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Milton's Use of the Vision of Er Author(s): Josephine Waters Bennett Source: Modern Philology, Vol. 36, No.

4 (May, 1939), pp. 351-358 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/434196 . Accessed: 10/12/2013 13:38
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MILTON'S USE OF THE VISION OF ER

was the Visionof Er in the tenthbook of the poeticimagination a scenefrom it in theArcades(11. 62-73), as Republic.He versified criticshave already noted,' but the much more extensiveand siguse whichMiltonmakesof the Visionof Er, in Paradise lost, nificant The journey of seemsto have escaped thenoticeofhis commentators. Satan on the outside shell of the universe, fromthe spot wherehe lands on his way up fromHell to a pointjust below Heaven's gate,2 resemblance to the journeyof Er. bears a striking that Satan set out to discoverthe newly It will be remembered him to it, saying: createdworld,and that Chaos directed Nowlately Heavenand Earth, another World link'd in a golden Chain HungoremyRealm, To thatside Heav'n from whence yourLegions
fell .
. .

IN

JOSEPHINE

WATERS

BENNETT

ALL Plato the passagewhich mostpowerfully fired Milton's

. [II, 1004-6].

Satan ascends to the solid outside shell of this world (III, 418 ff.), whichseems a boundless Continent and wild.... Dark,waste, from Save on thatsidewhich thewallofHeav'n distant farr somsmallreflection Though gaines air less vextwithtempest Of glimmering loud;
.... [11. 423-29].
1T. N. Orchard, Milton's astronomy(New York, 1913), pp. 70-72. Milton's further use of Plato is discussed by R. B. Levinson, "Milton and Plato," MLN, XLVI (1931), 85-91; and Herbert Agar, Milton and Plato (Princeton, 1928). Mr. Agar traces Milton's frequent referencesto the music of the spheres to Plato (see pp. 37, 20-21, and appendix Nos. 2, 3, 13, 22), but the idea was Pythagorean, and widespread. It appears in Cicero's Somnium Scipionis, Macrobius, Chaucer, and Shakespeare. For its currency see The paradise of dainty devices, ed. H. E. Rollins (Cambridge, 1927), No. 35 and notes on pp. 206-7. 2 Orchard (pp. 77-78, 86-88) argues that these two points are very near each other, but in that case the darkness, Satan's long journey, and the "ten thousand Leagues" through which fools are blown from one place to the other are not accounted for. M. Y. Hughes in his edition of Paradise lost (New York, 1935; p. xxiii) follows Orchard.
[MODERN PHILOLOGY, May,

1939]

351

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The fiend, on that "Backside of comingup fromHell, lands at first the World" wherelater therewill be a Paradise of Fools, on the opHeaven and its light. positeside from darkGlobetheFiendfound Allthis as he pass'd, Andlong he wanderd, tillat lasta gleame turned thither-ward in haste Ofdawning light His travell'd 498-501]. steps. . . . [11. This gleam of lightshinesfromHeaven's gate and illuminates the stair which is now said to connect the outside surface of the golden universewithHeaven, and whichtakes the place of thegoldenchain in the earlierdescription. mentioned Satan, when he arrivesat the looks down an openingin the shell of the foot of the stair, through universe and sees upon whichhe has been traveling, A passage downto th'Earth, a passage wide[1.528]. It is by way of this passage that souls ascend from earthto heaven. the Planets and the Theypass seven, pass fixt, AndthatCrystalline whose ballance Sphear weighs andthatfirst The Trepidation talkt, mov'd; AndnowSaintPeter at Heav'nsWicket seems with To waitthem hisKeys,andnowat foot lift thir OfHeav'nsascent they Feet,. . . . [11. 481-861. Milton's visualizationof the universefromthe spot whereSatan is is veryclearand definite. Satan is standing at thefootofthe standing ladder which connects the universe with Heaven. He looks up golden the ladder and sees Heaven's gate at the top of it. He looks down an openingin the concentric the through sphereswhichconstituted universeaccordingto the popular conceptionof the Ptolemaicsystem,3and sees the earth. Er as goingon a similar Plato describes to just sucha place. journey Er's soul, temporarily from his separated body, findsitselfin a somewhere between heavenand earth,on a plain "mysterious place" or meadow,from whichit sets out withothersouls: he said thatthey cameto a placewhere and,on thefourth dayafter, they couldsee from abovea lineoflight, as a column, straight extending right thewhole heaven and through theearth, in colour through the resembling andpurer; another rainbow, only brighter them to the day'sjourney brought
3 In the simplified formwhich Milton describes, the systemwas really Aristotelian. See Francis R. Johnson,Astronomical in Renaissance England (Baltimore, 1937), chap. ii. thought

