Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Heaven, Earth, and Hell

"The terms place and space do not signify something different from 
the body that is said to be in a place; they merely mean its size, shape, 
and position relative to other bodies.... [N]o object has a permanent 
place except by the determination of our thought." 
~Descartes Philosophical Writings
(Space and Place in "Paradise lost" by John Gillies)

The above is the popular thought regarding space and place during Milton's day. Given all the talk about where the Earth was in comparison with the Sun and the rest of the universe, it is unsurprising that Descartes and other philosophers would hold this view. After all, Copernicus and Galileo paved the way for new modes of thinking about our place in the universe and our relation to it. But this isn't the kind of philosophy Milton uses in Paradise Lost.

So why did Milton choose to go against the grain? Does having Heaven, Earth, and Hell in unmovable places make a significant difference to the book? I think it's easier to tell an epic tale where people are moving when one has unmovable places in space. But did Milton have another reason? What do you all think?


  1. I would check research on Milton's cosmology. Nice to bring in Copernicus and Galileo (whom Milton visited in Italy).

  2. Though Chaos is personified in Paradise Lost, it seems to me that order only exists as a localized phenomenon by God in Milton's cosmology... and maybe our own Latter-day Saint cosmology. Hell was "a place prepared," presumably by God, for the rebellious, just as this earth and all other spheres of being are organized from chaotic matter. Maybe breaking the verisimilitude was Milton's way of imagining the psychological effects - disordered illusions - of travel through the utter chaos existing between organized bodies. I'm reaching here, and these thoughts are poorly connected, but that would be in interesting way of reading it, I think.

  3. Maybe in order to solidify Milton's idea of a narrative, he decided to solidify the places. Milton plays around with time, characters and pretty much every literary element, so maybe having the setting be more constant was his way to keep the narrative from getting too confusing. It was a way to balance out the chaos he was creating. That would make sense to me.