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The hallow'd fire: mythical consciousness in Paradise lost Dunn, Robert

Abstract

The purpose of this thesis is to isolate and examine aspects of Paradise lost which identify it as a myth. The problem involves two matters: how Milton's version of the creation and the fall differs from the Biblical and doctrinal accounts, and how Milton's poem reflects certain traits characteristic of mythologizing in general. The introductory first chapter establishes a working definition of "myth", based primarily upon Greek precedents. It also attempts to define the distinct kind of consciousness reflected by myths and mythic poets, a consciousness based upon an illusion of reality which is credited as accurate and factual. From this starting point, the four major figures of Paradise Lost are subsequently examined for evidence of how Milton's poem achieves a similar illusion and a clearly Puritan expression of the mysteries of life and death. Since the emphasis will be on Milton's myth and not on the development of mythologies or on Milton's place in Christian and classical traditions in English literature, discussion is limited to Paradise Lost itself, with only occasional and selected reference to the chief Greek mythic poets, Homer and Hesiod. In Chapters two through five, each of the four figures is discussed first from a logical point of view, to indicate in a negative way how they conform to the non-rational aspect typical of mythical thought. Each figure is then discussed in terms of the definition of myth laid down in chapter one to indicate how Milton adopts and expands upon non-rational and contradictory elements in order to achieve a new figure and to remake the mystery each figure embodies. The conclusion reached is that Paradise Lost is a myth in its own right, remodeled to suit Milton's particular purposes and expressive of Puritan consciousness. It is suggested that, once the key terms of Milton's myth ("Goodness," "Evil," "Disobedience," "Free Will) are understood as mysteries, not philosophical abstractions, and once it is understood how they complement and fulfill one another, the story of Paradise Lost becomes more comprehensive, valid, and pertinent.

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