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ofthelight, in themidst of saw theendsofthechains place,and there, they heaven let down above: .... Fromthese from endsis extended thespindle ofNecessity, on which all therevolutions thespheres] turn. [of This spindleis theaxis oftheuniverse, alongwhichare arranged eight "whorls" likevessels which fitintoone another; thewhorls showtheir edgeson the side all together form one continuous whorl. upperside,and on thelower Thisis pierced home which is driven thecenter ofthe bythespindle, through eighth.4 From what followswe learn that these "whorls" perform the same function as the spheresof the Ptolemaicsystem. It is evidentfrom whathe sees thatEr, likeSatan, is on theoutside of theuniverse lookingdownintoit alongits axis.5 The longjourney, the guiding beam oflightnear the end of it, the chainin the midstof the light,6 and the openingdown through the spheresto earth,are of similarity elements betweenMilton's conception and Plato's. Just how Plato imagined the "whorls"to be shaped commentators do not but we from the in the Arcades where he agree, know, passage (1. 64) calls them"the nineenfolded thatMilton,in hisreading of Sphears,"7 the whorls as thespheresoftheso-calledPtolemaic Plato, interpreted system. Satan descendsthrough the opening in theshelloftheuniverse and on the sun for a chat with Uriel. the course of the talk stops During Urieldescribes the creation oftheworldto him. Uriel'screation story is not the one whichappearsin Genesis, but the one givenby Plato in the Timaeus.s
' W. F. Warner, The universeas picturedin Milton's "Paradise lost" (New York, 1915), pp. 50 ft.,points out that the "passage wide" is through the pole. Raphael descends on the "polar winds" (V, 269), and in At a vacation exercise,11.33-35, Milton says: "Such where the deep transportedmind may soare Above the wheeling poles, and at Heav'ns dore Look in " 6 The golden chain was a .... classical tradition, going back to Homer. Milton mentions it in II, 1004-6, quoted above, but in the passage under discussion he converts it into Jacob's ladder. 7 Aristotle added a ninth sphere, or primum mobile,to Plato's eight, and still others were added later. 'E. C. Baldwin, "Milton and Plato's Timaeus," PMLA, XXXV (1920), 210-17, points out that the creation by an orderingof chaos is Platonic. The separation of chaos into the fourelements, and the reduction of the elements to order comes fromthe Timaeus; but the creation of the stars and heavens out of an "Ethereal quintessence" is Aristotelian, at least in name.
4 B. Jowett, The dialogues of Plato (3rd ed.; Oxford, 1892), III, 333.

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Evidentlyboththe Timaeusand the Visionof Er werein Milton's mind whenhe wrotethis passage, and it seems probablethat both to his cosmological contributed conception.If so, it may have been fromthe Timaeusthat he took his notionthat the universe was sursolid or such an idea was a current roundedby shell, sphere;although in ancienttimes.9Plato says,in the Timaeus,thatthe Creator"made of a globe,roundas from a lathe..... This he the worldin theform finished the surface smoothall roundformanyreasons."'0 off, making on Plato in Milton's day," says in Ficino,the standardcommentator on thispassage,"Vertigium, his commentary autem,id est,coelumex Adamante rursus,alijsque materijs,scilicet astris non solum fixis.
'12

ofthe universe Milton'swholementalpicture as a globesuspended from Heaven by a goldenchain-a globewhichis a shellenclosing the a classical "nineenfolded certain elements Sphears"-is one,although in the conception are peculiar. His locationof Heaven and Hell outwas not unprecedented; side of the universe and the chaos whichsuris borrowed from the atomists.His indebtedness roundshis universe to Plato lies, not in thesefeatures, but in the pictorialdevice of the the of on outside the universe to an openingthrough which journey looksdown,alongtheaxis,and sees a passage through the traveler all the spheresto earthat the center. If we recognize that Miltonhad Plato's Visionof Er in mindwhen he described Satan's journey,what he has to say of Limbo takes on
* A. H. Gilbert, "The outside shell of Milton's world," SP, XX (1923), 444-47, discusses the medieval sources of this idea. F. R. Johnson (chap. ii) sketches the astronomical background of the idea. Lucian, On sacrifices(Works, Loeb ed., III, 163 f.), says heaven "is bronze on the outside we learn from Homer." When one climbs over the edge ard up on the "back" it is brighterand more light than on earth and there are the houses of the trans. John Bostock and H. T. Riley (London: Bohn, 1855], gods. Pliny (Natural history, ii. 2, 3) says that the world is a perfectglobe. He speaks of "us who are in the interior," and asserts that the figuresof the constellations are impressed on this globe and "its surface is not perfectlypolished like the eggs of birds, as some celebrated authors assert.' Milton's idea of a chaos outside of the shell of the universe is Lucretian or atomic, rather than Platonic. Both Plato and Aristotlesay that all of chaos was used in the making of the universe,and nothingwas leftover. Eusebius (Evangelicae praeparationis,xv. 38, 42) cites Parmenides, Leucippus, Democritus, and Empedocles for ideas about a wall, or solid boundary of the universe. 10Jowett,III, 452. 11Ficino was the Jowett of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. His commentary was printed both with his translation and separately, and even with other people's trans1ations and with the Greek text. 12Opera divini Platonis omnia (Basle, 1532), p. 659.

