[Milton-L] milton's all

Gregory Machacek Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu
Thu Sep 20 10:03:29 EDT 2007

In regard to my sense of what might be the right word for the totality of
space depicted in Paradise Lost ("infinitude"), Jeffery Hodges asks the
follow-up question "is chaos the largest realm?"

I would answer that question with a version of the claim I made in the
second half of my e-mail.  Working in a verbal medium allows Milton to
offer descriptions that seem like they are images, and register in the mind
a lot like images, but that can't actually be delimited pictorally.   How
big is a place that is "high throned above all height" compared to one that
is "illimitable ocean, without bound, / Without dimension, where length,
breadth, and highth, / And time and place are lost"?  A graphic illustrator
will have to make a decision on the relative amount of space each of the
two realms would take up on his canvas.  But Milton makes them both
sublimely big.

(I'm reminded of a Monty Python sketch, the preacher saying:  "O Lord,
though art so large, so incredibly huge, so tremendously enormous . . . ";
as though some number of size words will eventually capture infinitude.)

That said, I think I would still say that whatever name we give to the
space God occupies is the biggest space in the poem.  The epic develops in
part by making once big-seeming spaces suddenly feel small.  Hell feels
enormous until Satan launches himself into Chaos.  Chaos feels almost
unimaginably huge; then God turns out to be watching Satan traverse it from
a distant perspective, which implies that even Hell and Chaos fit within a
still larger space. The passage I've already cited from Book 7--"Boundless
the deep because I am who fill infinitude" is phrased in such a way as to
suggest that Chaos has even its boundlessness as a result of God (the
ground of all being)'s giving it space.

Greg Machacek
Associate Professor of English
Marist College

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