Milton’s Aristotelian Transformations in the Representation of Regenerative Change

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This essay complements recent studies of Milton’s ontology by exploring the ways, hitherto ignored, in which the mind exceeds its role as a mere partaker of the poem’s “one first matter all” ontology by autonomously transforming the motion it finds in the world into inner succession. In Paradise Lost the mind’s self-conscious act of transformation is situated in the present moment, the now, and is the poem’s condition for regeneration. Milton’s representation of regenerative motion is modeled on Aristotle’s theory of change, in which change is an aspect of time, or rather its matter. The mind organizes motion in succession by dividing it into moments of presentness, or nows. In Milton’s representation motion is similarly the matter of time, which is divided into nows. Yet unlike Aristotle, for Milton the perception of motion depends on the individual’s moral stature. In Paradise Lost, it is only the unfallen mind that is capable of grasping motion and transforming it into internal change. The fallen mind loses its capacity to use the now as the connecting medium of transformation and, as a result, fails to constitute a concept of inner motion. Contingent on free will, the now remains a potential of future transformation of objective into subjective succession. After postlapsarian Adam has repented, he regains his capacity to organize motion in succession through the now and begins his journey back to God. Satan, who chooses not to repent, remains forever captured within his distorted structure of Milton’s Aristotelian form.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)390-408
Number of pages19
JournalModern Philology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

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

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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