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The Galileo Question

  • Malabika Sarkar
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Abstract

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.

Keywords

Seventeenth Century Visual Perspective Paradise Lost Lunar Image Copernican System 
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.
    Rolf Willach, “The Development of Telescope Optics in the Middle ofthe Seventeenth Century,” Annals of Science vol. 58, no. 4 (2001), 381–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    John Carey (ed.), Milton, Complete Shorter Poems, 2nd ed. (Harlow: Addison Wesley Longman Ltd., 1997), p. 81. All citations from the shorter poems, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes are from this edition.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Lubomir Konecny, “Young Milton and the Telescope,” JWI vol. 37 (1974), 368–73.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Julia M. Walker, “Milton and Galileo: The Art of Intellectual Canonization,” in Milton Studies, ed. James D. Simmonds, vol. xxv (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990), pp. 109–23.Google Scholar
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  6. 5.
    Doubts have been raised, though, about Milton’s knowledge of Galileo’s blindness. See Derek N. C. Wood, “Milton and Galileo,” Milton Quarterly vol. 35, no. 1 (2001), 50–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 6.
    On this point, apart from material in standard biographies of Milton, see S. B. Liljegren, Studies in Milton (New York: Haskell House, 1967);Google Scholar
  8. Wood, “Milton and Galileo”; and George F. Butler, “Milton’s Meeting with Galileo: A Reconsideration,” Milton Quarterly vol. 39, no. 3 (2005), 132–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 8.
    Frank B. Young, “Milton and Galileo,” in A Milton Encyclopedia ed. William B. Hunter, Jr., vol. 3 (London: Associated University Presses, 1978), pp. 120–21.Google Scholar
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    See ibid.; and Barbara Lewalski, The Life of John Milton (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2000, 2003), pp. 93–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 10.
    For early discussions of this, see Allan H. Gilbert, “Milton and Galileo,” Studies in Philology xix (1922), 152–85;Google Scholar
  12. Francis R. Johnson, Astronomical Thought in Renaissance England (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1937; rpt New York: Octagon Books Inc, 1968), pp. 286–87.Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    Peter Heylyn, Cosmographie in Four Bookes, 1652.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    Elizabeth Story Donno, Andrew Marvell, The Complete Poems (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd., 1972; rpt 1976), p. 89.Google Scholar
  15. 21.
    J. E. Weiss and N. O. Weiss, “Marvell’s Spotted Sun,” Notes and Queries vol. CCXXV (August 1980), 339–41.Google Scholar
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    See Lyndy Abraham, Marvell and Alchemy (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1990).Google Scholar
  17. 23.
    Lyndy Abraham, A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 189.Google Scholar
  18. 24.
    Amy Boesky, “Milton, Galileo and Sunspots: Optics and Certainty in Paradise Lost,” in Milton Studies, vol. xxxiv (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996), pp. 23–43.Google Scholar
  19. 25.
    Lara Dodds, “Milton’s Other Worlds,” in Uncircumscribed Milton, Reading Milton Deeply, ed. Charles W. Durham and Kristin A. Pruitt (Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 2008), p. 166.Google Scholar
  20. 29.
    Donald Friedman, “Galileo and the Art of Seeing,” in Milton in Italy: Contexts, Images, Contradictions, ed. Mario A. Di Cesare (Binghamton, New York: Medieval & Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1991), p. 169.Google Scholar
  21. 32.
    Angelica Durran, The Age of Milton and the Scientific Revolution (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press, 2007), pp. 64–65.Google Scholar
  22. 34.
    Maura Brady, “Galileo in Action: The ‘Telescope’ in Paradise Lost,” in Milton Studies, ed. Albert C. Labriola (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005), vol. xliv, pp. 129–52.Google Scholar

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© Malabika Sarkar 2012

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