Friday, October 27, 2006

Paradise Lost: Milton's 10565-Line Poem

(Image from Wikipedia)

This morning, I have an esoteric query of likely little interest for most readers.

In "Milton in Print: A Review of Some Recent Editions of Paradise Lost" (Milton Quarterly, Volume 40, Issue 3, October 2006), John T. Shawcross has recently remarked in passing:
As most people know, the first [Paradise Lost] edition of 1667 (-1669) is in ten books, whereas the second edition has twelve books through division of Book 7 into Books 7 and 8, and Book 10 into Books 11 and 12, while altering the number of lines (10550) by what comes to be a total of fifteen additional lines (10565).
Twenty years earlier, in "Milton" (The Years Work in English Studies, 1986, 67: 286-296), Archie Burnett had noted:
... the fact that in 1674 Paradise Lost became a poem of 10565 lines: according to the Cabbalistic gematria, the number corresponds to the most holy name of God.
I have only this fragment from Burnett's article, so I don't know which scholarly material he's summarizing, but it's probably the same one recently alluded to by Milton scholar Carl Bellinger on a Milton listserve that I belong to:
One scholar [I have the ref. somewhere] has observed that the total line count in Ed. 2 of PL is 10565, and points out that this can be seen without too much effort as 10-5-6-5, i.e. the Hebrew numerical form, by way of cabalist gematria, of the Tetragrammaton, the "I am" (Y-H-W-H) spoken to Moses from the burning bush, Exodus 3:14. But of course to claim that Milton makes structural or symbolic use of particular numbers, here or anywhere, is a tricky thing: does this or that numerical sum seem more like happen-stance, or more like rhetorical intention? Milton's familiarity with sources containing explicit number lore would constitute some part, although I'm not sure how big a part, of the evidential equation. I'd love to see some discussion of the evidential question...
Another Milton scholar (and rabbinics expert), Jeffrey Shoulson, expresses skepticism:
I'm very skeptical about the 10-5-6-5 signifying Milton's attempt to embed the gematria for YHWH. This seems to me to be one of those interesting but essentially meaningless coincidences...
I admit that I'm also skeptical ... but willing to skeptically entertain the query, so I posted some querulous questions of my own:
Carl, if you could provide the argument sometime, I'd be interested. The 10-5-6-5 is interesting but -- as Jeffrey Shoulson notes -- could be mere coincidence.

But if we were to speculate, why would Milton want to encode the gematria for YHWH?

Because the poem is an effort to justify the ways of God to man and is thus about YHWH?

Because reading the poem is a sacred undertaking through 'uttering' the tetragrammaton?

Because everything happens within God, i.e., within YHWH?

Because it's intended to give the poem life, like the slip of paper with YHWH written upon it that Rabbi Judah Loew the Maharal of Prague put into the Golem's mouth to bring it to life?

In short, what would be the point?
That's where I've left things. Perhaps Eshuneutics knows something about this issue.

26 Comments:

At 8:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"what would be the point?"

"The point" is Christ, who is Yahweh or Jehovah, as he identified himself in John 8:58.

Christ is the only way to regain the paradise that was lost.

That is the point of everything.

 
At 10:06 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, do you have any evidence that Milton meant this by the number 10565?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:53 PM, Blogger eshuneutics said...

Hi, this is something of a quandary. Perhaps, we should write The Milton Code and make a fortune!
10565= 10(Yod)+5(He)+6(Vau)+5(He)by substituting Hebrew letters. The suggestion is that Milton, therefore, encoded the Name (JeHoVaH)into Paradise Lost. Tantalising, isn't it? The tetragrammaton is a commonplace--Marlowe's Faustus quotes it (iii, 8-10), etc. If Milton, did this, my question would be: Why did he also uncode it? The 10 book arrangement of Paradise Lost,as we know, is divided by the invocations into 2,4,1,3 books: the Holy Tetractys. Why remove one time-hounoured, structured expresson of God (used in the Nativity Ode) for an obscure line-count? I remember that many months ago your readers were speculating on Pearl: so, this total line count "numerology" isn't too far removed from the Pearl Poet...BUT it isn't typical numerical/poetical analysis. Milton is quite specific in his prose works on his interpretation of Jehovah: the Name (to be shrouded in light) expresses the existence of God and his promises to mankind...he does not simply merge Christ and Jehovah together, as Anonymous suggests. So, that would be the message, I assume, coded by line-count. That doesn't exactly square with the rationale of PL: to "justify" the operations of the divine mind. To me, the reading of 10565 as 10+5+6+5 is a bit simplistic...for Milton. If this was Gematria, 10 000+500+65 would carry meaning as well: 10 000 (as the myriad number/an expression of the infinite--100x100) is a key number in PL; 500 is a resurrection and messenger number (the years of the Christian phoenix identified with Raphael, the mercurial intercessor--like Christ, in Renaissance iconography); and 65 is the number of Adonai, the Lord God. The arrangement of books in PL, as marked by the invocations, is 1:3::1:3. Unity and Trinity. A very obvious Puritan view of the poem. I share your uncertainty about this rather forced reading of numbers. I can't see Milton intending to put PL's resolution into the realms of Jewish mysticism, which is where all your justifable questions begin to go...

