[Milton-L] milton's all

Horace Jeffery Hodges jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
Thu Sep 20 14:52:15 EDT 2007

Fascinating stuff...
  Chaos, though it seems huge, is described in such a way that one could maintain that it is neither large nor small:
  "illimitable ocean, without bound, / Without dimension, where length, breadth, and highth, / And time and place are lost"? (2.892-4)
  Chaos is an illusory realm, and while it seems enormous when Satan stares out into it, it literally has no "size" at all, for "length, breadth, and highth ... are lost."
  Jeffery Hodges
Gregory Machacek <Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu> wrote:
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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University Degrees:

Ph.D., History, U.C. Berkeley
(Doctoral Thesis: "Food as Synecdoche in John's Gospel and Gnostic Texts")
M.A., History of Science, U.C. Berkeley
B.A., English Language and Literature, Baylor University

Email Address:

jefferyhodges at yahoo.com



Office Address:

Assistant Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges
School of English, Kyung Hee University
1 Hoegi-dong, Dongdaemun-gu
Seoul, 130-701
South Korea

Home Address:

Dr. Sun-Ae Hwang and Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges
Gunyoung Apt. 102-204
Sangbong-dong 1
Seoul 131-771
South Korea
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