[Milton-L] Milton's Cosmos and Universe

Horace Jeffery Hodges jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
Thu Jan 21 16:12:41 EST 2010

Thanks, Carol, for your response, which is a possible reading of Milton. I still see more instability in Milton's chaos, however. Before reading your email, I posted some thoughts on my blog entry this morning, so in lieu of a direct reply (due to time constraints), I'll paste here what I posted there:


I suspect that the instability [of chaos] goes all the way down.

Instability doesn't seem to stop at qualities and atoms, for qualities such as "hot, cold, moist, and dry" or "heavy, sharp, smooth, swift or slow" cannot exist without being the properties of matter, such as the four traditional elements of water, earth, air, and fire alluded to as "Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire" or the fundamental particles called "atoms."

In stating that there is "neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire, / But all these in thir pregnant causes mixt / Confus'dly," Milton would seem to mean that the four elements of water, earth, air, and fire do not exist except in their "causes" alone, the qualities of "hot, cold, moist, and dry," which cannot exist in isolation as properties alone. Similarly, he mentions the "embryon atoms," which suggests a lack of proper, finished form even though the ancient concept of the atoms was that they had no inner complexity, but were hard, indestructible units of matter with specific properties "heavy, sharp, smooth, swift or slow."

Moreover, Milton describes chaos as being "Without dimension, where length, breadth, & highth, / And time and place are lost," which seems to make the abyss a deeply formless 'state' of affairs in which even atoms or elements could not fully exist.

And "Chance governs all . . ."

Jeffery Hodges

From: Carol Barton <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net>
To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu
Sent: Thu, January 21, 2010 11:20:38 PM
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: [Milton-L] Milton's Cosmos and Universe

Hi, Jeffery!

It seems to me that the relational concept is semantic only, and that the discussion has begun to mix apples with oranges.

The elements (earth, water, air, fire) are "entities"--complete, distinct, and distinguishable as separate units of existence in the material world--unto themselves, having the attributes of dryness, moisture, coldness, and heat, which are metonymously synonymous (what a phrase!) with those elements. They can also be components of higher forms of matter (at least according to the Platonic scheme). This is analogous, I suppose, to eggs, water, flour, and sugar--separate and distinct material "entities" all, being combined into a batter and subjected to heat to make a cake. They aren't "unfinished" to begin with--but together they create another "entity" different from any of them individually, which is "unfinished" as a cake when it exists only as batter or the ingredients of which the batter is comprised.

The finished elemental "entities"--the "generals"--use unfinished materials (that is, the embyonic atoms) in the same way. The elements vie with one another to determine which will achieve supremacy over the atoms in question, and exert its influence achieve the finished product--but in Chaos, none of them ever wins. The atoms are not the progeny of the elements--more like the raw (hence "embryonic") materials used by the elements (at the Creator's direction) to form the material world. Generals have long been said to "use" soldiers to achieve their military objetives--almost as if they were the raw materials of war--and of course the devastation (to both sides) caused by the British Civil Wars and the seeming indifference of the commissioned officers to the men who fought them would never be far from Milton's mind. 

But that is another argument.

Bottom line: I don't think "embyonic" here implies "unstable"--merely "unfinished" or "incomplete."  

Best to all,

Carol Barton
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