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universe: Meanwhile Globe uponthefirm opacous Ofthisround whose first convex divides World, The luminous inferior enclos'd Orbs, FromChaos andth'inroad ofDarkness old, Satanalighted walks: a Globefarr off It seem'd, nowseems a boundless Continent andwild, under thefrown ofNight Dark,waste, andever-threatning Starless storms expos'd, OfChaos inclement blustring round, skie;.. .. [III, 418-26]. To thisplace will come the souls of thosewho die in folly.They will rise through the passage openingthrough all of the spheresto earth, and whentheycome to the outsideshellof the universe SaintPeter at Heav'nsWicket seems To waitthem with hisKeys,andnowat foot OfHeav'nsascent lift thir loe they Feet,when A violent cross wind from either Coast Blowsthem transverse tenthousand Leagues awry Intothedevious .... Air; Allthese aloft upwhirled oftheWorld farr off Flyo'rethebackside Intoa Limbo andbroad, since calld large The Paradise ofFools,.... [III, 484-96]. The place is described as a vast, windyplain: Herewalk'dtheFiendat large in spacious field. As when a Vultur onImausbred With SailsandWind thir canieWaggons light: So on thiswindie Sea ofLand,theFiend
Walk'd up and down ....
73-86.

wassituated medieval on theborders Limbo ofHell,andAriosto put hisParadise ofFoolsonthemoon, while Milton's Limbo is located on the "backside" or bottom of thesolidoutside shelloftheuniverse. Let us turnback to Satan'sfirst arrival of the upon the sphere

its name to medievaltheology,'3 and its satire to Ariosto,'4 but the

fresh outthatMilton's It has beenpointed Limbo owes significance.

.... lightson the barrenplaines Of Sericana,whereChineses drive

Milton's poetical works,ed. D. Masson (London, 1890), III, 432 n. The idea of such a limbo is to be found in English literaturefromthe Middle English period onward.
13

[III, 430-41].

1929), note on III, 444 ff.

14 Orlando furioso, XXXIV,

See Paradise

lost, ed. A. W. Verity (Cambridge,

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This great,windyplain to which souls come on theirjourneyfrom to the plain where Earth to Heaven bears considerable resemblance Er first arrivedafterhis soul lefthis body: He saidthat when hissoulleft thebody hewent ona journey with a great and that came to a at which there were two they mysterious company, place in theearth theplain where he had arrived; notto be confused [i.e., openings were neartogether, with theplanet, andoveragainst them were Earth]; they in the heaven two other above. In the intermediate openings space there whocommanded were thejust,.... to ascend seated, judges bytheheavenly theunjust were bidden to hand;andinlikemanner wayontheright bythem descend andsawon wayontheleft bythelower hand;.... Thenhebeheld at either one side the soulsdeparting of heavenand earthwhen opening on them; hadbeengiven andat thetwoother sentence other openings souls, outoftheearth some andworn with some ascending dusty travel, descending cleanand bright."1 outofheaven This "mysterious betweenearth and place" is clearlysomewhere since souls come down to it from or up from Heaven earth.'" Heaven, It is just sucha half-way as Milton describes the of as site Limbo. place He wouldnaturally reducePlato's fouropenings to two,sincehe did not believein the pre-existence and descentof souls to earth. But in earththrough an opening in a Milton,as in Plato, souls riseup from from which some finish the ascent to while others do not. plain Heaven, The accountoftheinhabitants ofLimbooccupiesthesame place in Milton's storyof the journeyas is occupiedby a description of the of purgatory inhabitants in the Visionof Er. Plato says that someof the souls comingup to the "mysterious place" reportof the punishment suffered fora longeror shorter time by those who have been their liveson earth. Miltondid notbelievein purgatory, unjustduring and he does not giveus a judgment scenesuch as Er describes; but it is just at this pointin theirascenttowardHeaven, whentheyhave
debate.

