Friday, January 15, 2010

John Milton's Paradise Lost: Satan Winding "his oblique way"

Ecliptic Plane
(Image from HyperPhysics)

Despite forays into realms more rectitudinal -- such as rule of law and ruse of cow -- I'm sticking close to the oblique ecliptic, somewhat as does that fallen angel Satan in his descent towards the sun as described in Book 3 of Paradise Lost, though he first surveys the scene from where he has positioned himself, at the primum mobile (outermost sphere of the cosmos) and in the constellation of Libra, diametrically opposite the constellation of Aries ("the fleecie Starr"), where the sun is located:
Round he surveys, and well might, where he stood [ 555 ]
So high above the circling Canopie
Of Nights extended shade; from Eastern Point
Of Libra to the fleecie Starr that bears
Andromeda farr off Atlantic Seas
Beyond th' Horizon; then from Pole to Pole [ 560 ]
He views in bredth, and without longer pause
Down right into the Worlds first Region throws
His flight precipitant, and windes with ease
Through the pure marble Air his oblique way
Amongst innumerable Starrs, that shon [ 565 ]
Stars distant, but nigh hand seemd other Worlds,
Or other Worlds they seemd, or happy Iles,
Like those Hesperian Gardens fam'd of old,
Fortunate Fields, and Groves and flourie Vales,
Thrice happy Iles, but who dwelt happy there [ 570 ]
He stayd not to enquire: above them all
The golden Sun in splendor likest Heaven
Allur'd his eye: Thither his course he bends
Through the calm Firmament; but up or downe
By center, or eccentric, hard to tell, [ 575 ]
Or Longitude, where the great Luminarie
Alooff the vulgar Constellations thick,
That from his Lordly eye keep distance due,
Dispenses Light from farr; they as they move
Thir Starry dance in numbers that compute [ 580 ]
Days, months, & years, towards his all-chearing Lamp
Turn swift thir various motions, or are turnd
By his Magnetic beam, that gently warms
The Univers, and to each inward part
With gentle penetration, though unseen, [ 585 ]
Shoots invisible vertue even to the deep: (PL 3.555-586)

[Thomas H. Luxon, ed. The Milton Reading Room, January 2009]
Recall that Satan is later speeding "Down from th' Ecliptic" (PL 3.740) when he leaves the sun after speaking with Uriel, as reported in a recent blog entry. In fact, we see from the above lines that Satan was descending from the outermost sphere, the primum mobile, by way of the eclipic, for he is described as starting from Libra and winding his way down past the planets ("Stars distant, but nigh hand seemd other Worlds"), though whether "By center, or eccentric" orbits is "hard to tell." Or perhaps one should describe Satan's course by "Longitude," which Alastair Fowler explains is "distance measured by degrees of arc along the ecliptic" (Fowler, John Milton: Paradise Lost, Second Edition (New York: Longman, 1998), page 204, note 576).

Given that Satan is descending by way of the ecliptic, then Milton's description of Satan's flight, namely, that he "windes with ease / Through the pure marble Air his oblique way," is significant, for the term "oblique" could indicate that the ecliptic is already oblique to the celestial equator. But this would be rather problematic since that would put the sun and planets already on the obliquity . . . if I'm reading the above passage correctly.

I'll have to return to this tomorrow.

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At 8:48 AM, Blogger The Sanity Inspector said...

"The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of angels and God, and at liberty when of devils and hell, is because he was true poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it."
--William Blake

At 9:05 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, Milton kept slipping into postlapsarian obliquity even before the fall itself . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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