Handout on PL 7 & 8

English 513, Dr. Fike



The Creation of the Universe




Milton’s Adaptation of the Genesis Account




Ptolemy vs. Copernicus



Lewalski, The Life of John Milton 479:  “Milton has Adam and Eve face another interpretative problem in their attempts to read the Book of Nature, foregrounding the challenge the new astronomy was offering to the supposed divine revelation of the Ptolemaic system in the Book of Genesis (4.657-88, 8.13-38).  Adam’s faulty reasoning about the workings of the cosmos throws up intellectual difficulties which, he declares to Raphael, ‘onely thy solution can resolve’ (8.14).  Relying on sense impressions, Adam supposes that the universe is designed on Ptolemaic principles and wonders why God and Nature arranged it so wastefully, with ‘such disproportions’ and superfluous motions.  Raphael, however, refuses to resolve this matter on his angelic authority, but instead invents a genre for scientific discourse:  he offers a prototype of Galileo’s Dialogue of the Two Chief World Systems—Ptolemaic & Copernican, setting forth what is ostensibly an even-handed argument on both sides.  Raphael thereby removes scientific inquiry from the providence of divine revelation and places it squarely in the realm of human speculation.  The cosmos of Milton’s poem also leaves the cosmology ambiguous, with descriptions that defy precise categorization.


Lewalski 478-79:  “As Raphael shifts from a Ptolemaic to a Copernican argument, he suggests that the cosmic system one credits depends on one’s vantage point.  To Adam on earth the universe seems Ptolemaic and irrational; to angels who move among the planets it evidently seems Copernican….”  Raphael mentions various possibilities, including “that the spots on the moon might be atmospheric clouds producing food for possible moondwellers” and “that the universe might hold unnumbered galaxies of unimagined immensity (8.122-58).  Raphael’s method is calculated to help Adam and his descendants discover the attitudes which should govern interpretations of the Book of Nature:  distrust of naïve sense impressions, awareness that human concerns need not be the focus and end of the entire cosmos, and recognition that the scientific orthodoxy of the moment cannot explain the ways of God and the order of things for all time.”


Mary Blewitt, Celestial Navigation for Yachtsmen 1:  “We navigate by means of the Sun, the Moon, the planets and the stars.  Forget the Earth spinning round the Sun with the motionless stars infinite distances away, and imagine that the Earth is the centre of the universe and that all the heavenly bodies circle slowly round us, the stars keeping their relative positions while the Sun, Moon and planets change their positions in relation to each other and to the stars.  This pre-Copernican outlook comes easily as we watch the heavenly bodies rise and set, and is a help in practical navigation.”