16Plato's idea of the location of this place in the cosmic system is still a matter of
R. L. Nettleship, in his Philosophical lectures and remains, II, 361, n. 3, expresses

Is Jowett, III,

331.

the belief that this meadow is outside of the cosmos (i.e., the universe). The Platonic notion of a place of respite in the soul's journey from earth to heaven has an important place in ancient and medieval literature. Plutarch discussed it in his essay Of theface apMacrobius' elaborate commentary on Cicero's Dream enjoyed general currency. There were both medieval and Renaissance imitations; but most writerslocated the scene on the sphere of the moon and associated it with the Elysian fields. Ariosto selected this lunar site forhis Paradise of Fools. But Milton seems to have been aware of the literaryancestry of Ariosto's idea. At least he is historicallycorrectin associating it with the Vision of Er.
pearing in the orb of the moon. Cicero imitated the Vision of Er in his Dream of Scipio, and

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belowand see theopening above (which theopening comeup through is the gate of Heaven), that Milton makes the judgmentof God fall upon fools. AndnowSaintPeter at Heav'ns Wicket seems To waitthem with hisKeys,andnowat foot OfHeav'nsascent lift their they Feet,.... whensuddenly theyare blownaway into Limbo. Milton's accountof the occupantsof Limbo fillsthe same place in of Satan's journey as the judgmentand purgatory his description in Plato. In makingthesubstitution Miltonmayhave been scenefills from Ficino's derived on this a suggestion commentary following passage in Plato. Ficino says: in which soulsascending and descending The meadow, restfora while, between the lower world and is in somemiddle the and in heavens, region a goodandan evilstate, anditscondition character it is between is between likelimboin theair [limbo it is described blissand misery, similis in aire ina former Hereattend souls which life hadmutual designatus]. acquaintance andinthenext eachother. Likewise insucha meadow reside recognize they thesouls, tothePlatonists, ofthose whodie ininfancy.'7 longest according Ficino linksthe "mysterious place," or meadow,visitedby Er with the medievalLimbo,not onlyin name but also by the presence there of the souls of infants.'s Two important ofthe changesare made by Miltonin the structure Platonicvision. He not onlyreducesthefouropenings to two,but he combineswhat is said of the openingsin the firstscene with the openingat the spindleof Necessityin Plato's second scene. In the first scene Plato mentions two openings"in the Heaven above" and two leading down to earth. In the second scene, at the spindle of he merely mentions the "ends of the chainsof Heaven let Necessity, downfrom above" and the view downthrough the "whorls." Milton combinesthe two imagesputting the "Gate of Heav'n" at the axis of the universe: Directagainst which op'ndfrom beneath, Just o'retheblissful seatofParadise, A passage down toth'Earth, a passage wide,.... [III, 526-28].
17Translated fromFicino's Opera omnia (Paris, 1641), II, 388b. ,s Most medieval writersrelegated the souls of unbaptized infants to Limbo.

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of openings, and the substitution of Except forthe consolidation the MiltonicLimbo,locatedat thepointwhereSatan first for arrived, located somewhere Plato's purgatory, below the "mysterious place" whereEr first arrived,the journeyof Satan follows very closelythe patternof the Vision of Er. Both beginwith an account of a plain wheresoulssojournbetweenHeaven and earth,a plain or "meadow" Heaven and Hell. Both describe which is also between a journeyand a second scene whichinvolvesthe chain by whichthe universeis suspendedfromHeaven; this secondscene is lightedfromHeaven, and centersabout an openingwhichprovidesa view down through the concentric spheresto earthat the center. notso muchbecauseit adds considerably The parallelis interesting, whichMiltonhas been shownto have derived to the bodyof material fromPlato, as because it seems to illustratethe workingsof his of the Visionof Er, clarified imagination.The geography by the cosfrom Milton'smind emerges mologyof the Timaeusand of Aristotle, as a clear-cutand definite patternin which every detail is fully visualized and logicallyworkedout. The visionaryquality which and dreamis gonein Milton. In keepsPlato's Er in therealmofmyth and a vast, orderly whichloses in its place we have clarity, grandeur but gainsin scenicand dramaticeffect. spiritual significance betweenthe twojourneyshas been recognized, Once the similarity it seems naturalenoughthat Milton shoulduse as the model forhis imitatedclassicosmicjourneythe mostfamousand mostfrequently cal accountof such a journey.
EVANSTON, ILLINOIS

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