Raphael warns Adam not to try to scan the secrets of the universe, but that injunction is part of one of the most provocative speeches in Paradise Lost that encourages Adam to investigate more than it injuncts him to refrain. As such, it is also implicitly an invitation to Milton’s readers to follow Adam’s example and uncover the contextual references to scientific, alchemical, and magical resources that lie embedded in the text. The recovery of vital contextual data shows Milton’s incorporation of ideas and images drawn from urgently debated fields of new astronomy, optics, and vitalism, as well as hermetic and cabalistic magic, and alchemy. Once these are retrieved, they reveal the new and unusual ways in which Paradise Lost creates a unique cosmos and engages with construction of character. Although the epic spans the vast spaces of hell, chaos, heaven, and cosmos, the focal point of the poem is Milton’s cosmos where the Fall of man takes place, where Satan has to contend with Uriel and Gabriel, and Raphael and Michael instruct Adam and Eve before and after the Fall. The structure of this imaginary cosmos, and the construction of space, time, and celestial movement within it, including regular and variable celestial phenomena, have a direct bearing on the unfolding of the epic action and rely upon traditional cosmology, new astronomy, optics, alchemy, and prognostications.
KeywordsVitalist Debate Celestial Object Infinite Space Divine Command Paradise Lost
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