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David Quint, Inside Paradise Lost
by David Walker

Quint, David. Inside Paradise Lost: Reading the Designs of Milton’s Epic. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2014. ISBN: 978-0691159744. x + 329 pp. $35.00 paper.


In his widely acclaimed Epic and Empire: Politics and Generic Form from Virgil to Milton (1993), Professor Quint set Paradise Lost within a cultural context that sees epic poems after Homer as links in a chain of imitation.[1] In Quint’s opinion “Homeric epic fuelled imperialism: it became personified in the careers of empire builders such as Xerxes, Alexander, and after Virgil’s Aeneid, Augustus in particular, and Caesarism” more generally. Quint makes it clear that “a politicization of epic” was begun that eventually “transformed epic for posterity … into a genre” whereby every new epic poem, like every new empire, had to “overgo its earlier versions” (7-8). In Epic and Empire Quint’s treatment of Milton’s contribution to European epic is part of a long tradition. Inside Paradise Lost, on the other hand, is devoted fully to Milton’s masterpiece. The opening sentence to the work informs us that the “The message of Paradise Lost is: make love, not war. The poem that pretends to begin the epic tradition by retelling events that preceded those of all earlier epics would also end the epic genre by condemning its traditional subject matters, war and empire” (1). What follows from this beginning is an intensely detailed and allusive reading of Paradise Lost which, as other reviewers have pointed out, will deepen and add to the knowledge of even the most dedicated Miltonists.

The chapters of Quint’s book are efficiently organized to prove the case of his opening statement about love and war in Milton’s poem. Like Milton, Quint starts with the Devil and analyzes “the demilitarization of the fallen angels” (9). Chapters 1 through 6 follow chronologically the books of the poem. Close analysis of the catalog of devils, the parliament in Hell, and Satan’s voyage through Chaos display the degrading of a warrior caste, revealing “The satirical depiction … of the fallen angels, mustered into arms only to settle down in council,” who then greet the prospect of war—covert or hot—with the clashing of shields. This is interpreted by Quint, not as an expression of martial vigor, but as the noisily empty rhetoric of “talking and fraud, not fighting and force.” The fallen angels very early in the poem exist now as a shadow of their former glory (38, 35, and 37).    

Inside Paradise Lost renders many rich and original insights into a text that historically has attracted more than its fair share of critical attention. It does so by concentrating on the strengths of comparative analysis that characterize much of Quint’s previous work on Milton and epic. In capturing further Milton’s technique of binding the myriad of incidents and episodes in Paradise Lost to the classical tradition, Quint teases out the extent to which “Milton uses [classical and biblical] allusion to … unify the fictions of the poem” (2).

Paradise Lost proceeds, says Quint in his introduction, from the rise and fall of martial rebellion narrated in the middle books of the poem by Raphael’s narration of the War in Heaven, to the triumph of domestic life personified in the relationship between Adam and Eve. We get in Paradise Lost “the biggest battle ever fought—so big that it mocks earlier epic and becomes mock-epic.” It “is succeeded by battles of the sexes” (8). The world of the poem, Quint maintains, depicts a journey from the “allegoric” to the “real.” The poem itself “is the harbinger of an enlightenment that consigns Adam, Eve, and Eden—and perhaps the grand narrative of Milton’s religion itself—to ‘fables old.’” Paradise Lost prefigures the domestic drama we more usually associate with the rise of the novel, and anticipates the subject matter of the new art form at the dawn of the English Enlightenment. In its concern to make domesticity a subject fit for epic, the poem “already participates in a skeptical modernity” (13). Replacing epic warfare with matrimonial battle may seem mundane or quotidian but it is arguably more relevant to readers of the poem then and now. As other reviewers have noted, Quint’s central point is that Adam’s love for Eve trumps God’s requirement of absolute obedience. Satan might well argue that it is better to rule in hell than to bend the knee in heaven, suffering a form of splendid isolation. The needs of Milton’s flawed and fallen couple, however, are met by mutual want and need. For all of their faults they are a template for all mankind. The reconciliation of Adam and Eve in book 10 “becomes a graver subject … than the conventional object of war and empire.” Accordingly: “The Odyssey half of Milton’s epic—the story of a private couple—supersedes its Iliad half, the grand, all-inclusive history of God and devil” (198, 199).

