[Milton-L] Is Paradise Lost

Horace Jeffery Hodges jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
Wed Apr 15 14:34:52 EDT 2009

I can hazard a judgement even if -- to paraphrase Obama -- it's above my payscale.
I think Paradise Lost the greatest literary work in English, but I am at a loss to defend this opinion very well. I haven't developed my literary critical skills enough, nor have I read enough, to justify it.
I suspect that my opinion depends upon assumptions about poetry being the most difficult of the literary arts and epic poetry the most difficult sort of poem. Milton undertook an epic that would deal with the greatest of themes . . . and succeeded.
It's hard to see how anyone could undertake to surpass Milton except by writing an epic poem about the end of the story, i.e., Judgement Day.
A clever poet could then have God Himself pronounce a judgement in this difficult case -- presumably in favor of the clever poet.
Jeffery Hodges

--- On Wed, 4/15/09, Gregory Machacek <Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu> wrote:

From: Gregory Machacek <Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu>
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Is Paradise Lost
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Date: Wednesday, April 15, 2009, 10:12 AM

I'll put my point more pointedly, then.

Theoretically:  at what altitude does Parnassus plateau?   If judgment
between Milton and Steele is possible, why isn't judgment between Milton
and Shakespeare?

Miltonically:  Isn't Paradise Lost precisely about making very fine
distinctions between competing goods, about discriminating between good (or
seeming good) and the best?  Aren't we being non-Miltonic in the extreme to
decline to hone our evaluative tools to a fineness that will allow us to
make such judgments.

I'm responding to the *tone* of many of the comments I cited, the jocular
and easy presupposition that evaluation has no part in the enterprise of
literary criticism, is essentially impossible--

reveals more about the critic than the work.

Does it say more about me than about Paradise Lost that I judge Paradise
Lost the best work of literature in English?  No doubt it does.  To adapt
Jonson:  Judge that I may know thee.  Or decline to judge and I'll know
that about you.

Greg Machacek
Professor of English
Marist College

milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu wrote on 04/15/2009 09:48:19 AM:

> [image removed]
> Re: [Milton-L] Is Paradise Lost
> James Rovira
> to:
> John Milton Discussion List
> 04/15/2009 09:52 AM
> Sent by:
> milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
> Please respond to John Milton Discussion List
> In response to Professor Machacek's post, if we were talking about a
> comparison between Milton and Danielle Steele then conceptions of
> literary merit and perhaps even greatness might be meaningful.  But if
> we're talking about a comparison between Milton and Shakespeare I
> think we're asking for more finely honed evaluative tools than are
> humanly possible.  A comparison on this level is meaningless, largely
> aggrandizes the critic far beyond his/her merit, and in the end
> teaches us little about the literature and a great deal about the
> critic -- which is still valuable knowledge, so long as we know that's
> what we're getting.
> Jim R
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