[Milton-L] Milton's Cosmos and Universe

Horace Jeffery Hodges jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
Thu Jan 21 07:55:54 EST 2010

Carol, I don't see that anything is being created here, and I see more instability here than Professor Skulsky does. Chaos sits as umpire, and chance governs all. Both hold eternal anarchy. "Embyron" seems to imply not fully formed and thus perhaps unstable. The passage below seems to me to mix atomist and Aristotelian (and Platonic) views on elements and qualities. Their fighting is expressed with the metaphor of generals and clans, but Milton is describing a chaotic mix of the four qualities of moist, dry, cold, and hot (not quite forming their combinations into sea, shore, air, or fire) and the atoms (to some degree unformed, but also having their physical characteristics). Asking the relation between the qualities (which exist only fully as characteristics of elements) and the atoms (which, being embryon, seem lacking in full form) is a fair question, surely not an absurd one. All of this still seems unstable to me.

Jeffery Hodges

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.
For hot, cold, moist, and dry, four Champions fierce
Strive here for Maistrie, and to Battel bring
Thir embryon Atoms; they around the flag [ 900 ]
Of each his faction, in thir several Clanns,
Light-arm'd or heavy, sharp, smooth, swift or slow,
Swarm populous, unnumber'd as the Sands
Of Barca or Cyrene's torrid soil,
Levied to side with warring Winds, and poise [ 905 ]
Thir lighter wings. To whom these most adhere,
Hee rules a moment; Chaos Umpire sits,
And by decision more imbroiles the fray
By which he Reigns: next him high Arbiter
Chance governs all. Into this wilde Abyss, [ 910 ]
The Womb of nature and perhaps her Grave,
Of neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire,
But all these in thir pregnant causes mixt
Confus'dly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless th' Almighty Maker them ordain [ 915 ]
His dark materials to create more Worlds


From: Carol Barton <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net>
To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu
Sent: Thu, January 21, 2010 9:13:14 PM
Subject: Re: Re: Re: [Milton-L] Milton's Cosmos and Universe

I would venture to assert that it describes the state of maturity of the atoms (i.e. created, but not complete, like a human embryo) rather than an obstetric relationship between the embryonic atoms and anything or anyone else.

Best to all,

Carol Barton

Jan 21, 2010 01:54:59 AM, milton-l at lists.richmond.edu wrote:

I share Jim's question. I don't see the absurdity of finding a more intimate connection between the four qualities and their embryon atoms.
>Jeffery Hodges
From: James Rovira 
>To: John Milton Discussion List 
>Sent: Thu, January 21, 2010 12:25:13 PM
>Subject: Re: Re: [Milton-L] Milton's Cosmos and Universe
>Doesn't the phrase "embryon atoms" imply a more intimate relationship between the soldiers and their generals, perhaps even an identity on some level?
>Jim R
>On Wed, Jan 20, 2010 at 10:22 PM, Harold Skulsky <hskulsky at smith.edu> wrote:
>In the wars of Chaos we have the opposing generals (four champions fierce) and their respective armies (the embryon atoms). The generals are characterized by temperature and degree of moisture, the armies are divided into clans distinguished in weight, shape, and velocity. No causal connection is drawn between the qualities of the generals and those of their troops, nor does the narrator say that the generals give birth to their troops; Milton knows better than to stoop to absurdity. Least of all does the narrator say or imply that the clan characteristics are unstable. Even if he did, qualities are to what they qualify as form is to matter. Unstable forms are still forms.  The same principle applies to the dominance momentarily enjoyed by each of the generals; momentary dominance is still dominance, a vicious circle is still a circle, just as unstable form is still form. The point is that M has not abandoned the axiom of divine omnipresence; like
 every other place in the totality of things, Chaos exists only because God fills it, and to that extent it is benign.

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