The question of how and why a body falls in Paradise Lost persistently returns to the declining bodies that occupy Lucretius’s De rerum natura. Milton’s Christian support of the Arminian doctrine of free will, his argument that man is “Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall,” thus unfolds in a provocative dialogue with the Lucretian theory of agency. Setting forth a view of matter’s autonomous and vital properties that flirts dangerously with naturalism, Milton emerges as the uneasy inheritor of an ancient and underground Epicurean tradition that understood motion as a self-expressive endeavor of bodies. Moreover, his use of Lucretian physics in Paradise Lost challenges established models of providential superintendence. From Satan to the poem’s speaker to Adam and Eve, this challenge presents itself most enduringly through the Lucretian concept of self-motion, of animate and potentially endless movement independent of external power.
Sarah Ellenzweig; Paradise Lost and the Secret of Lucretian Sufficiency. Modern Language Quarterly 1 September 2014; 75 (3): 385–409. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00267929-2690082
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