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Milton's Iconoclasm and Homeric Images of Divinity in Paradise Lost
This thesis investigates the iconoclasm of the poet and politician John Milton and his debt to Homer in the visual descriptions of divinity in Paradise Lost, a text that is particularly important because its overt and subtle circulation in Western literature. Many studies on Milton’s iconoclasm and reception of classical authors share the view that classical sources bear a fixed connotation of idolatry in Milton’s poetry. It is my contention that although Milton rejects the religious tradition derived from Homer, he accepts Homer’s way of vividly representing divinity with written images and applies many Homeric images in his own depictions of divine beings. In Paradise Lost, then, images from the Iliad and the Odyssey are not only used to represent idolatry but may also serve as a crucial component in Milton’s iconoclastic discourse. To approach the iconoclast’s dependence upon images, I first propose to describe iconoclasm from an interactive point of view informed by theories about metaphor developed by I. A. Richards, Max Black, and George Lakoff and Mark Turner. Images, whether created by words or physical materials, cannot contain a fixed meaning, as they are always perceived in connection with other things. What an image represents is fluid and dependent upon the context within which it is being used. Thus, iconoclasts and idolaters may use the same source of images but with different aims and methods. In his prose works, Milton illustrates that limited human comprehension determines that we have to approach the divine realm with the help of earthly images. So, affiliation with various kinds of images does not necessarily indicate idolatry; and in the case of Paradise Lost, it is enabling.