 
At 9:10 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Eshuneutics. You certainly know a lot about this sort of esoterica, and you've given me some things to thing about ... or to think about trying to learn since I hardly know enough to think about it at all.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:51 AM, Blogger Saur♥Kraut said...

Thanks for introducing me to eshuneutics, another interesting blogger!

Great post, very interesting contributions, and I am sorry to say that I have little to add except from a non-scholarly point of view. I was actually introduced to Milton via C.S. Lewis.

In the 1600s, when Milton wrote, there certainly was a great deal of symbolism. I don't find it too hard to believe that Milton engaged in it, himself, even if there's no evidence for or against the supposition.

 
At 5:02 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Saur, for the remark.

I have no doubt that Milton knew all sorts of esoteric things -- and even had a passionate interest in them -- but without a persuasive explanation as to why he might encode YHWH in the number 10565, along with some positive evidence that he could have done so, I remain skeptical.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:48 AM, Blogger eshuneutics said...

The more I look at this, the less likely it seems. If Milton put weight on this 10565, why didn't he include it in edition I? His interest in More and cabalistical doctrines was ingrained in his Cambridge days...Il Penseroso is a masterpiece in this respect...so I cannot see him suddenly discovering 10565 as an idea. Why did he put 15 lines into edition II? Most of the lines are structural, not symbolic. Why did he introduce them asymmetrially so as the old Christ-Chariot centre was off-set from the triumphal central point as in edition I? If it was that significant, as Fowler claims, why displace it in edition II? Numerical composition is certainly evident in PL. It usually follows triumphal structures, ratios, or line-count in key speeches. I feel that if critics gave more attention to how Milton really worked with numbers, then 10565 is about as useful as a bingo number. Even if he had coded YHVH into PL it would not really help with an understanding of the poem...as far as I can see, at the moment. Now, had he kept "amber" at the centre of the poem and the High Priest's breastplate, which contained the Name, and linked that to 10565?YHVH then that would have been even more tantalizing. I lean towards coincidence...I think.

 
At 4:23 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

By the way, Eshuneutics, why did Milton redivide his 10-book epic into a 12-book epic? I've often wondered but haven't yet seen an explanation (though I haven't looked very hard).

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:39 AM, Blogger eshuneutics said...

The up-dated edition of Fowler's Paradise Lost is just out (August 2006). Fowler has up-dated the Introduction's work on numerology. The Introduction now suggests that Milton put in 15 new lines because this was YH...he inserted the essence of the Name...hence the number of lines added. This has to be nonsense--for 15 to be significant, 10550 had to be significant in the first place: nothing is said about what this number means. The most that can be said, surely, is that Milton added sufficent lines to bring the total to 10565. Fowler now includes the 10565 speculation, playing down the earlier 10 book arrangement and the triumphal centre that he previously felt was crucial. He states that Milton's inclusion of YHVH was to identify the poetic cosmos with the divine signature. So, the ground has shifted in favour it seems.

 
At 3:53 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

A new edition of Fowler? I guess that I'll need to upgrade and get the newest.

Interesting that "10565" is now considered significant.

As for "10550," I notice that 10 x 5 = 50. Would that have any significance?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:44 AM, Blogger eshuneutics said...

Hmm. Just when I had become resigned! You have me again!

 
At 5:59 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

By the way, a scholar on the Milton Listserve just pointed out that Fowler's 1998 edition (page 27) also has the speculation on 10565. Has Fowler updated that material?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:50 PM, Anonymous Jonathan Olson said...

This interests me because the second edition's line total equivalence to the tetragrammaton is something I had privately observed in college before discovering either Fowler or Keller's discussion of it.

I haven't seen Fowler's new edition of PL, but everything Eshuneutics said is in the new edition (including 15 being equivalent to "YH (Tah), the syncopated for of the tetragrammaton") is also in Fowler's second edition (1998). He also correctly cites Eve Keller as the first to publish the observation that 10-5-6-5 represents IHVH back in 1986 (Milton Quarterly vol. 20, pp. 23-25).

