The Creator and the Created: The Figure of the Doubtful Ploughman in John Milton's Paradise Lost
John Milton uses epic similes in Paradise Lost to accomplish many objectives. The most basic of these is to connect the past and the present, as the epic similes are often in present tense and involve a human figure that will not exist until after the time of Adam and Eve. There are several significant images in an epic simile found at the end of Book IV. A group of angels find Satan in the Garden of Eden, after he has escaped from Hell and located Adam and Eve, whom he is intent on destroying. As the angels surround Satan and create a crescent-shaped military formation, they are described as being ìas thick as when a field of Ceres ripe for harvest waving bends,î (IV.981). This would conclude an ordinary simile, but Milton goes on to describe the movement of the grain, and inserts the image of a ìcareful ploughman doubting stands lest on the threshing-floor his hopeful sheaves prove chaff.î This figure does not have a direct correlate in the tenor of the simile, but does serve several purposes. As an image of God, the simile explores the relationship between a creator and what is created, and the responsibility that each owes to the other. As a figure for human labor, the ploughman represents the potential for human...
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