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Satan and Astronomical Signs

  • Malabika Sarkar
Chapter
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Abstract

If the configuring of space and time in Paradise Lost demands a contextual reading, this is even more imperative with regard to the references to variable celestial phenomena that Milton works into his text at strategic points in the epic. In depicting space, time, and celestial movement, he is concerned with the larger picture, however innovative that might be. Even the specifics of celestial movement, such as the moving sunbeams, the dark cone of night, or the various signs of the zodiac, deal with regular cosmic events. But, in Paradise Lost, Milton also sets up a structure of astronomical signs comprising such variable celestial phenomena as new stars and comets. It is not unusual to find references to stars and comets in an early modern text. There would be many motivating factors to explain their presence. Astrology, astronomy, navigation, and a range of other contemporary activities relied on a reading of stellar positions as well as variable celestial occurrences. That Paradise Lost, too, is a text with many references to such celestial phenomena is therefore not intrinsically remarkable. The special significance of these images emerges only when the specific contemporary debates are identified and related to references in the text.

Keywords

Seventeenth Century Early Modern Period Paradise Lost Stellar Position Ironic Commentary 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Citations of Donne’s poems are from A. J. Smith (ed.), John Donne: The Complete English Poems (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd., 1971).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Stella P. Revard, “Milton and Millenarianism: From the Nativity Ode to Paradise Regained,” in Milton and the Ends of Time, ed. Juliet Cummins (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 82–95.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For the extent to which Aristotelio-Ptolemaic cosmology continued to dominate astronomical thought in the sixteenth century and even in the seventeenth, see Francis R. Johnson, Astronomical Thought in Renaissance England (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1937; rpt New York: Octagon Books Inc., 1968).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Cited in Deborah E. Harkness, John Dee’s Conversations with Angels (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Bernard Capp, Astrology and the Popular Press, English Almanacs 1500–1800 (London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1979), pp. 149–50.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Tycho “d. 156. Hopkins Press, 1937; reers.tsBrahe, De Nova Stella, rpt in H. Shapley and H. E. Howarth, A Source Book in Astronomy (New York and London, 1929), p. 19. Tycho gave a detailed analysis of all books written about the new star in Cassiopeia in his Astronomiae Instauratae Progymnasmata (Prague, 1602). A partial translation of De Nova Stella appeared in London in 1632 as Learned Tico Brahae his Astronomicall Coniectur of the new and much Admired Starre.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    See B. S. Capp, Astrology and the Popular Press (London, 1979), p. 168.Google Scholar
  8. 15.
    Alexander Gil, The New Starr of the North, Shining Upon the Victorious King of Sweden (London, 1632).Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    Johannes Kepler, A Thorough Description Of An Extraordinary New Star Which First Appeared In October Of This Year, 1604, trans. Judith V. Field and Anton Pestl, in Vistas in Astronomy (Oxford, 1977), vol. XX, p. 333.Google Scholar
  10. 25.
    Stephen M. Buhler, “Marsilio Ficino’s De Stella Magorum and Renaissance Views of the Magi,” Renaissance Quarterly 43 (1990), 348–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 26.
    For the seventeenth-century debate on whether the Fall was catastrophic, affecting both microcosm and macrocosm at once, or whether it initiated a gradual decline, see William Poole, Milton and the Idea of the Fall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 29.
    Helen Gardner, “Milton’s Satan and the Theme of Damnation in Elizabethan Tragedy,” in A Reading of Paradise Lost, ed. Helen Gardner (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965), pp. 99–120.Google Scholar

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© Malabika Sarkar 2012

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