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Milton, Middle Ages, poetry, War in Heaven


Milton is not typically connected to the Middle Ages as much as to the later Enlightenment and the Romantic periods. Yet many distinctively medieval ideas can be seen in Paradise Lost, especially in the scenes that are related to the War in Heaven. Milton’s account of the war displays a medieval understanding of history in terms of typology in the drama of salvation. Particular details about the war itself such as St. Michael and Lucifer’s sword fight, Jesus’ eventual ending of the war, and the human characteristics of the fallen angels all have clear parallels in longstanding Christian poetic and visual traditions which can be seen to develop in the Middle Ages. In addition, Milton’s play on light and darkness in the poem was a common technique that painters used, and also had theological significance in medieval understandings of God and evil which can be observed in as widely different contexts as Thomas Aquinas’ aesthetics and the common mystery play. These contexts are relevant to discussions of controversial subjects in Paradise Lost, such as Milton’s character Satan, if only because they were proverbial in Milton’s time.