The Galileo Question

  • Malabika Sarkar


Milton’s angels and the enigmatic figures Chaos and Night are characters within the epic narrative. They are the supporting cast for the dramatic confrontation between Adam and Eve and Satan. Galileo is not. Yet he is the only contemporary to be named in Paradise Lost. What compelled Milton to single out one individual for special mention in his epic is a question that has been much debated, and answers have been sought through an examination of Galileo’s achievements, contemporary reputation, and the persecution that he suffered. All three passages in the epic where the astronomer is directly mentioned refer to the telescope. For the seventeenth century, the telescope was one of the great inventions, enabling a precise examination of the cosmos while at the same time enhancing the mystery of the universe. Rolf Willach suggests that astronomical discoveries through the telescope in the seventeenth century “came in two big waves,” the first in 1610–11, with the discoveries of Galileo, Harriot, Scheiner, Fabricius, and others, and a second, more pronounced and of longer duration, associated with the discoveries of Schyrl de Rheita, Baptista Hodierna, and Christian Huygens.1 This second wave naturally aroused fresh interest in the initial telescopic discoveries of Galileo and Harriot.


Seventeenth Century Visual Perspective Paradise Lost Lunar Image Copernican System 
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© Malabika Sarkar 2012

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  • Malabika Sarkar

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