In the infamous blank verse poem Paradise Lost, John Milton employs many epic similes, or extended comparisons that span several lines and are used to intensify the heroic stature or nature of the subject being described. In particular, Satan's army is made analogous to glorious armies of the past, its soldiers likened to prominent warriors of myth and legend. Milton uses these epic similes to reveal his attitude towards heroic values, while seeming to primarily portray Satan as the obvious protagonist, and thus the epic hero. Yet, using these extended comparisons in the end allows Milton to make known his true views on heroic values, and actually glorify Adam through his religious commitments to God as the ultimate epic hero of Paradise Lost, instead of Satan.
One example of Milton using an epic simile to portray his attitude towards heroic values is introduced in Book I. Satan's raising of his army is surprisingly described in positive heroic terms: “Anon they move/In perfect phalanx to the Dorian mood” (I. 550). First of all, the phalanx was the formation of the foot soldiers of ancient Greece, while the Dorian mood is parallel to the valor and calm with which the Spartans went into battle with the sounds of flutes, impervious to fear or rage. Here it seems as if the satanic army is being made to resemble a celebrated gathering of strong, well-trained, and brave soldiers, when it would seem to many that there is nothing heroic or brave about demons and creatures of hell. “Of Flutes and soft Recorders; such as raised/To heighth of noblest temper Heroes old/Armin to Battle, and instead of rage/Deliberate valor breathed, firm and unmoved... Moved on in silence to soft Pipes that charmed/Their painful steps o’er the burnt soil (I. 562). To highth of noblest temper Heroes old" is a description that would be characteristic of any great military force. However, this is Satan's army that Milton is talking about in elevated terms, proclaiming...
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