This month's question from the Classics Club is "What classic has surprised you the most so far, and why?". When I first read this, my plan was to write a little about Virgil's The Aeneid, but then Paradise Lost came along. I don't know what I'm most surprised at: that I've read this, that I enjoyed it, that I enjoyed it so much that I couldn't put it down, or that I understood what I think was a respectable amount. This book was the Virgil's The Aeneid experience!
I hadn't actually planned on reading it, which was the first surprise. Earlier in the week, I was feeling particularly despondent with The Faerie Queene. I've now reached the end of the fourth book and I'm unable to go on writing about it any longer: firstly, it's taking a great deal of time, time I don't have so much of at the moment, and secondly, most importantly, it seems that an awful lot of the sources I was using gave up after the third book, which means I only have one summary to go off. Because I'm so dependent on these summaries, I think re-writing someone else's is far too close to plagiarism than I care to go. So, I was feeling a little frustrated, being so dependent and simply not getting it at all myself. I am trying my absolute best, and with only two books and the two cantos of 'Mutabilitie' to go, I wouldn't give up now. But all the same, not a great experience for me.
So, I picked up Paradise Lost in the hope of being able to read and understand the first few verses and get a little of my confidence back. But, as I say, I couldn't put it down. All the more surprising as when I began reading it in 2011, I had absolutely no luck whatsoever with it.
But things have changed since then. Reading The Bible has helped, so too has a little bit more knowledge of Greek mythology, and, finally, I do think reading The Aeneid has been somewhat beneficial somehow. Or, perhaps it was none of those things and I was simply ready. And, most importantly, it truly is a wonderful book. I said The Aeneid was "literary HD", and so too was Paradise Lost. A technicoloured epic, bright, full of energy and power, absolutely glistening at times, so different from the dull march through The Faerie Queene. It was perfect for the neutral tones of February: "flowers of all hue" (Book IV, line 256) is Paradise Lost.
And from The Aeneid -
The birds their choir applies; airs, vernal airs,I loved the descriptions of Aurora and Isis in The Aeneid (some quotes here), and in Paradise Lost I loved Uriel for the same reasons: the colour and the speed of the text. For instance,
Breathing the smell of field and grove, attune
The trembling leaves, while universal Pan,
Knit with the Graces and the Hours in dance,
Led on the eternal Spring.
Thither came Uriel, gliding through the even,
On a sunbeam, swift as a shooting star
In autumn thwarts the night, when vapours fired
Impress the air, and shows the mariner
From what point his compass to beware
And from The Aeneid -
So therefore Isis, saffron-winged, sparkling like dew and trailing a thousand colours as she caught the light of the sun, flew down across the sky.Both these books had, as I say, colour and speed, and such life and spirit, too. Paradise Lost is wonderful, so powerful, and my preconceptions were so very wrong. Very much looking forward to reading Paradise Regained in the coming months, although I hear it is inferior to Paradise Lost. I shall have to see!