ABSTRACT

To study epic tradition is to study not “influences” (which may serve to buttress preconceived notions) but rather the ways in which major poets modified the tradition. Such study can be a way into meaning, particularly in poems as complex as the Aeneid and Paradise Lost. In both poems, the epic strategy relies on modification in the catalogue and battle conventions. In Vergil's catalogue (Book VII), language and imagery embody the conflict which informs the whole poem, arma-virum. The battle scenes (IX, X) develop this conflict. On both the Latin and the Trojan side, strategy fails and bloodlust triumphs. Aeneas’ rampage (X) climaxes the ascendancy of power over justice (or fortitudo over sapientia). In Paradise Lost, in the catalogue and Mulciber passages of Book I, syntax and imagery develop the theme of specious identity; in II and IV, Milton exploits the potential of epic battle, then deliberately aborts the battle with modified “recognition scenes.” The War in Heaven develops the fortitudo-sapientia motif. But it is only in the love to which Michael firmly leads Adam's understanding (XII) that fortitudo and sapientia are reconciled.

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