[Milton-L] Milton's Cosmos and Universe

Horace Jeffery Hodges jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
Wed Jan 20 15:35:06 EST 2010

Just to complicate the matter (so to speak), let me point out that Milton's atoms themselves are not simple and indivisible, and thus differ from the atoms of the ancient atomists. Milton reveals their 'composition':

For hot, cold, moist, and dry, four Champions fierce
Strive here for Maistrie, and to Battel bring
Thir embryon Atoms; (PL 2.898-900)

I read this as meaning that the four qualities contest with one another and give birth to atoms, albeit briefly, for such atoms would not be stable. In other words, I think that Milton's depiction of chaos is that it goes all the way down. He stops at the four qualities, which are shown in conflict, but a specific quality is not a 'thing' and was not traditionally believed to exist in isolation (so far as I understand, but subject to correction).

If I am correct, then chaos is 'formless' even at the level of atoms and below.

Jeffery Hodges

From: Carol Barton <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net>
To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu
Sent: Wed, January 20, 2010 10:15:17 PM
Subject: Re: Re: [Milton-L] Milton's Cosmos and Universe

I too agree with Harold (and now John), and think there is a fine distinction to be made between Chaos writ large and the atoms that comprise it. Chaos as a whole is formless--a bunch of random atoms "unassembled" if you will. That does not mean that the atoms themselves are formless--just that they don't add up to anything recognizable in the material world. I once heard Stanley Fish--in characteristically flip profundity--refer to Chaos as "God's Home Depot" (analogous to B&Q, for English Miltonists). I think that his "simplistic" analogy is a useful one, though: Chaos is a warehouse of the materials that, when "assembled" by the Creator, become matter as we understand it. It is as much part of the Cosmos as Home Depot is of the residential neighborhoods that surround it, and though the items it contains (planks of wood, nails and screws, paint and varnish and so on) are not furniture or houses or even packing crates in their current state, in the
 hands of a carpenter who knows how to use them, they are transformed into finished works.

Best to all,

Carol Barton

Jan 20, 2010 07:28:40 AM, milton-l at lists.richmond.edu wrote:

A characteristically excellent post from Harold Skulsky and I agree with 
>much of it. But I do not share Harold's view that atoms in Chaos "are 
>determinate in form and movement." I know that some are sharp while others 
>are smooth, and some are swift while others are slow, but did not Lucretius 
>say this too, and if he did why call the picture "faux-Lucretian"? But my 
>real question concerns "determinate in form." Both Milton himself as epic 
>narrator and Uriel describe Chaos as "formless" (3.12, 3.708). If 
>formlessness is "Satan's manichean delusion," he has won some august 
>witnesses over to it.
>John Leonard
>----- Original Message ----- 
>From: "Harold Skulsky" 
>To: "John Milton Discussion List" 
>Sent: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 11:07 PM
>Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Milton's Cosmos and Universe
>> In Milton we are always well advised to beware of rigid dichotomies, like 
>> the alleged dichotomy between cosmos and chaos.
>> In PL the pervasive order guaranteed by God's omnipresence reaches into 
>> all the worlds, including Chaos. That order is none other than the 
>> evolution of the One First Matter celebrated by Raphael in PL 5, an 
>> evolution that begins in God and gradually ascends to pure spirituality as 
>> it returns to its origin.
>> As an early stage in the evolution of material form, the faux-Lucretian 
>> world of Chaos is well beyond inchoate; its constituent atoms are 
>> determinate in form and movement, and ready to serve as the fabric of new 
>> worlds (though impotent to create by themselves).
>> In short, the Chaos M shows us in PL is an integral part of Cosmos; this 
>> complicated fact doesn't protect the allegorical figure of the same name 
>> from sharing Satan's manichean delusions, but it ought to protect us from 
>> joining them.
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