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Magnanimity : Milton's concept of heroic man Lovick, Laurence Dale

Abstract

That no serious student of Milton considers Satan the hero of Paradise Lost is no longer a debatable proposition. Milton's concept of heroic man, however, remains the subject of much critical discussion. The poet's iterated vaunts, he will sing of "deeds above heroic”, has earned him the displeasure of a host of commentators, none of whom are at all certain of Milton's final attitude concerning what is is that makes men heroes. This thesis, by focusing on Milton's Christianity, sets out to show that Milton's religious belief provided him with new and enlarged scope for the delineation of heroic virtue, to show that the new dispensation heralded by Christ made it possible, theoretically, for all men to heroes, and for men to be superior to, or better heroes than any of the worthies whose careers antedated Paradise Lost. Accepting magnanimity as the single virtue that most closely corresponds to heroic virtue, I have attempted to demonstrate that magnanimity, what I have called perfect heroism, was not fully possible for man until Christ's advent. Milton, I have contended, deliberately sets out to show the inferior condition in which men lived before the Son manifested himself. Basing my discussion on Milton's three major poems, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes, I have tried to show how Milton reveals the inferior condition in which men lived before, the new dispensation. I have tried to show that perfect heroism is a manifest impossibility while man is innocent, while he obeys God's sole commandment. I have tried to show that man's lot after the fall and before Christ's coming similarly precludes perfect heroism, to show that man's imperfect comprehension of faith rendered him incapable of realizing his highest human potentialities. Perfect heroism, magnanimity, is revealed in only one of Milton's three great poems: Paradise Regained. Milton’s perfect hero, his exemplary model of what man can aspire to do and to be, is Christ himself. Innocent Adam's career is circumscribed. Fallen man's capacity for heroism is limited by his ignorance of God's grand design. Milton makes it very clear that the only bona fide hero is Christ, the protagonist of Milton's brief epic, a distinctively Christian hero. Milton's Christian faith permitted no real or viable alternative.

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