One thing Fowler leaves out of his discussion (in 1998 at least) which Keller cites as supporting evidence is the fact that the very first and very last paragraphs of PL are each 26 lines long (the sum of 10+5+6+5 and therefore a sacred number in Hebrew gematria) apparently representing the immanence of the divine 'Alpha and Omega' in the poem and God's providential influence in the story.

As for why Milton redistributed PL into 12 instead of 10 books, I believe it is a separate question from why he added 15 lines (though 8 of the 15 are admittedly used to introduce the new books VIII and XII). I am currently writing my dissertation on both of these issues and the question of the textual revisions is not an easy one.

Whether or not Milton added 15 lines in order to achieve the 10,565 total, I think W.B. Hunter Jr.'s argument is persuasive that Milton added 3 lines in the first half and 12 lines in the second half in order to "restore" the Son's ascent of the chariot to the exact center of the poem. As we know, line 6.762 was already in the center in the first edition, but there were two lineation errors in Book VI and only one of them was found, so Milton thought there were 9 more lines than there actually were in the first half, compelling him to add a net of 9 more lines in the second half.

I think this accounts for why some of his revisions are not obvious improvements (the three lines of more diseases in Book XI for instance) while others are definite improvements (Book V).

However, the fact that Milton didn't just add 9 lines to the second half, but instead added 3 lines to the first half and 12 to the second, perhaps lends credence to 10565 being an intentional line total.

 
At 4:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jonathan Olson, thanks for the very interesting remarks. I'll inform Eshuneutics of your work, for I'm sure that he'll want to read them and comment.

The dissertation sounds interesting. When will you finish it?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:36 AM, Blogger eshuneutics said...

Very interesting speculations.

Here are some immediate queries?

If Milton knew Gematria...what was his source? The obvious source would be Agrippa, but not a source Milton would be happy with. Gematria was closely allied to occult hermeticism--would he have used it?

How does ALPHA AND OMEGA become associated with 26 and 26?
Yes, there are indeed two 26 line passages...but is this part of a detailed use of numerical line composition throughout PL? Does 26 mean anything else beside YHVH? Can we be certain that Milton meant 26 to be the Name? Interestingly, Ficino used 26 and 26 as a beginning and end in De triplici vita libri tres

Milton had three different spellings of the Name: YHVH=26, YH=15 AHYH=21
Why did he select 26 as better than 15 or 21?

If Milton wanted to express Alpha and Omega why not use Greek Gematria?

By adding the extra illnesses, Milton included melancholia...key considering his fascination with this in Il Penseroso. How many are there? I make 18 semantic phrases. This was the number of Spring Youth according to Ficino--the eternal Spring blasted by Death? Not so accidental--perhaps?

I find the area in which Jonathan Olson is reseraching very intriguing.

 
At 11:53 AM, Anonymous Nobody said...

Great questions, I'll try responding to a few of them.

As for sources, given Milton's interest in Hebrew the most natural it seems would be Johannes Reuchlin, who was a rare defender of Jewish books at the time and in many senses the first "Christian Kabbalist." He was encouraged by Pico to study Kabbalah and also sought to revive interest in Pythagoras, and if Milton was not already familiar with his work he almost undoubtedly would have encountered it during his five-month stay in Florence. It's also interesting that in Rome, Milton met Vatican librarian Lukas Holste ("Holstenius"), who gave Milton his book on Pythagorean sayings, though we know from Prolusion 2 that Milton was already familiar with Pythagorean concepts, however generic.

In his De Arte Cabalistica, Reuchlin claims Kabbalah to be the source of Pythagoras' doctrines, and in Book 3 not only identifies 26 as the arithmetic sum of YHWH (folio 57r) but incidentally also gives the formula for combining the Tetraktys with the Tetragrammaton that Jeffery included at the top of this post (folio 59r). A few pages earier he had also achieved the same sum without reference to the Tetraktys via the progression of spelling: Y (10) + YH (15) + YHW (21) + YHWH (26) = 72.

In any case, I didn't mean "Alpha" and "Omega" to be a reference to 26 specifically but a reference merely to the FIRST and LAST paragraphs of the poem each having a line-length of 26, representing God's presence from the beginning to the end of the poem. Ficino's precedent seems to corroborate this reading.

