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Milton’s Earthly Paradise

Milton’s Earthly Paradise: A Historical Study of Eden

Copyright Date: 1972
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 348
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  • Book Info
    Milton’s Earthly Paradise
    Book Description:

    This study provides a history of the changing interpretations of the first earthly paradise -- the garden of Eden -- in Western thought and relates Paradise Lost and other literary works to this paradise tradition. The author traces the beginnings of the tradition as they appear in the Bible and in classical literature and shows how these two strains were joined in early Christian and medieval literature. His emphasis, however, is on the relation of Paradise Lost to Renaissance commentary and to other literary works of the period dealing with the paradise story. Professor Duncan views Paradise Lost as one of many Renaissance works that reveal an untiring effort to understand and explain the first chapters of Genesis. In the rational and humanistic commentary of the Renaissance, he explains, the aim was to provide an interpretation of the literal sense of the Scriptural account that was credible, detailed, and historically valid. He finds that the cumulative influence of the commentary is reflected in Milton’s attention to the location of paradise, the emphasis on the natural and the rational in his description of paradise, and in the importance of the typological relationship between the terrestrial and celestial paradises. This illuminating discussion makes it clear that Milton’s re-creation of paradise is not only superb poetry but also a penetrating account of the origins of man, involving highly complex and controversial issues.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6218-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    J. E. D.
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-2)
    (pp. 3-8)

    The earthly paradise, so variously interpreted from primitive myth to modern psychology, is at the heart of much of the thought and literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The ideas of the earthly paradise held by Milton and his contemporaries reflected many centuries of acceptance, rejection, and interpretation of earlier myth, theology, and literature. Today, we can look forward through the history of these changing conceptions of paradise toParadise Lostand beyond, or we can look back to the beginnings of this paradise tradition from the perspective provided byParadise Lost.

    The twofold purpose of this book is...

    (pp. 9-18)

    At the time John Milton was writingParadise Lost, some European thinkers were engaged in heated controversy about the accuracy, authorship, and inspiration of the Scriptures. Despite these arguments, Milton and most of his contemporaries accepted the story of Adam and Eve and the garden in Eden as a literal and inspired historical account written by Moses. Viewing this history in the light of centuries of Christian commentary, they were prepared to defend their interpretation of Scripture to the utmost of their powers. And Milton, seeking to base his epic upon the only true account of man’s origins, depended as...

    (pp. 19-37)

    Christian writers trying to envision and describe the Edenic paradise, told of so briefly in Genesis, repeatedly turned to the earthly “paradises” of Greek and Latin literature. Milton and his contemporaries knew and loved these classical descriptions of an imagined paradise and later descriptions influenced by them. The golden age, the Garden of Alcinous, and other classical concepts were often regarded as faded, distorted images of the true biblical Eden, and sometimes they were dismissed as altogether false. Milton was charmed by the “pleasing licence” of myth and alluded to several of these classical paradises in creating his Paradise; he...

    (pp. 38-66)

    Milton and his age sometimes praised the early Christian writers and sometimes scourged them, particularly for rejecting a literal interpretation of Scripture in favor of allegories; but they generally accepted these writers’ doctrines concerning Adam’s life in paradise and his sin. Although these doctrines gave the scenes in paradise a unique theological and historical importance, the Renaissance writers turned to the early Christian period for poetry as well as for doctrine. Renaissance poets discovered that Christian poets more than a thousand years before them had commenced the task of fusing myth, chronicle, and theology into new artistic wholes justifying the...

    (pp. 67-88)

    Renaissance writers, particularly Protestants, generally derived their ideas of paradise more from the patristic exegetes and poets than from the theological superstructures and fantastic legends of the Middle Ages. This does not mean that they were not familiar with various popular accounts of paradise and the theological commentary of St. Thomas and others, but they usually rejected with anger and contempt unhistorical allegory, Aristotelian eternalism, and incredible fantasy, choosing instead to build upon the rational and historical exegesis of Rashi, St. Thomas, and their followers. Dante’s great vision of the terrestrial paradise was about as far removed as possible from...

    (pp. 89-124)

    The paradise of legend, vision, or even theology was not enough for the men of the Renaissance. A firm, reasonable, and enlightened belief in the historical paradise seemed the necessary foundation for Christianity itself. Faced with divisions within the Church, an increased rationalism in exegesis and in textual criticism, and expanding geographical exploration, both commentators and poets of the Renaissance sought the certainty of a natural paradise with a definite position in human history and a precise geographical location. Depending upon reason, observable evidence, and a literal interpretation of Scripture, they attempted to reconstruct man’s beginnings in accordance with contemporary...

    (pp. 125-187)

    Serious study of man’s creation and of the events in paradise seemed both necessary and natural to Renaissance scholars because of the legacy of man’s original glory, as well as his burden of sin, which he had brought from paradise into the history of a fallen world. The inheritance from the “ruined millionnaire” (as T. S. Eliot called Adam inEast Coker) had included not only the remnants of God’s image in man, but God’s covenant with man, the natural law, language, knowledge, work, marriage, the family, and the foundations of the Church and the state. All roads led back...

    (pp. 188-233)

    While Renaissance scholars and poets were seeking to understand man by studying the biblical account of his beginnings in a historical paradise, they also felt impelled to prove conclusively the historicity of these origins by identifying the exact location of this paradise. The vast scholarship expended in the search for the historical paradise provides the strongest evidence of the devotion and determination of the men of the Renaissance in their quest for the origins of human history. The belief in a paradise still existing somewhere just beyond the realm of Prester John had become increasingly less tenable. The exploration of...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 234-268)

    Both the commentators and poets of the Renaissance usually thought of the historical paradise as preeminently a natural paradise, an epitome of the purity and beauty of nature, but many writers were also convinced that this unparalleled natural beauty held symbolic significance. Almost no one would have doubted that this earthly paradise was the “type” of a heavenly paradise. A number of commentators and poets also interpreted it as representing some kind of an inner paradise. Although Milton’s Paradise and Nature in her prime seem almost one, his natural Paradise provides a way of apprehending the celestial paradise and the...

    (pp. 269-288)

    Paradise lost stands as the consummation not only of the Renaissance commentaries and the literary works of the “celestial cycle,” but of centuries of biblical interpretation and imaginative speculation. As scholar and poet, Milton was uniquely endowed to draw upon these many currents of tradition in one great work. In the century after the publication ofParadise Lostin 1667, both theological writers and poets focused less and less upon the Edenic paradise of Adam and Eve as the historical site of the beginnings of the human race and of original sin. During this period there were no comprehensive commentaries...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 291-316)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 319-329)