Realm of Chaos in Book 2 of Paradise Lost

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      The word Chaos denotes a formless void or a great deep of primordial matter. There is no real bottom of Chaos and this means that it had no fixed dimension or boundaries. All above was Empyrean, all below was Chaos. Chaos is shown as having complained that at first Hell stretching far and wide was carved out of his dominion, that is God created Hell out of space formerly occupied by Chaos. Thus Chaos loses a certain proportion of space when God created a new place called Hell. Thus the division of space was between Empyrean, Chaos and Hell. Chaos suffered a further loss when the new world with its planetary spheres was created.

Four Elements

      Chaos is made up of four elements which are the four possible combinations of the four principles, hot, cold, moist and dry which in Chaos form chance combinations. Chaos is an ambiguous word and its moral quality is no exception. Chaos has no power to resist evil and not being a part of the creation it exhibits a curious affinity with the evil which conquers it, an affinity symbolized by Satan’s pact with Chaos.

      Milton holds that nothing once created can be annihilated but anything formed in Chaos is annihilated by the next chance. It will be seen there is no positive vocabulary for the description of Chaos. Milton produces his effect by negatives; without bound or dimension where there is no length or breadth, no time or place neither earth, air, fire or water.

      Satan’s journey through Chaos requires all the courage and strength even of Satan. He finds himself for a time falling through what was later to be called an air pocket only to be carried aloft again by a tumultuous cloud. His ears are assailed on all sides by stunning noises. He has no idea what direction to take until he finds the throne of Chaos and Satan’s chance meeting with him distracts from the sense of loneliness that marks the rest of the journey through a realm held in sway by the monarch Chaos and his eldest child, Night.

Complete Disorder

      There is a complete disorder in Chaos with the elements fighting against one another for mastery. The elements press the embryonic atoms in their service. The atoms are divided in their loyalties. No sooner does an element win a victory than another civil war begins. Chaos the monarch is himself the judge to give his decision as to which of the elements is the winner at a particular moment. But Chaos being itself the personification of confusion gives controversial decisions, thus making the civil war an even more confusing affair. Next to Chaos, the highest judge is Chance which determines the fate of everything. The confusion and conflict in Chaos can only end if God decided to create more worlds. Only then would harmony replace the confused fighting and disorder prevailing in Chaos.

      Satan’s journey through Chaos heightens not only the formless nature of Chaos but the very hazardous nature of the journey he undertakes, no doubt projecting Satan’s own courage, in going through with such a mission.

      Satan’s meeting with the ruler of this realm is significant. Like Satan Chaos also sits on a throne and his other name is ‘Anarch’. Like Satan, he too can be described as a prince of darkness. He shares the throne with Night, die first of all created things. Other denizens of Chaos are tumult, confusion, rumor and discord, making a complete mix of disorder and desolation that Chaos is.

      Seeing this conglomerate in Chaos, Satan shows his caliber in not buckling down to them. At the same time, he throws a bait to these as he seeks their cooperation to find his way to the new world created for man by God out of carving out a part of the empire of Chaos. The bait he offers Chaos is attractive enough. If Chaos helps him find his way to the newly created world he will find ways of restoring to Chaos, the part of the empire that was taken away by God to create the new world.

Working Arrangement

      Chaos is agreeable to immediately come to a working arrangement with Satan. He informs him that the new world hangs from Heaven by a golden chain and he does not have to travel very much to reach it. Chaos is indeed happy if Satan’s succeeds in his mission of winning over the new world and thus taking his revenge on God.

      From Milton’s description of the ruler of Chaos, the reader gets the impression that he is opportunistic enough to let others battle for him while he gives himself importance in proclaiming that he resides on the frontier of Chaos so as to be in a better position to defend his empire against encroachments.

      Milton falls back on myths and legends to chart out Satan’s journey through Chaos. Similar journeys have earlier been undertaken by Ulysses and Jason mainly as sea voyages. That is why we find so many allusions to the sea in Satan’s voyage. To give him a greater dimension, Milton makes him fly through the air also, but as he hears his destination, he is very much like a weary seaborne traveler reaching his destination.

      Chaos like Hell is a state of mind and Milton has a purpose in delineating it. While Hell has been depicted as a place of torment and torture, Chaos is far removed from Hell and has been presented by Milton duly as a realm of disorder. In fact Milton offers some consolation by stating that God carved out a territory from Chaos to create his new world for Man.

      Chaos is integral to the epic power and its significance lies in that it becomes an ally of Satan only because they share a common hatred for God. It gives Milton an opportunity to use his powerful imagination and description in giving us the firm contours of this formless shape.

University Questions

Why has Milton introduced the realm of Chaos in Book II of Paradise Lost?
Describe Satan’s journey through Chaos and the understanding he arrives with it. Outline the geography of the realm of Chaos.

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