John Milton, Paradise Lost: Heavenly Motions
I'm still trying to clarify what John Milton might have considered the structure of the prelapsarian world in Paradise Lost. The image that we see above is what Milton would have considered a postlapsarian heliocentric world, one in which the sun's apparent annual path (red great circle) passes through the zodiac signs (green contellations) at an obliquity of about 23.5 degress from the celestial equator (light blue great circle).
In the prelapsarian world of Paradise Lost, however, the sun's (apparent) path would have coincided with the celestial equator.
In such a prelapsarian world, there are either of two possibilities for the zodiac signs:
1. The zodiac is located on the celestial equator.Alastair Fowler, on pages 35-36 of his annotated Paradise Lost (1998), assumes the first of these two possibilities. I think that Milton leaves open either possibility.
2. The zodiac is located on the 23.5 degree obliquity.
As for the term "ecliptic," so called because the sun and planets in movement can eclipse one another as they pass, Milton does use the term, but he may be using it proleptically because his references to the ecliptic are ambiguous and because there might not be any eclipses in his prelapsarian world. Or there may be eclipses, and Milton may be using the term not proleptically, but to designate a prelapsarian actuality. I see three possibilities:
A. The term "ecliptic" is not used proleptically, for prelapsarian eclipses do occur, and the prelapsarian ecliptic is coincident with the celestial equator.Fowler seems to assume B, for he thinks that the sun remains constantly in the vernal equinox, which implies that the planets also do not move from their positions along the ecliptic. Fowler's understanding would thus be most accurately labeled "1B." Note, however, that "B" is a very odd use of the term "ecliptic," for not only do eclipses not occur along the celestial equator, they never will, whether in pre- or postlapsarian times. By comparison, "C" is a more reasonable use of the term "ecliptic," for eclipses will occur along the 23.5 degree obliquity in postlapsarian times.
B. The term "ecliptic" is used proleptically, for prelapsarian eclipses do not occur, and the prelapsarian ecliptic is coincident with the celestial equator.
C. The term "ecliptic" is used proleptically, for prelapsarian eclipses do not occur, and the prelapsarian ecliptic has about a 23.5 degree obliquity to the celestial equator.
Fowler may very well be correct in his position of 1B, of course, but Milton's language leaves open five other possibilities, i.e., 1A, 1C, 2A, 2B, or 2C.