The Creation and Chaos
The world of Paradise Lost was created out of chaos ensphered by Gods act of turning the pair of golden compasses, and suspended from heaven by a golden chain. Milton did not believe that the universe was created from nothing. Chaos also meant "yawning gulf" and with it came connotations of emptiness and formlessness.
The central stage of the poem is the inner tribulations of Adam and Eve, but the cosmic background is of great religious, imaginative and aesthetic importance. The whole Ptolemaic world is only a point in Miltons universe. Hanging in Chaos, it looks to Satan like a small star beside the moon. Chaos fills the space between heaven and hell.
The discussion of the Creation in Paradise Lost raises an obvious, though still topical in Miltons time, theological question: if God foreknew the Fall of man, why did he proceed with the Creation? The answer is partly made in traditional theological terms: that is that the Lords ways are incomprehensible to mankind. However, since it is Miltons purpose to justify the ways of God to humankind, this does not suffice. Milton has Adam ask
"How first began this heaven which we behold
Distant so high
Moved the creator in his holy rest
Through all eternity so late to build
In Chaos, and that work begun, how soon
In the context of Newtonian physics, Adams question at first focuses on the process, or mechanics behind the universe, but also on Gods motives for creating it. Raphael declares,
"Immediate are the acts of God, more swift
Than time or motion, but to human ears
Cannot without process of speech be told,
So told as earthly notion can receive."
In Dante this problem is non-existent; space, time and movement are only present as a means of talking about spiritual truth. Milton answers the question of how the universe works inside the answer to why God made it.
Raphael is clear that the universe mankind inhabits is not only made in chaos, it is also in part made from it. Chaos is insufficient for the process of creation, and in itself is not wholly good for that purpose; in Book VII we are told of the "black tartareous cold infernal dregs | Adverse to life" which must be "downward purged" before the universe can come into existence. "Tartareous" is a word that Milton twice used to allude to hell (II.858; VI.54). The raw material that constitutes chaos is made up of the four elements: earth,
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