Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Milton's Cosmos?

Milton's Cosmos?
As sketched by Merritt Hughes?

On today's Milton List, a link was provided to the cosmic vision above.

That sounds rather grand, I suppose, but I'm merely referring to the sketch of Milton's 'cosmos' at the top of this post, which I've borrowed from D.F. Felluga's Purdue website -- specifically, the pages for his Fall 2000 course on "Great Narrative Works," which must have been a very interesting course indeed. Take a look for yourself.

Anyway, as I noted, the link was provided on the Milton List, and one of the list members posted a note that leads me to believe that Felluga borrowed this image from Merritt Hughes's edition of Milton's Complete Poems and Major Prose, on page 180 of the 1957 edition (New York: Odyssey Press). Perhaps someone could confirm this?

While I love sketches of this sort, I wonder how accurate it is. As Dennis Danielson remarked concerning the term "Cosmos":
[T]hat whole cosmos ("this pendent world") is an almost indiscernibly small point of light when viewed from far out on the fringes of Chaos. Thus we need some word more encompassing than "cosmos" to describe Milton's heaven, hell, chaos, and (relatively speaking) tiny cosmos.
I agree. The image above is far more than the 'cosmos'. Moreover, it makes everything look rather 'round', whereas Milton seems to depict something indescribable by any limited three-dimensional shape. Chaos, for instance, would seem to extend indefinitely down, as suggested here in PL 2.890-897, where Satan, Sin, and Death first glimpse chaos:
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. (PL 2.890-897)
Chaos would seem to extend far below the region of hell, for after Satan finally steels himself to brave the dangers of chaos and leaps into the abyss, he soon finds himself plummeting downward:
...At last his Sail-broad Vannes
He spreads for flight, and in the surging smoak
Uplifted spurns the ground, thence many a League
As in a cloudy Chair ascending rides [ 930 ]
Audacious, but that seat soon failing, meets
A vast vacuitie: all unawares
Fluttring his pennons vain plumb down he drops
Ten thousand fadom deep, and to this hour
Down had been falling, had not by ill chance [ 935 ]
The strong rebuff of som tumultuous cloud
Instinct with Fire and Nitre hurried him
As many miles aloft: (PL 2.927-938)
A "league" is about three miles, and a "fathom" is about six feet. We don't know how many leagues Satan ascended, but his fall was precipitous, dropping him some 60,000 feet instantly, it would seem, and he would have been plummeting still if not for the "ill chance" of being lifted by some 'flatulence' from deep within chaos.

Lucky, plucky Satan, who could perhaps supply us with a more accurate depiction of the cosmos and what lies beyond ... if only it were in his interest to do so...

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At 5:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Felluga borrowed this image from Merritt Hughes's edition of Milton's Complete Poems and Major Prose, on page 180 of the 1957 edition (New York: Odyssey Press). Perhaps someone could confirm this?

Yes. In his note preceding this image (p. 179), Hughes states that Chaos is below the entire created universe, suggesting that this image is not all that inaccurate; it is perhaps merely a coincidence that Curry portrayed it all as contained within a sphere.

At 6:00 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Dave, for checking that reference.

There's still some ambiguity to that point about Chaos and the created universe. Does the universe include Hell? If the universe does not include Hell, then I'm still unclear on what the diagram implies. Is Hell depicted as being at the bottom of everything, even beneath Chaos?

I'm still not clear on this point.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess the most significant point to me was that Hughes seemed to see the Cosmos as encompassing the created (i.e., natural) universe plus the supernatural realms. The directionality is relative, I think, and depicted pragmatically by Curry.

At 4:07 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I guess that I just need to get a copy of Hughes and look at what he says, for it sounds a bit ambiguous to me.

Thanks for your help on this.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:26 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hi, Jeffery

Is there any reason that Milton wouldn't have bought into the prevalent contemporary notion of the modified Ptolemaic universe (just as everyone else in his day) and that any elements of PL that don't agree with that model shouldn't be taken as poetic license?

At 9:27 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Ed, good to hear from you again.

There's been a lot of discussion of this point in Milton scholarship, and I've not read much of the literature, but precisely your point has been made.

One argument that I've seen is that Milton leaves ambiguous whether his cosmos is Ptolemaic or Copernican, but I was reading only yesterday a passage that seems quite Copernican to me, the description of Satan winging his way toward the sun, which in its golden splendor exceeded all other cosmic things:

...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:
So wondrously was set his Station bright. (PL 3.571-87)

This could have been written by Copernicus himself, who also praises the sun and its role in moving the 'stars' (which include the planets here).

But Milton is careful to leave his details inexplicit.

Yet, however he might have conceived of the cosmos, the model of reality provided by Hughes looks wrong to me (and others).

By the way, Ed, I have a new paper that touches on both Old English and the Ozarks if you're interested in seeing it. It's a mite intertaining...

Jeffery Hodges

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