the demands of the narative. They are "picturings of the actions, ideas, and sentiments".


Download  important PDF notes on Paradise Lost Book 1


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