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By R.V. Young

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What Milton does with the thematic substance of epic is another paradox. Paradise Lost is, indisputably, a great epic poem of classical style and heroic scale, and yet it not only is the last epic; it may also be said to have finished off the epic. The epic catalogues are mostly lists of fallen angels; the character who is most consistently heroic in word and action and attitude is Satan. Most telling, the only epic battle in the entire poem—the War in Heaven in Book VI—is inconsequential and borders at times on the comic, since none of the angels are able to suffer serious injury, much less death, because of their ethereal substance.

The most important source of ancient mythology for medieval and Renaissance writers, the Metamorphoses is also a unique work of both B UNYAN , John (1628-1688), was the son of a tinsmith who learned to read and write at a village school. A veteran of the Parliamentary Army during the Civil War, Bunyan joined a Nonconformist church in the 1650s and became a powerful Calvinist preacher. With the Restoration of the monarchy and established church in 1660, unlicensed preaching became a crime, and Bunyan was jailed twice, the first time for more than twelve years.

Since the shorter poetic forms are even more dependent than drama and narrative on nuances of style, it is very difficult to get any sense of the power and beauty of translated lyrics, epigrams, or satires. A few poets are so critical to understanding the development of Western cul43 R. V. Young ture, not to say literature, that they must be known, even if only in translation. Among these I would include the surviving lyrics of Sappho, at least a few of the lyrics of Catullus, Ovid’s Amores, and, above all, Petrarch’s sonnets to Laura, which are crucial to our complex and equivocal ideas of sexual love even to this day.

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