epic


Beowulf was perhaps composed during the 9th century A. D. by someone whose name is not known. It is the earliest and the greatest epic or heroic poem.

Short Summary of Beowulf:

This epic poem describes the hero Beowulf marching with his fourteen warriors and arrive at the place of Heorot where he finds that he king of Heorot Hrothgar terrified by a monster called Grendel. Beowulf manages to kill Grendel and his monster-mother at his abode beneath a lake. After that he returns to his country and becomes the king there and rules his kingdom for fifty years. He dies of the wounds he got once during the combat fought with a dragon.

The Specialty of the Poem:

This epic poem has the magnificent ending. It describes the selfless heroism of Beowulf, anguish of his people, the memorial knoll on the low cliff, which would route every returning mariner to guide a straight course to harbor in the memory of his dead hero.

Myth and Meaning of the Poem:

The time when this poem Beowulf composed, there existed several northern legends of Beowa, a half-divine hero, and the monster called Grendel. Some consider the later as a bear and some interpret it as the malaria of the marsh lands.

Symbolic Interpretation:

As for the symbolic interpretation, some consider these myths as Beowulf’s successive fights with the three dragons as: 1. the overcoming of the threat of the sea, which was trodden by the dykes, 2. the conquering of the sea by sailing upon it, 3. the conflict with the hostile forces of nature defeated by man’s will and perseverance.

Really speaking, Beowulf is the epic portraying the picture of a brave man’s death.

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It is undoubtedly a matter of discussion whether Satan is really the hero of the epic or not. Satan is at the centre of Milton’s Paradise Lost who dominates especially in Book I and II and in IV. He is the heroic figure in the first two books. He is still an Archangel though he is rotting in the hell. His character, his power his evil capacity must be exalted to show the epic greatness of the coming conflict, in order to rouse the sympathy in the reader and for redemption.

There comes a time in the life and character of Satan getting distorted. There is an instance where little of heroism remains in him when he takes the shape of toad to whisper in Eve’s ear, he was stirred up by the Spear of Ithuriel. At the close of the poem, Satan’s degradation is complete.

Truly speaking, man is really the heroic figure of the poem. It is all the truth if we consider together Paradise Lost where Man, though conquered, wins the readers’ sympathies and the coming of the Greater Man is foretold. Paradise Regained where the Divine Man triumphs. In the later part of the poem, Satan is not only vanquished ignominiously, but also appear before the reader a mean, shifty, paltry creature as contrasted with the haughty, desperate impersonation of evil of the earlier work.

The Puritans were God-fearing. It was a protest and reaction against the decadent Spirit of the Renaissance. Puritanism is the potent force in Milton’s work. The makes use of the controversial topics such as the universality of Divine Providence, the reality of evil, the hope of redemption from evil, and the unity of human race.

Because of the influence of Renaissance, the character of Satan-like Faustus-was glorified by Milton which was done at the cost of God, the other character in the epic. Satan is the product of Milton’s love of enterprise and adventure. Whereas, Spenser’s Faerie Queene has Knight of the Red Cross, Satan is a Knight of Staygian Darkness who has all attributes of knightliness which gleamed in the romances and the epics of the Renaissance.

Milton’s Paradise Lost was published in 1667. From his earliest youth, Milton had determined to write a great epic. At first, the story of King Arthur came into his mind. But with the deepening of his religious view, he turned from this secular theme to the Biblical narrative of the fall of man.

This epic poem Paradise Lost may be roughly divided into three parts:

The first part deals with rebellion of the angels and their strife with God.
The second part depicts the creation of mankind.
The third part concerns with the plot of Satan against man.

The main interest of Paradise Lost is centered in Satan. It is an epic of art based upon the classical conventions. The vast and vague dimensions of the poet’s universe, in which supernatural beings pass between Earth and Heaven, between Chaos and Hell, all these baffle the imagination. Above all, the figure of Satan is the dominating character. His character is conceived magnificently.

The Theme of the poem:

The theme of Paradise Lost as an epic poem holds universal human interest. The poem concerns itself with the fortunes not of an empire but of the whole human race. It concerns with the event of plucking the apple in the history of the race which has molded all its destinies.

The scene of the action is universal space.
The time represented is Eternity.
The characters are God and his creatures.

The poem comes in twelve books:

Book I:
It deals with the Fall of Man; the disobedience of Adam and Eve which became the cause for their exile from the carefree Garden of Eden and ultimately brought death and suffering in the world. It also depicts the Satan’s defeated armies.

Book II: It depicts the fallen angels making plot against God. They decide to attack God indirectly. Satan makes his journey through space.

Book III: Satan continues his voyage and lands on Mount Niphates.

Book IV: The description of Garden of Eden. Satan comes to know that God has forbidden Adam and Even to eat the apple from the Tree of knowledge. Satan therefore, decides to tempt Eve in her dream to disobey God’s warning.

Book V to VIII: Eve reveals her dream to Adam. God foresees the trouble and so sends Raphael to prevent them from disobeying God. Raphael talks about a new World of human beings and the structure of the universe.

Book IX: Satan takes the form of serpent and tempts Eve to eat the apple. Eve and Adam eventually both fall in the trap of Satan and disobey God. They become aware of the sexuality and being ashamed of it, they quarrel with each other.

Book X: God send his Son to justify Adam and Eve and save them from the destruction. Sin and Death both enter in the Garden. Satan returns to Hell to rejoice his victory.

Book XI and XII: The Son persuades God not to destroy Adam and Eve. God therefore decides to drive them out from the Eden and this task is assigned to Michael. Michael makes both of them realize God’s vision and intention, and the world of mankind. They are told to lead their life in the imperfect world until the second coming of the Son of God.