Detailed references to epics by Homer and Virgil, and to a lesser extent Lucan and Ovid, are everywhere apparent in Quint’s book. Its greatest strength lies in the closeness of attention paid by Quint to the language and messages of Milton’s poem. Quint diligently uncovers the endlessly rich allusions to classical, and contemporary European and English literature. This is less a book about Milton’s politics and the politics of his greatest poem, and more a work on Milton’s aesthetics, his technical brilliance, his reading, and his seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of literature. Of all Milton’s classical predecessors Virgil looms largest in Quint’s book, taking up nearly a full column of references in the index, with further entries for characters in The Aeneid. In pages 200-212 in the section entitled “Virgilian Coordinates and the End of Satan,” Quint delivers a master class on how properly to write comparative literary criticism. He does so by supposing that Milton “shapes the fiction of book 10 through multiple allusions to beginnings and endings in Virgil’s Aeneid … [which] … fit, in turn, into a larger pattern in Paradise Lost.” In book 10, Quint reads the episode whereby Sin and Death bridge Chaos, with the immobility that is imposed “on the waves of Chaos” as “the stillness of death” (203). This episode is explained by Quint through echoes of and allusions to Virgil’s Aeneid, book 1. “Death with his mace petrific, cold and dry / As with a trident smote,” “carries associations with Neptune and returns us to the opening scene of the Aeneid” (PL, 10:294-95; Quint, 203). He extends the analysis by comparing the bridge built by Sin and Death to “a triumphal arch,” itself “a version of Augustus’s bridge”—the “pontem indignatus Araxes,” of Aeneid 8.728 (204). 

A further allusion is to Lucan. The Pharsalia relates in book 2 Julius Caesar’s attempt to create a causeway “across the harbour of Brindisi” to prevent Pompey’s fleet from escaping Italy (204). The book throughout teems with detailed analysis of major sections of Paradise Lost indebted to Milton’s reading: in Virgil, Ovid, Homer, and a wide range of others that Quint finds important to the structure, content, and fiction of Paradise Lost. Some of these are seemingly slight, often small echoes from major and minor authors that shed significant light on the writing of Milton’s poem.

Inside Paradise Lost is beautifully and accessibly written. Its author moves with great skill and confidence across a formidable range of texts, be they classical and/or (for Milton) contemporary or near contemporary. Chapters on demonology and devils, on Medieval and Renaissance influences at home and abroad that include Dante, Tasso, Shakespeare, and Spenser, testify to the range and depth of Milton’s knowledge of literary history and Quint’s scholarship in tracking them down. In the book’s final chapter Quint deals with the manner of the poem’s ending and the poignant lament of Eve in book 11, accepting that she and Adam must leave Eden: “Must I thus leave thee Paradise? Thus leave / Thee native soil, these happy walks and shades, / Fit haunt of gods?” showing that this passage contains allusions to both Joshua Sylvester’s translation of Du Bartas’s Divine Weeks and Genesis 18 (238).    

Quint’s book is an invaluable addition to the study of Milton’s epic and more generally to the classical tradition in the Renaissance. Building on his previous work and recent books published by Stella Revard and Maggie Kilgour, Professor Quint offers fresh and original insights on Paradise Lost in particular and on Milton’s aesthetics in general.


David Walker
Northumbria University        

[1] David Quint, Epic and Empire: Politics and Generic Form from Virgil to Milton, Princeton UP, 1993. 


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Cite as:

David Walker, "David Quint, Inside Paradise Lost," Spenser Review 46.1.11 (Spring-Summer 2016). Accessed September 20th, 2018.
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