Milton and Scriptural Tradition: The Bible into Poetry

By James H. Sims; Leland Ryken | Go to book overview

Paradise Lost and Its Biblical Epic Models

Leland Ryken

This essay is an attempt to bring together two significant themes of recent Milton criticism. One is the growing consensus that Milton's poetic forms or genres are modeled on the literary forms of the Bible. Annotators of Milton's poetry have for more than two centuries shown that Milton used the Bible as a source of imagery, allusions, and doctrine. From that accurate but too simple view of the relationship between Milton's poetry and the Bible, criticism moved toward an awareness of how specific passages or stylistic effects in Milton's poetry are indebted to the Bible.1

But it remained for recent criticism to suggest the extent to which Milton (a) looked upon the Bible as a model for literary form and (b) based his own poetic genres on the Bible. The result is a critical climate in which it has become acceptable to say that Milton "looks back for his aesthetic not to Homer and Vergil

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1
The definitive and most comprehensive work in this category continues to be James H. Sims The Bible in Milton's Epics ( Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1962). Other notable examples of criticism in this vein include Harold Fisch , "Hebraic Style and Motifs in Paradise Lost," in Language and Style in Milton, ed. Ronald D. Emma and John T. Shawcross ( New York: Frederick Ungar, 1967), pp. 30-64; Kitty Cohen, The Throne and the Chariot: Studies in Milton's Hebraism ( The Hague: Mouton, 1975); Emory Elliott, "Milton's Biblical Style in Paradise Regained," Milton Studies VI, ed. James D. Simmonds ( Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1975), pp. 227-41; John N. Wall Jr., "The Contrarious Hand of God: Samson Agonistes and the Biblical Lament," in Milton Studies XII, ed. James D. Simmonds ( Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1979), pp. 117-39.

For a general overview of the topic of Milton's indebtedness to the Bible, one should consult Sims "Milton and the Bible" in A Milton Encyclopedia, ed. William B. Hunter (Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1978), 1:142-63.

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