Abstract and Keywords
From patristic times until the seventeenth century, more than a hundred mostly forgotten biblical poems in several languages made some claim to epic status. Milton’s Paradise Lost has not only endured but has become a classic of western literature. This chapter asks why, especially since this poem emerged in a Protestant culture marked by great anxiety about altering or adding to the biblical text. Milton’s project succeeded in part because he treated the biblical text with freedom, inventing scenes with no biblical basis and departing readily from orthodox understandings of texts and doctrines. Milton drew readily on the scriptures in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and the Geneva and KJB English translations, but gave priority to the indwelling illumination of the Spirit of God over the literal biblical text. Lewalski examines how this is manifested in his epic.
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