[Milton-L] Need an Epic stand for "The Good" was Re: Free Will...

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Thu Jul 27 13:08:58 EDT 2006

Jeffrey Wilson wrote:
> where I stand, if _Paradise Lost_ was intended to answer the
> theodical question - i.e. given God's omniscience, omnipotence, and
> moral perfection, where does evil come from and why? - then the poem
> is a failure. 

I would not accept this premise. It is an obvious fact of reader-history
that PL is a success, and no interpretation of the poem, nor no judgment
of the acceptability of the poem's 'message' (or "vision") can untrue
that fact of reader preference.

For example, I do not find the following propositions incoherent or

1. The purpose of Pound's Cantos (even before he became a fascist) was
to justify a fascist view of human history and struggle.

2. All versions of fascism are detestable.

3. The Cantos is the greatest poem in English since PL.

In a rather silly article called "Milton on Women..." Barbara Lewalski
argued that the great poets "are gloriously and supremely right about
the most essential things, presenting us with a vision of the human
condition which astonishes by its profundity." Even the phrase "human
condition" is subject to debate (Hannah Arendt using it to replace the
concept of "human nature," which she rejects). And to claim that any
poem or collection of poems is "supremely right about the most essential
things" is tantamount to claiming that the critic who makes the claim is
supremely right about what the "most essential things" are.

Probably -- only probably because I lack an omniscient grasp of all the
whole of world literature -- most poems that would be called great by
any large body of readers do reflect what some fairly large body of
humans have thought was important. And a monument to dead ideas is a
monument nonetheless, not to be sneered at.


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