« PreviousContinue »
Primum Mobile, so as to pass through it. By this way, as we shall see, pass the spirits of the Just, ascending to Heaven's Gate and the Eternal mansions. To the same orifice, and by the same mode so far of ascension from the Earth through the intermediate spheres, tend also the vain enthusiasms and aspirations of men and the spirits that have been puffed up by them. For it is to be noted that the instances that Milton selects to illustrate the sort of men and things destined for his Limbo of Fools (lines 467-480) are all of men and things that sought to get to Heaven on false pretences—the giants before the Flood (Gen. vi. 1—4); the builders, after the Flood, of that tower of Babel on the plain of Shinar or Sennaar, whose top was to reach to Heaven (Gen. xi. 1—9); Empedocles, the Greek philosopher of Sicily, who was said to have thrown himself into the crater of Ætna, that by the disappearance of his body it might be thought he had been taken up as a god, and whose expectations in that respect were disappointed by the discovery of his iron sandal flung up from the crater; Cleombrotus, the Ambracian youth, who was so ravished by Plato's discourse on the immortality of the soul that he threw himself into the sea in his haste to realize the promised Elysium ; and, lastly, the mediæval hermits, pilgrims to the Holy Land, &c., together with the Friars—Carmelite, Dominican, and Franciscan,whose pretensions to sanctity were such that at last it became a belief that even laymen, if they died in friars' robes, would be passed into Heaven. These, and all such, says Milton, ascend from the Earth in the direction of their wishes—i.e. towards the orifice leading to the Empyrean. They pass the Planets seven ; they pass the Fixed, i.e. the Firmament or the Sphere of the Fixed Stars ; they pass the Ninth Sphere, “whose balance weighs the trepidation talked”-i.e. the sphere whose libration or swaying motion accounts for the precession of the Equinoxes so much talked of_here called also the “Crystalline” sphere in deference to the notion, which theologians had contributed to the Ptolemaic astronomy, that this Ninth Sphere must be the place of those "waters above the firmament” which God on the second day of creation (Gen. i. 6, 7) had divided from the “waters under the firmament;" nay, finally, they pass the outermost sphere, the Primum Mobile, “that first moved.” Thus they are in the very gap or orifice pointing to the gate of the Empyrean. They think they see St. Peter at his wicket ; they lift their feet to ascend the celestial stair leading to the wicket; when lo! cross gusts of those winds of Chaos which bluster all round the Universe, and do not cease even at this its axis towards the Empyrean, blow them, right and left, them and all their trumpery, over the backside of the World," ten thousand leagues away into the Limbo prepared for them.
There are Limbos in other poets—in Dante, in Ariosto, &c. ; but Milton's Limbo, which seems to be a conception of his own, beats them all.
A grave humour, as we have said, runs through the whole passage. Meanwhile the Fiend is still on the outside of the Universe—the fly on the dark lamp-globe. VOL. III,
498–539. “ All this dark globe the Fiend found ... til at last a gleam of dawning light turned thitherward in haste (i.e. in the direction of the gleam) his travelled (perhaps travaileit) steps.” The meaning is that Satan, after much walking on the dark outside of the World, catches a glimpse of the light streaming down at the polar orifice towards the Empyrean described in the preceding note. He makes towards this spot, which is then more minutely described, in terms and with circumstances which fully bear out the anticipations in that note. In the wall of Heaven, or the Empyrean above, Heaven's Gate is visible; and ascending to this Gate is a structure of stairs or steps, each of mystic or symbolical meaning, like that which Jacob saw in his dream (Gen. xxviii. 10-19); which stairs are now let down as if to dare the Fiend, or aggravate him with the thought of his exclusion from Heaven ; though sometimes they are drawn up out of sight. Underneath these stairs is a bright sea of jasper or pearl, which Saints from Earth, whether like the beggar Lazarus (Luke xvi. 22) or like the prophet Elijah (2 Kings ii. 11), have to cross on their way to glory; which sea-as the poet in his Argument prefixed to this Book has identified it with “the waters above the firmament"--must be supposed to be a segment or arc of the Ninth or Crystalline Sphere, visible through the orifice in the Primum Mobile. As to that orifice we are left in no doubt. It opens direct under or against the Gate of Heaven, and is continued in the direction of the axis of the Universe straight down to the Earth in the centre, over the seat of Paradise. This passage or shaft from the Empyrean down to Earth is wider far than that which afterwards opened into the starry Heaven above God's holy mountain of Sion, or even than that over the whole Land of Palestine from Paneas (or Dan) to Beersheba, when the ether above all that sacred region rustled with the wings of Angels carrying God's messages to His favoured people ; for now the whole Earth enjoyed those regards which were afterwards so concentrated. Finally, round the opening or passage bounds are set to Darkness or Chaos, which is there circularly shoved back.
