Saturday, November 22, 2008

Milton's 'Satanic' Serpent: How Big Was It?

Paradise Lost by John Milton:
Parallel Prose Edition
Dennis Danielson
Cover Art by Kirsten Behee

Milton scholar Dennis Danielson has published a parallel prose edition of Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost. By "parallel" is meant that on the lefthand page appears the original poem and on the righthand page appears Danielson's prose 'translation'.

That ought to be useful for some readers, but I have a question or two concerning the serpent depicted on the cover, so I posted a query at the Milton List that I'll also post here:
Concerning his parallel prose edition of Paradise Lost, Dennis Danielson wrote:
"For a look at Kirsten Behee's original cover art, which Amazon hasn't yet posted, please see link."
I finally clicked to see this cover art and was impressed. I also have a question that derives from that cover image:
How large was the serpent that Satan chose to possess for Eve's temptation?
The artwork shows the serpent as pythonesque -- perhaps large enough to swallow Eve . . . and Adam. Does this depiction of the serpent's size represent Satan as serpent during the punishment inflicted upon him annually for his crime?
His Visage drawn he felt to sharp and spare,
His Armes clung to his Ribs, his Leggs entwining
Each other, till supplanted down he fell
A monstrous Serpent on his Belly prone,
Reluctant, but in vaine: a greater power
Now rul'd him, punisht in the shape he sin'd,
According to his doom: (PL 10.511-517)
Or does Kirsten Behee's original cover art depict the serpent possessed by Satan?
So spake the Enemie of Mankind, enclos'd
In Serpent, Inmate bad, and toward Eve
Address'd his way, not with indented wave,
Prone on the ground, as since, but on his reare,
Circular base of rising foulds, that tour'd
Fould above fould a surging Maze, his Head
Crested aloft, and Carbuncle his Eyes;
With burnisht Neck of verdant Gold, erect
Amidst his circling Spires, that on the grass
Floted redundant: (PL 9.494-503)
Since the rising folds tower fold above fold, up to a head held aloft, his serpent also appears to be large . . . but how large?

This isn't an especially important question, I suppose, but I am curious.

(Quoted PL Passages: Thomas H. Luxon, ed., The Milton Reading Room, November, 2008)
If any readers of this blog know the answer to my curious question, please weigh in with comments.

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At 10:00 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

How big is an angel?

By the description I see a python. I guess that the image formed in your minds eye would be the size.

At 10:12 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

How big is an angel? Depends on the tradition that one follows, I suppose.

(Unless you mean real angels.)

Milton's angels can expand or contract their sizes, so I'm not certain if they have a specific size.

As for "description" of the serpent . . . well, Milton presents two different descriptions of serpents, but only the one from PL 9 describes the serpent in the garden. Even that serpent seems quite large (though not so large as the hellish one in PL 10).

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:51 PM, Blogger John B said...

Apparently, Science says that there is a minimum angel size. Of course, this would have been beyonds the means of Milton, but it might be an interesting note if one were to try to make a modernized reimagining of his works.

At 10:11 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John B., on this point -- i.e., "a maximum number of 8.6766*10exp49 angels at the critical angel mass (3.8807*10exp-34 kg)," whatever that means -- merely a finite number of angels can dance on the head of a pin (though even more can stand as wallflowers!), but assuming that angels are made of non-material substance, perhaps the calculus of infinitesimals applies, in which case, we can pack rather a larger number onto a pinhead -- an infinite number, in fact.

But I don't think that we're talking about Miltonic angels . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:43 AM, Blogger John B said...

According to the site's argument, if I read correctly, an angel must have some information to exist. If there's information there must be some mass, and the minimum possible mass can be calculated.

It assumes Aquinas's assumption that no two angels can occupy the same point in space, and that consciousness or the existence of an angel is not possible without some information.

But, yeah, that's outside of Milton, although I'm sure he would have been interested if he had read about it.

At 3:01 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John B, there's also the apparent assumption that angels are material beings rather than spiritual ones . . . whatever effect the latter might have on the equation.

Jeffery Hodges

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