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Paradise Lost by John Milton - Barron's Booknotes
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BOOK VIII

This book is the final part of the flashbacks. Adam tells Raphael of his own experiences when Eve was given to him. Life in Paradise is at its most idyllic here, just before the great catastrophe in Book IX. Because of what is soon to happen, Adam's happiness, so movingly expressed, has a pathetic irony.

LINES 1-178. ASTROPHYSICAL THEORIES

Adam detains Raphael with a question about the motion of the planets. Wouldn't it seem more economical to have the earth move instead of the sun, which works very hard to give the earth its light?

As Raphael prepares to answer, Eve slips away to work in her flower garden. She prefers to hear these explanations from Adam, who "would intermix / Grateful digressions" and use his lips for other actions besides talking. In this book Eve behaves exactly as she should-in sharp contrast to the next book.



Raphael's explanation shows that Milton was completely aware of ancient and modern cosmological theories. God, the "great Architect," has not made his secrets easy for men to ferret out. In fact, he's probably laughing at the details of the Ptolemaic scheme: "With centric and eccentric scribbled over / Cycle and epicycle, orb in orb."

The universe was built by God for his own purposes, and man is "lodged in a small partition." Raphael expounds Copernican cosmology in a passage which is now very difficult to follow because it contains terminology we no longer use. The point is that it doesn't matter if the sun "Rise on the earth or earth rise on the sun." In any case, these matters are God's business and not man's: "be lowly wise: / Think only what concerns thee and thy being."

NOTE: HUMANISM You might be surprised that Milton seems to be putting restrictions on inquiry. But that's not really what he's saying. He admired Galileo, as you have seen, which shows his interest in science. Milton is advocating the kind of studies we now call "humanities" and which were called "humanism" in the Renaissance. Humanism is contrasted with the obscure metaphysical discussions which occupied medieval theologians. Milton is putting into Raphael's mouth the argument for man and man's concerns as the highest good. It was this humanism which led to the great scientific discoveries of the eighteenth century, because humanism fixed men's minds on this world, not on those "other worlds, what creatures there / Live, in what state, condition, or degree."

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Paradise Lost by John Milton - Barron's Booknotes
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