Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Comparative Literature


John Leonard

2nd Supervisor

Laurence de Looze

Joint Supervisor


Recent breakthroughs in Milton studies have demonstrated that the cosmological frame of Paradise Lost is not the Ptolemaic cosmos but most likely the infinite multiverse, and critics were wrong to think that Milton had chosen the geocentric model to accommodate his Christian epic. My thesis builds on this new understanding of Milton’s cosmology and re-examines three interpretational problems in Paradise Lost. Two of them are from the astronomical dialogue in book eight: God’s derisive laughter at astronomers who endeavor to “save appearances” and Raphael’s admonishment to Adam that he “be lowly wise.” The third concerns a group of Milton’s epic similes with added human perspectives. The most famous is the careful ploughman simile in book four. My general argument is that Milton’s epistemological scepticism, rooted in his infinitist cosmology, is our key to understand all three interpretational problems. In this thesis I connect Milton to Nicholas of Cusa and Michel de Montaigne, but distinguish him from Francis Bacon.

The body of the thesis includes four chapters. Chapter one places Raphael’s astronomical talk in the context of early modern debates between sceptics and realists on the nature of astronomy as a science that “saves appearances.” Chapter two shows that Cusanus is our best guide to understand Milton’s epistemological scepticism. Chapter three reads Raphael’s “be lowly wise” as a well-deliberated solution to the problem between reason and faith in Milton’s time. Chapter four interprets the epic similes with added human beings in light of Milton’s own discussion of similitude in the Art of Logic.