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Paradise Lost by John Milton - Barron's Booknotes
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LINES 1010-1055. FIRST SIGHT OF THE WORLD

Satan plunges back into Chaos, again fighting his way through the confused elements. Milton tells us that later there will be a smooth road from Hell to earth, built by Sin and Death. It will follow Satan to the World and make a direct pathway for the devils to reach and corrupt man. You can easily see the allegorical meaning here.

As Satan comes to the edge of Chaos, day begins to dawn, causing Old Night to retreat so that his journey becomes easier. As he floats on the calmer air, Satan looks upward: there is Heaven, where he formerly lived, and hanging just below, the globe of the World.

NOTE: MILTON'S COSMOLOGY The World is not the earth, but the universe. in this imaginary cosmos of Milton's, we should forget our Copernican model of the universe. This is a schematic universe, where the component parts are placed in symbolic relationship to each other. Heaven is at the top, with unlimited extension upward. Hell, at the bottom, is Heaven's counterpart-it is unlimited downward. The space between is filled with Chaos. The World hangs suspended from Heaven, with a stairway leading down to an opening in the top of the sphere. inside the sphere are ten concentric circles, with the earth in the middle. The sun and the planets revolve around the earth. The outside of the World is like a hard rind, which protects the World from the buffeting winds of Chaos.



Don't be too impatient with what may seem to you a ridiculous model of the cosmos. Milton knew about the Copernican universe (the archangel Raphael refers to it in Book VIII). Ask yourself why Milton might have wanted to retain the classical and medieval cosmology, with the earth at the center, for the purposes of his poem.

Reflect that science fiction also does not represent the universe as twentieth-century physicists and astronomers describe it. Think of those imaginary worlds where starships land to find robots. Like Milton, science fiction writers invent a background to fit what they want to say. They freely give planets atmospheres with or without important ingredients and put them in space at distances and in places where they need them for their plots. The important question for them and for Milton is whether the interactions which take place in these settings are believable and interesting to us.

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