Conceptions of the beyond in John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’
The dissertation project investigates the semantics of the ‘beyond’ in John Milton’s verse epic Paradise Lost (1667). This epic was written in a time when the debate about the order of the world and of the universe had reached a climax. The Ptolemaic-Aristotelian geocentric worldview of Christian tradition was put into final question by Galileo’s observations at the beginning of the 17th century and confronted with the Copernican theory of a heliocentric cosmic system. The Copernican order raises the question of the significance of the human being within the cosmos, as well as the question of the position and role of God in a universe whose firm structure was greatly destabilized by the new discoveries. No specific site can be simply assigned to either this or the next world. The earth is no longer the centre of the universe, but merely a random heavenly body among infinitely many. The relative insignificance of the planet earth in the vastness of the universe, which the new order renders recognizable, led to a dramatic loss of human orientation and strong feelings of being uprooted.
Against this backdrop, Paradise Lost, with its depiction of the story of Creation, the Fall of Man and the Expulsion from Paradise, takes up precisely this theme of a radically changing world order. The dissertation’s central object of study is the literary conception, construction, and depiction of the space of the work’s action, which comprises all areas of this world and the next. This world corresponds to the universe with its planets and stars. Heaven and Hell, the ocean of Chaos and Paradise before the Fall constitute the ‘beyond’. The dissertation examines the way the structure, conception, and interconnection of these sites or spaces provide answers to the period’s urgent questions about the order of the universe and the position of God and man within it.