Thesis ID: CBB001562842

Epic Wonder: Poetics, Science, and Religion in “Paradise Lost” (2009)


Baarsch, Jonathan (Author)

University of Wisconsin at Madison
Loewenstein, David

Publication Date: 2009
Edition Details: Advisor: Loewenstein, David
Physical Details: 294 pp.
Language: English

Paradise Lost stands at a crossroads in intellectual history. Marking both the end of the Renaissance and beginning of Restoration literature, it also stands in the midst of the scientific revolution and on the eve of the Enlightenment. Nowhere are the traces of these shifts more evident than in the signature affective response the poem evokes in its audience: wonder. Despite the importance Aristotle and early-modern literary theory placed on the passion of wonder in epic poetry and the prominence recent work in the history of early-modern science has given wonder, very little scholarship to date has covered the topic of epic wonder, particularly with respect to Milton's poem. Epic Wonder explores the importance of wonder to Milton's poem through close reading and by reading the poem within a variety of other contexts, including early modern literary criticism, contemporary scientific writings, seventeenth-century sermons and pamphlets, Scripture, and the classical and Italian epic tradition. This comprehensive contextualization reveals that Milton not only evokes wonder as a passionate response to his poetry, but also portrays wonder as the proper attitude towards and justification for investigating the natural world. Such science is deployed in the epic to inculcate admiration for the divine in his readers. Wonder is both the means and end of Paradise Lost . The first two chapters, on astronomy and monsters, deal with propriety: in the case of astronomy, probing the direct relationship between Milton's poem and the appropriateness of scientific investigation for moral and spiritual development; and in the case of monsters, investigating the appropriateness of poetic inclusion of marvelous monsters according to the rising neo-classic aesthetic taste. Following these two chapters, I turn to Milton's wonderful landscapes--Hell, Eden, and Chaos-- to explore his poetics of wonder further. Each landscape illuminates a new facet of wonder, and each also reveals that while Milton appropriates various wonderful discourses propagated by his contemporaries (sermons on Hell) and in the epic tradition he inherits (epic gardens), he also displays radical innovation in departing from his traditions in order to align the religious doctrine governing his poetic universe with his poetic and rhetorical ends.


Description Cited in ProQuest Diss. & Thes. . ProQuest Doc. ID 305043370.

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Authors & Contributors
Flesch, William
Whittington, Leah
Stoll, Mark R.
Romano, Antonella
Picciotto, Joanna
Taschini, Audrey
Environmental History
Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation
I Tatti Studies: Essays in the Renaissance
Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura
École Française de Rome
Harvard University Press
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Science and literature
Science and religion
Science and culture
Poetry and poetics
Science and politics
Milton, John
Donne, John
Sidney, Philip
Muir, John
Huygens, Christiaan
Vossius, Isaac
Time Periods
17th century
16th century
18th century
15th century
Great Britain
Yosemite National Park
Académie des Sciences, Paris
Royal Society of London

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