555-563. “ Round he surveys," &c. This is the Fiend's first glimpse of the World he has come to ruin. He is standing on the lower stair of the flight ascending to the Gate of the Empyrean, and gazing down through the opening into the vast blue Universe of stars and rolling luminaries. As the circling canopy of Night does not extend to where he is (by Night here is to be understood not Chaos, as in so many passages hitherto, but the ordinary Night of our Universe, or the moving shadow of the Earth cast by the Sun in his diurnal revolution), he can behold all at once. He takes two glances-one longitudinal, i.e. from East to West, or (as Milton particularly expresses it in language the astronomical accuracy of which will appear to any one who may consult a celestial globe) from the constellation Libra at one point of the celestial equator to that fleecy star Aries at the opposite point which seems to be drawing the neighbouring constellation Andromeda westward with it;
the other in the direction of depth or latitude (“: breadth"), i.e. from the pole at which he stands right through to the opposite pole. In the very act of taking the second glance he plunges down precipitate through the open shaft. Observe the poet's skill in making the plunge take place in the same sentence and clause with the downward glance—nothing stronger than a comma between.
563—565. “ winds with ease through the pure marble air his oblique way amongst innumerable stars.” Satan's first plunge was perpendicular. This perpendicular plunge has carried him right through the World's “first region,” i.e. to within the Ninth or Crystalline sphere; but now that he has got to the Eighth sphere, or firmament of the fixed stars, he flies obliquely--i.e. keeps in the arc of that sphere-descending through the “ marble" air (i.e. glistering air) towards the equator, but winding about among the stars, in case one of them should be his object. Though the Earth which he seeks is in the centre of the starry sphere, he does not yet know that; nor in his glance from the pole aloft does he seem to have noticed the central ball at all-probably from its minuteness at that distance. On the phrase "amongst innumerable stars," Mr. Keightley notes : “He here seems to quit the Ptolemaic for the Copernican astronomy, for according to the former they were all fixed in the face of one sphere, so that he could not well be said to wind his way among them.” But in the Ptolemaic system, or at least in the later form of it, the stars do not seem to have been supposed as all fixed in absolutely the outermost superficies of one sphere, and therefore at the same distance from the Earth, but to have been studded in banks in a spherical revolving shell of some thickness, some nearer the Earth and others more remote. See the diagram at p. 94 of Introduction, taken from an astronomical woodcut of 1610. Thus there would be plenty of room for Satan to wind his oblique way amongst the stars. Milton held his conceptions too firmly to make such a slip as is suggested.
571–573. “ above them all (" above" in the sense of more than, not in the sense of “overhead of,”) the golden Sun . . . allured his eye.” Though the Sun in the old astronomical system was but one of the seven planets, yet it was supposed to be the luminary of greatest mass and splendour in the whole starry sphere. Thus Shakespeare speaks (Troilus and Cressida, I. iii.) of “the glorious planet Sol ;” and Milton, farther on in this poem, describes the Sun as containing embodied in his single globe a large proportion of the light of the Universe. Attracted by the Sun's surpassing splendour, Satan makes towards it.
574-576. (“but up or down, by centre or eccentric, hard to tell, or longitude.") Whether “up or down," one or other it would be, according as he had descended past the Sun's place or was still above it when he made for it ; " by centre or eccentric,” i.e.
, as we understand, by spiral motion round the centre or spiral motion inwards, on one side of the centre; “or longitude,” i.e. motion eastwards or westwards.
588--590. " a spot like which," &c. Spots on the Sun were first observed with the telescope by Galileo in 1611.
592. “ metal.” In the original editions this word is printed “medal.”
597. "to the twelve that shone in Aaron's breast-plate.” “To the twelve” here seems to mean “and the rest of the twelve." For the twelve stones in Aaron's breast-plate, see Exod. xxviii. 17-20.
602, 603. “they bind volatile Hermes”: i.e. solidify fluid mercury or quicksilver.
