Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"Eternal Anarchie"

In Paradise Lost 2.890-910, Milton first describes chaos as it appears to Satan.

Or perhaps to the narrator, since Satan wouldn't yet know of "Barca" (either the desert between Egypt and Tunis or a city in the Lybian desert) or of "Cyrene" (an ancient city near modern Tripoli).

I've previously drawn attention to this passage, but I want to pose a question about "Eternal Anarchie" that I can't answer ... yet:
Before thir eyes in sudden view appear [ 890 ]
The secrets of the hoarie deep, a dark
Illimitable Ocean without bound,
Without dimension, where length, breadth, & highth,
And time and place are lost; where eldest Night
And Chaos, Ancestors of Nature, hold [ 895 ]
Eternal Anarchie, amidst the noise
Of endless Warrs, and by confusion stand.
For hot, cold, moist, and dry, four Champions fierce
Strive here for Maistrie, and to Battel bring
Thir embryon Atoms; they around the flag [ 900 ]
Of each his faction, in thir several Clanns,
Light-arm'd or heavy, sharp, smooth, swift or slow,
Swarm populous, unnumber'd as the Sands
Of Barca or Cyrene's torrid soil,
Levied to side with warring Winds, and poise [ 905 ]
Thir lighter wings. To whom these most adhere,
Hee rules a moment; Chaos Umpire sits,
And by decision more imbroiles the fray
By which he Reigns: next him high Arbiter
Chance governs all.
How is Milton using the word "Eternal" here?

Does he mean: (1) Endlessly into past and future? (2) Endlessly into the past from the point that Satan first gazes into Chaos? (3) Endlessly into the future from the point that Satan first gazes into Chaos? (4) In a metaphorical sense of "eternal" as "incessant"? (5) Or does Milton mean "timeless" -- time, after all, is lost here (line 894).

The first two possibilities would seem precluded by the Kalam argument (assuming that Milton was aware of it and accepted its logic), for a "beginningless series of events" cannot exist -- an argument reproduced in Aquinas's Cosmological argument (which Milton would know).

The third possibility would be unproblematic. Likewise the fourth.

The fifth possibility, "timeless," might be problematic if "eternal" implies co-eternity with God, but perhaps the sense of "timeless" would imply merely that chaos has no intrinsic time.

If anybody can suggest other possibilities, or actually even knows the answer, please feel free to post a comment.

The symbol of chaos in the upper right is borrowed from The Free Dictionary (By Farlex).


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