Milton's Cosmology in Paradise Lost

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      The action of Paradise Lost takes place partly on Earth (from Books IV to XII) with a few exceptions, in Hell (especially in Books I and II), in Heaven especially in Book III and part of Book X, and even in Chaos, the concluding part of Book II.

      The War in Heaven has been fought in Heaven, but Book I presents the fallen angels in Hell at the end of that war. The war itself which takes place in Heaven is described by Raphael in Books V and VI. It is from Raphael therefore that we get our first clear idea about Heaven. At that time all the space in the Universe consisted of two parts. An upper part is called Heaven and a lower part is Called Chaos. See Diagram 2. What is called Heaven here is also called the Empyrean a region of pure fire (Greek pyr-fire) where God and His Angels reside. It is separated from low-lying Chaos by a crystal floor. The word Heaven is however used sometimes in a different sense, meaning the Universe of the earth with its surrounding planets and other spheres. Readers of P. L., Book II, must note this difference—for in that book the word Heaven is used in two different senses within a compass of three lines. In 1.1004, where Chaos speaks of “Now lately Heaven and Earth, another world etc.”, he refers to the New World, with the Earth for its center and the planetary and other spheres surrounding—what we might call the newly-created Universe for Man and the word Heaven—as opposed to earth—in this line 1004 means the spheres and firmament immediately surrounding the Earth. On the other hand just two lines later-i.e. in 1.1006, Milton again speaking of Heaven, really refers to Heaven proper or the Empyrean, where God resides. The word Heaven is generally used by Milton in the latter sense. The word Heaven is generally used by Milton in the latter sense. The word Chaos means a Chasm or Cleft. It is also called Abyss, a word which literally means bottomless. There is no bottom to Chaos. The Diagrams given are merely symbolic. There is no real bottom to Chaos and this means that it had no fixed dimensions or boundaries. All above was Empyrean: all below was Chaos. The fullest description of Chaos and its presiding deity will be found in P. L. II, 11. 890-1033. A reference to 11. 1002-1003 will show that Chaos (their personified) complains 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. This was God’s first encroachment upon the Kingdom of Chaos-i.e. the region occupied and ruled—rather “misruled”—by Chaos. Thus Chaos loses a certain proportion of space out of his dominions, out of which God created a new place called Hell. Thus after Hell was created, Chaos having lost a certain proportion of its space, the new arrangement became a division of Space between (1) Empyrean, (2) Chaos and (3) Hell, which is illustrated in Diagram 3.

      Chaos suffers a further deprivation: not only was the space for creating Hell robbed from him; but he is also robbed of another fair proportion for creating the New World with its various planetary spheres. This is referred to in P. L. II, 1.1006. This further diminution of territory of Chaos, resulting in the creation of the Earthly Universe, is related by Milton in P.L. II, 1.1006 and is illustrated here by Diagram 4. The configuration of Space and its distribution between the empyrean, the Earthly Universe, Chaos and Hell (after creation of Hell and Earth) is illustrated by this Diagram. It will be found in this diagram that the New World is hanging by a chain from a point in the floor of Empyrean Heaven. Though the exact location of this point is not defined, for harmony’s sake we take it as a point in the center of the line that stands for the floor of Empyrean. We mark it as point a Milton has adopted Homer’s idea of the World of Man hanging by a golden chain from Heaven. In the Iliad, earth hangs by such a golden chain from the throne of Jupiter. Just at this point there started certain golden stairs by which the angels of God used to descend from Heaven to Earth. But after the fall of Man, the intercourse between Man and the angels of God came to an end and the golden stairs disappeared. Where these stairs exactly descended on Earth before Man’s Fall, is not certain, but probably they came down somewhere within the limits of Eden. After the Fall of Man, there arose a bridge way from Hell to Earth over which Sin and Death carried on their traffic with Earth. It started from a point at the Gates of Hell, since Sin and Death were the gatekeepers of that submerged world. The Bridge started from the point d marked on the upper circumference of Hell and passed through interlaying Chaos to the Earth and probably terminated on Earth at the point where the Golden Stairs used to terminate before the Fall of Man, or perhaps at a point exactly opposite on the lower side of the earth’s circumference. The Golden Chain has been shown in the Diagram, but neither the Golden Stairs nor the Internal Bridge way can be shown in the diagram.

      It will thus be seen that the New World,—i.e. the Earth with her surrounding sphere—is surrounded by Chaos, but lies midway—roughly speaking—between Heaven (Empyrean) and Hell. Heaven stands for Goodness, Hell for Evil. Man’s World lies midway between Good and Evil—that is, it is a mixture. It partakes of both characteristics—Virtue and Vice, Good and Evil.

