Ans. The use of epic similes constitutes an important feature of the epic. They are also called Homeric similes because Greek epic poet Homer was the first to use such similes. They are called epic similes because following the example of Homer, all epic poets have used such similes in their work. John Milton retains the tradition of using epic similes in his famous epic ‘Paradise Lost’.
Unlike ordinary similes, the epic similes are a comparison between two objects of which one is fairly elaborated. The poet expands the simile to an extent that simile itself becomes almost a short poem in itself. It often digress from the main object of comparison. These types of similes are used as a part of ornamentation of the poem. It adds charm and saves readers from monotony of serious description of an epic incident. However, Miltonic similes are marked by their grand style, their terrible and vivid images and their impact on the imagination of the reader.
We can see that Milton describes Satan with the help of an epic simile. He has compared the body of Satan sprawling on the fiery water of hell to a gigantic whale like sea-monster called Leviathan. It is so huge in size that occupies several miles when it comes to the surface of seawater. It looks like an Island in the midst of sea or ocean. Milton describes:
“Thus Satan talking to his nearest mate
With head up-lift above the wave, and eyes
That sparking blazed; his other parts besides
Prone on the flood, extended long and large
So stretched out huge in length the arch-fiend lay Chained on the burning lake; nor ever thence”
Then he has compared the shield of Satan to the shape, size and brilliance of a magnified moon seen through the telescope of Galileo. The comparison helps to form and idea of the magnificence of Satan’s shield. He describes:
“He scarce had ceased when the superior fiend
Was moving toward the shore; his ponderous shield,
Ethereal temper, massy, large, and round,
Behind him cast; the broad circumstance
Hung on his shoulders like the moon, whose orb
Through optic glass the Tuscan artist views”
He has also compared the countless hosts of fallen angels to the autumnal leaves in Vallombrosa in Italy. The masses of the fallen angels have been compared to the carpet like dry fallen leaves of autumn that cover the whole forest in the form of carpets. The masses of the fallen angels have also been compared to the numberless hosts of pharaoh. They have also been compared to the swarms of the locusts which keep flying with the wind coming from the RedSea covering the sky like dark clouds.
He has also compared the face of Satan to the eclipsed sun to indicate the destructive fall of Satan. Satan’s body has also been compared to a tower to give the reader the impression of the magnificence of Satan’s figure.
We can conclude by stating that Milton has drawn his similes from ancient civilizations, mythology, nature, science, astrology, astronomy and from the Bible. His competence in elaborating his similes deeply impresses his readers. It also reveals Milton’s range of knowledge that he had for writing such a world famous epic.