Identity over Time in Paradise Lost

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This essay proposes that in Paradise Lost Milton represents the conscious self as constructed over time, thereby anticipating the early eighteenthcentury formulation of identity as a problem of diachronic identity. Milton represents this process of self-constitution by situating the mind's act of unifying itself in the present moment, which he models on Aristotle's definition of the now as both a connection and a boundary of time. Aristotle's bivalency of the now serves in Paradise Lost to distinguish between the capacity of prelapsarian and postlapsarian individuals to constitute their self by organizing their experiences in time. As a connection of time, the Aristotelian now grounds Milton's representation of the way in which the prelapsarian individual constitutes his or her own self. As a boundary of time, it marks the failure of the postlapsarian mind to achieve such constitution, which leads to a disintegration of the self. Thus, Aristotle's distinction between the two contrasting aspects of the now becomes, in Milton's representation of the self, the prism through which Milton forms a clear distinction between two fundamental structures of identity, fallen and unfallen.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-57
Number of pages16
JournalUniversity of Toronto Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (grant no. 384/20).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 University of Toronto Press Inc.. All rights reserved.


  • Aristotle
  • Diachronic identity
  • Early modern self
  • John Milton
  • Paradise Lost

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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