      Diagram I shows the New World, with all these spheres. But before proceeding further we must pause to consider that most of the ideas of Milton on the subject, as described above, are borrowed from classical poetry and mythology. Ovid draws an impressive picture of Chaos in Metamorphoses, Book I, which Milton has bodily adopted. These ideas occur also in the other classical epic poets, but find their fuller representation in the Theogonia (Theogony) of He said, who lived about 750 B.C. In Milton, Chaos is husband of Night and copartner with her in misrule. Where there is no Light, there is Night, there is Chaos. According to the classical idea, Chaos is the vacant space which existed before the creation of the world, out of which the gods, men, and all things arose. According to other authorities, Chaos is not the husband of Night (Latin Nox, Greek Nyx, Sanskrit Nisha). Chaos was represented rather as the mother of Erebus (Hell) and Nyx (Night), from whom again (that is by marriage between Erebus and Byx—(Hell and Night) were born Aether (Heaven) and Day. Milton however makes Chaos and Night co-equal and co-partners, as husband and wife.

      When we come to the New World—i.e. the Earth, with her surrounding spheres, we find Milton following the system of the Alexandrian Ptolemy— Claudius Ptolemaeus, the celebrated mathematician, astronomer and geographer, who lived about 150 A.D. and whose works on Astronomy, usually known by its Arabic name—Almagest—profoundly affected all speculation—both Western and Eastern—on the subject. Milton had visited Galileo in Italy (to whom Tie pays a graceful compliment in P.L. Bk. I) and through him if not otherwise must have learned about the Copernican System that makes the sun and not the earth—the center of what to-day we call the solar system and which Milton calls the New World or the World of Man in Paradise Lost. But following classical tradition and Scriptural authority, Milton could not help but make the earth the center of the New World. We need not go into the question of the diameter of this New World and its distance from Heaven and Hell, though in one or two places Milton seems to measure these distances in terms of the New World’s diameter. (Vide P. L. I, 73-74, II, 1052-1053, III, 427-428), It is all so confusing and in the different places (as cited above) where measurements are attempted, they do not tally. What we are more concerned with is the account of the spheres, surrounding the Earth, which along with these spheres, constitutes the New World.

      A reference to Diagram I will show these spheres. But first, we have the Earth for center indicated by the dark disc at the center of the system. Here it is necessary to mention that the Earth itself consists of certain strata of the four elements. At the core is the solid rock, or earth, or land. The New conception of melting lava, being found at the center of the Earth is a product of the New Astronomy and the New Geology, which were not known to Milton. The central core itself is surrounded by three outlying strata—first water, second air and third and outermost fire. (Modem geologists put Fire at the center of the Earth!) And all these four strata together constitute the central earth, the center of the Ptolemaic System. The Earth itself is spherical. But it is surrounded by a series of out-lying spheres. These spheres are hollow, empty shells, which are propelled by a certain force, in proportion to their distance from the Earth and the outermost limit of this New World Universe, and are moving round the Earth. There are TEN of these Concentric Spheres. To the inner seven of them, the seven planets are attached, Viz. Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The spheres themselves are moving around the Earth and the planets are, so to say, riding their respective spheres. The planets themselves were supposed to be divine intelligence and were identified with gods of mythology. The eighth sphere is called the fixed sphere. With its motion, it carried all the fixed stars along with it. The fixed stars were as they were nailed to this eighth sphere, like so many burning lamps! The ninth sphere is the Crystalline sphere. It is made of crystal (perhaps a Crysta, watery fluid) and serves as a sort of fortification all round the Universe to prevent approach of any evil. In any case it is a sort of protecting shell or sphere to all the inner shells or spheres. The motion called the Precession of the Equinoxes was imputed to it. Lastly comes the tenth and outermost sphere—the Primum Mobile, which is the first to move, and which carries with its own motion all the other spheres to move round the Earth. In astrologico-theological terms, the Primum Mobile as the seat of first motion came to be identified with God.

      In a poem like the Paradise Lost, Milton could not frame his world on Copernican lines, for the simple reason that it contradicts all scriptural records! Milton knew about it very well. At the same time also, we must acknowledge that the Ptolemaic system is the more suitable for poetical purposes. Milton’s poem is on the subject of Man. The subject of Man derives its importance from the fact that Man is the Lord of Creation. Man is also the lord of this Earth, and the sun and the moon and the stars move round the earth to serve man’s purposes and give light even at night that the world may not lapse again to the original state of Chaos, as Adam tells Eve in Book IV. All this importance of Man is lost, if the Earth is not the center of the Universe, blit is only a satellite coursing round the sun. Where is the dignity of Man then left? The importance of Paradise itself will be lowered and in consequence the importance of Paradise Lost. Milton had therefore necessary to follow the Ptolemaic System of the Universe.

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