Justifying the Ways of Milton’s Ideal Description

Dr. Ahmad-zadeh
Term Project on Milton
Justifying the Ways of Milton’s Ideal Description
Milton in his Paradise Lost has taken the challenge to represent both the prelapsarian and
postlapsarian world. It is a seriously demanding challenge since he has to describe the
prelapsarian environment as a so idealistic and perfect place that the fall becomes pitiful and
disgraceful; and if he fails, the reader may not grasp the importance of the fall; the loss shall be
the loss of an ideal to make its effect. So the idealistic description of Eden, man’s idyllic place
before the fall, is the burden on Milton’s shoulder. This paper illustrates how Milton draws on
the classical literature and conventions, like lucus amoenus and Tempe to portray his Eden and
how and why he sometimes rejects the materials he is using at the same time.
Of course whether Milton was successful or not in his portrayal of the Garden of Eden
has been highly controversial. David Hopkinson in his Reading Paradise Lost gives us some
examples of Milton’s different critics commenting on his success or failure; Jonathan
Richardsons (father and son) highly admired the representation believing “…Nature (is
represented) as just come out of the hand of God…” (qtd. In 43); Joseph Addison believed “the
reader during the whole course of action, always finds himself in the walks of paradise.” (qtd. In
44) While Colerdige and even Samuel Johnson are cited as those who have written favorably
about Milton’s portrayal, E.M.W. Tillyard and John Carey are mentioned as disappointed critics,
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finding Eden to be a bore. (44-45) Carey believes “Milton has not been able to make life in
Paradise seem happy or beautiful” (qtd. In 44).
The controversy on his success goes on. Without any claim of objectivity, I state my own
interpretation that he chooses the best style to represent what is impossible to represent, the pure
Edenic beauty. First I discuss the topoi lucus amoenus, then the Tempe and finally I will come to
his rejection of the classical materials during the discussion of his application of mythological
Locus Amoenus
Lovely, ideal landscapes have been portrayed in literary works since the classical authors.
Their portrayals later turned into a rhetorical style named locus amoenus. The seminal work
discussing this topoi is E.R. Curtius’s European Literature and The Latin Middle ages; Knowing
Homer’s landscapes the beginner of this tradition, he draws on a passage by Virgil to illustrate
locus amoenus. On his journey through the other world, Aeneas comes to Elysium (Aen., VI, 638
Devenere locos laetos et amoena virecta
Fortunatorum nemorum sedesque beatas.
Largior his campos aether et lumine vestit
Purpureo, solemque suum, sua sidera norunt.
(To joyous sites they came and lovely lawns,
Blest seats, in woods which no misfortune scathes;
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Fields clothed in ampler air, bathed in new light,
Purple—their own sun sheds it, their own stars.) (190)
Curtius then elaborates on the etymology of locus amoenus:
In the first line the word amoenus (“pleasant, lovely”) is used. It is Virgil’s constant
epithet for “beautiful” nature (e.g., Aeneid, V, 734 and VII, 30). The commentator
Servius connected the word with “amor” (the same relationship, that is, as between
“love” and “lovely”). “Lovely places” are such as only give pleasure, that is, are not
cultivated for useful purposes (“loca solius voluptatis plena … unde nullus fructus
exsolvitur.”) (190-191).
The essential features of lucus amoenus are according to Curtuius: “a beautiful, shaded
natural site; Its minimum ingredients comprise a tree (or several trees), a meadow, and a spring
or brook. Birdsong and flowers may be added. The most elaborate examples also add a breeze.”
(195) These features are available throughout Milton’s portrayal of Eden in his Paradise Lost.
The following passage from book IV can be accounted, in Curtius’s words, an “elaborate”
example of lucus amoenus, since it takes advantage of Zephyr, a soft gentle “breeze’’ which
according to its etymology comes from Zephuros, god of the west wind (OED):
. . Under a tuft of shade that on a green
Stood whispering soft, by a fresh Fountain side
They sat them down, and after no more toil
Of thir sweet Gardning labour then suffic’d
To recommend coole Zephyr, and made ease
More easie… (IV 325-330)
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Therefore we see how Milton invokes the tradition of portraying ideal landscapes to portray
the first of all the world’s landscapes (Hinds 124). The next classical element widely used in
Paradise Lost is Tempe.
Tempe: “Wild Forrest”
Curtius mentions a second element regarding the stylistic heritage of the classics:
“Tempe” the generic name for a variety of locus amoenus—“a cool