"So were I equalled with them in renown": The Politics of Poetic Adaptation in Dante's and Milton's Epics
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In this thesis I examine the narrator’s role in John Milton’s Paradise Lost. To do so, I compare Milton’s narrator to the narrator of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. I found that both Dante’s and Milton’s narrators have a unique relationship to their respective Muses that differs from what can be found in classical epics: Dante replaces the Muse with Beatrice and Virgil —representing Church and State respectively — while Milton’s poem presents an internalised Protestant Muse. I argue that, through this unprecedented relationship to the Muse figures in each poem, both poems re-negotiate how narrative authority is gained: Dante constructs a poem in which his narrator derives his authority from two external guides, whereas Paradise Lost presents a narrator whose authority resides within. I further argue that, while Milton’s narrator partakes in journey that parallels the purification process in Dante’s poem, the replacement of external guides with an internal source of authority encourages a critical reading of Paradise Lost and its narrator. By rejecting the certainty associated with the external sources of authority in previous epics, Milton’s poem urges its readers to actively engage with the poem: like the narrator of Paradise Lost, who is unable to rely on any external figure of absolute authority, the reader is encouraged to use reason and make interpret choices without reference to a central figure of authority.