603, 604. “call up unbound . . . old Proteus ... drained through a limbec to his native form." Whoever wished to consult the oracular seagod Proteus had great difficulty in fixing him in his native shape, as he would assume a hundred forms ere he could be bound (Odyss. iv. 405 et seq., and Georg. iv. 444 et seq.). But Proteus here stands for the "elementary matter” or prime substance which the Alchemists sought in their transmutations. They tried to get at it by distilling substances in alembics or chemical vessels.
607, 608. “ elixir pure . . . potable gold ... the arch-chemic Sun.” One of the quests of the Alchemists was after an elixir vite, or liquid to preserve and prolong life, and aurum potabile, or potable gold, was an ideal form of this rarity, or something analogous. Newton quotes from Shakespeare (King John, III. i.)
“The glorious Sun Stays in his course, and plays the alchemist." 616—619. But all sunshine, as when his beams at noon culminate from the equator, as they now shot upward still direct, whence," &c. The recurrence of the word as" here makes some difficulty. The meaning is: “Where Satan was—i.e, on the Sun itself—all was sunshine without visible shadow, just as, on Earth at the equator at noon, the Sun's beams striking vertically downwards, in the self-same manner that they were now shooting directly upwards, cause opaque objects to have no slanting shadow round them."
622. “ Saw within ken," &c. At a good distance off from the point of the Sun's surface where he had landed, and, as it were, across a shining plain, Satan sees the glorious Angel.
623 “ The same whom John saw.” See Rev. xix. 17.
627. "fledge with wings": i.e. feathered or plumed with wings. We now use the form fledged (past part of the verb to fledge, meaning either "to grow feathered” or “to feather"); but the adjective fledge is found in old writers, e.g. in Holland's Pliny: “the young cuckoo being once fledge” (Rich. Dict.). Milton repeats the word (Par. Lost, VII. 420); and
it occurs in his prose. 643. “succinct": girt up.
648—650. “ The Archangel Uriel, one of the seven," &c. The Jews believed that there were seven Archangels, exalted in dignity above all the rest of the Heavenly Host; and there is a recognition of this belief in the Apocalypse (Rev. i. 4, v. 6, and viii. 2). Three of these seven, according to theological and poetical tradition, founded on passages of Scripture or of the Apocrypha, were Michael (Dan. X. 13, Jude 9, and Rev. xii
. 7), Gabriel (Dan. viii. 16, ix. 21, and Luke i. 19 and 26), and Raphael (Book of Tobit, xii. 15). To these three poetic tradition has ascribed a kind of pre-eminence even among the Archangels. They are the three Archangels who sing the song of the Elements in the Prologue to Goethe's Faust. Uriel, whom Milton here makes one of the seven, is mentioned as an Archangel in the 2nd Book of Esdras, and recognised in Rabbinical writings as a fourth Archangel, standing, with the other three, near to the throne of Deity. Five other great Angels are specifically named by Milton, on his own or on Rabbinical authority, in the course of Paradise Lost-Abdiel, Ithuriel, Zophiel, Uzziel, and Zephon; but which of these were the three Archangels remaining to make up the seven is not suggested. It seems to have been Milton's wish that his readers should consider Satan before his fall to have been an Archangel coequal with Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, if not even above them (see Book V. 658–661); and I am not quite sure but he means to hint (Book VI. 29–43) that Abdiel received promotion in Heaven after Satan's rebellion for his peculiar fidelity in the midst of it.
658. “Where all his Sons thy embassy attend." The meaning is that Uriel, as one of the greatest seven, was wont to hear the Deity's will in the inmost Court of Heaven, and then to carry it to where (or to the more general Court where) the multitude of Angels waited to hear it announced. 668. these shining orbs.”
now used in our present sense. 690, 691. “Uriel, though Regent of the Sun," &c. The name Uriel signifies in Hebrew “God's light” or “God is my light,” and Uriel was considered the Angel of Light. Hence he is Regent of the Sun in Milton; and hence the expectation that he in especial would be clear-sighted.
693. “In his uprightness," &c. Todd quotes Job xxxiii. 3. 710, 711. “Confusion heard his voice,” &c. See Book II. 959-967.
712—721. “at his second bidding,” &c. : i.e. at the fiat “ Let there be light;” which, in Genesis i. 1–5, may be read as a second bidding on the first Day of Creation.
716. “this ethereal quintessence of Heaven”: i.e. Light, of which Milton here speaks, as some ancient philosophers did, as a fifth and purer existence, distinct from the four “cumbrous” or gross elements of Farth, Water, Air, and Fire. See Book VII. 243, 244.