Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Sunday, February 21, 2010

J.W Lever’s “Paradise Lost and the Anglo-Saxon Tradition”

J.W Lever’s “Paradise Lost and the Anglo-Saxon Tradition” argues that Milton was attempting to create a work that followed “a national poetic tradition” (97) and when he became displeased with the comparisons between Charles I and King Arthur, he sought other, older sources, namely Caedmon’s work. Lever begins his argument by stating that there is a controversy with regards to what sources Milton used, then goes on to discuss Milton’s research of Arthurian myths, with Spenser as a source. When Milton became disillusioned with Charles I, he “abandoned the legendary and royalist Arthur for the historical and constitutional Alfred” (98). However, Lever says that as Milton lost “faith in England”, he abandoned “his lifelong intention of writing a national epic” (99). This changed when Milton became acquaintances with Junius and studied his Caedmon manuscript which bears quite a few similarities to Paradise Lost in structure, lines, and characterization. Lever ends by stating that while there are many similarities, the Caedmon source should be seen only as an inspiration, not a model. Lever’s purpose is to address the controversy surrounding Milton and the sources he may have used by offering the idea that instead of sources, the material was simply inspiration. Lever is writing for an audience that can read Old English (as all his quotations offer no modern English translation) and one that is familiar enough with Milton to see the parallels with only a few lines from Paradise Lost.


This week I focused on researching articles that dealt with the Junius Manuscript, and Caedmon’s Genesis that contains Christ and Satan, which bears a lot of similarities with Paradise Lost. This article in particular made me realize something in my approach for the project. I had focused on researching sources that Milton probably used in creating the characterization of Satan and this article confirms correspondence between Junius and Milton, thus making it very probable that Milton was familiar with Caedmon’s work. This article made me realize that I didn’t really care about sources Milton used, rather I was interested in comparing the characterizations of Satan in works that came before Milton’s and illustrating how Milton’s Satan was something different from what came before. This is ironic because this article, despite Lever’s claim, lays out a lot of my previous argument with the line by line comparisons which Lever dismisses as “accidental” (106). This article still fits well with my project however, because it offers the specific textual evidence that I need for my argument.

Lever forwards Dr. Tillyard’s remarks on Milton and his writing of History of Britain and how this research affected his perspective on national epics and kings. However, he uses this as a way into the argument. What Lever is really interested in focusing on is the gap in discussing Milton and his sources and he states this in his opening paragraph where he says the reader should turn back to the controversy but look at it with some new perspective (presumably Lever’s own argument). Lever’s approach is to establish his credentials by citing Tillyard, then moving onto his own research into Milton and Junius’ correspondence and then move onto a textual break down of similar passages. In a strange twist though, after making a very convincing argument that Milton used Caedmon as a source, he counters himself by saying that the themes and phrasings are an accident and would be expected because they form “a common Christian tradition” (106).

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