I think "numerical line composition" is fairly well established in PL, for example Gunnar Qvarnstrom's observation of the Son's four speeches of Mercy, Justice, Justice, & Mercy that comprise 23 lines each, the central two speeches occuring immediately before and after the center point of the poem, the Son's ascent to the chariot to rout the rebellious angels. If I recall correctly, in The Enchanted Palace he cites examples of the tradition that 23 is a number of justice.

Anyway, I hope to submit in Spring of 2008 (Univ. of Liverpool) and my email is jonathan.olson (at) gmail (dot) com.

 
At 6:46 PM, Blogger eshuneutics said...

Even more interesting responses.
I had imagined that Reuchlin would come in as a source—inevitably.
Reuchlin is central to Frances A Yeats’ interest in the Hermetic Revival. Milton was deeply interested in Hermetic Reformation: the best work on this is by Douglas Brooks-Davies, who was one of the first to apply numerical analysis to Milton and Spenser…though not to Paradise Lost! It is interesting that Milton met the Vatican Librarian, but Milton had a detailed knowledge of hermetical ideas before 1638-39. (This is the real importance of DB-D’s work). Italy was not his source. Reuchlin is being rather cute in his Christian Cabalah by connecting Y(10) to the other three essential spellings of the Name: he is, of course, identifying the Name with 72, the Shemhamphorasch.(The triadic names of God fitted well with Renaissance Neo-Platonism and its fascination with triads of conversion etc). Numerical composition isn’t, I would suggest, “fairly well” established. It rests very much on the sort of commonplaces stated, which circulate in Milton scholarship rather like the Holy Tetractys did in Florentine Academies.The most recent edition of Fowler’s monumental work on PL points to two things: the acceptance of numerical imagery as legitimate imagery; the failure of research. Qvarnstrom’s work was a major breakthrough in Milton studies, but this was nearly 40 years ago. As an idea, line composition is well-established, but the implications of this for PL, to the best of my knowledge, has hardly been touched. If Milton did know that YHVH=26, did he also know that YHVH=300? Reuchlin’s early work was dimissed as Gabalah (babble-talk almost), but Milton did take Christian Cabalah seriously. Why? I don’t think he was using it as poetical embellishment, but using it as a development out of Spenser and the Faerie Queene to frame his own Christian Hermetic Re-Reformation in Paradise Lost. A king might have lost his head...but Milton's head was far more radical that even that political heresy.

 
At 3:25 AM, Anonymous Jonathan Olson said...

Intriguing. I think one of the reasons there hasn't been much recent research on numerical analysis in PL is that critics felt the attempted comprehensiveness of Rostvig's 1993 tome Configurations was too clever by half, and it is an intimidating prospect to dial back such analysis to critical acceptability.

That said, I think two distinct types of numerical analysis are too often conflated: one that derives simply numerological meanings from the lengths of passages, in which a line total is valuable primarily as an integer which represents some esoteric meaning(s); and another that measures lengths of passages to demonstrate proportional relationships between related sections, usually the harmonic proportions of the Platonic Lambda in the Timaeus or the Golden ratio.

Though they are admittedly related, I think the former type (numerological) is less valuable critically because there are so many different meanings associated with any specific integer that it is difficult to claim one particular meaning has preeminence over another in any given instance. The latter type (proportional) at least is potentially falsifiable thanks to its mathematical basis, and so ought not be characterised as strictly "numerological."

If Milton took his lead from Spenser, are there contemporary examples of numerical, numerological, or Hermetic interpretations of the Faerie Queene?

 
At 6:53 PM, Blogger eshuneutics said...

I sense a contradiction here. There are two distinct types:
1) line count to symbolic meaning—usually, Biblical.
2) ratio to symbolic meaning—usually, Pythagorean.
The former type is ambiguous, but not as ambiguous as suggested, for The Bible is the common source more often than not…or Bongo. All symbolism is ambiguous…so it is somewhat disingenuous of critics, as they do with Milton, to pretend that numbers are vague whereas normal poetical imagery is stable. If anything, Milton was a master of veiled imagery.
Milton wrote in the tradition of Renaissance synchronism in which The Bible and Pythagoras sat side by side, as did Spenser, so there would have been no distinction in his mind between the two types. Any recognition that the Universe was numbered would have been interesting to his Protestant way of thinking, I would want to argue.

I actually think that 1 is of paramount importance in Milton: he used it from Il Penseroso right the way through until Paradise Regained. The extent and depth of interest over time shows its importance.

As regards the relationship between number and symbolic import (e.g. 4=Concord), Milton would not have had to go to the inaccessible sources that many critics like to play with…simply to Spenser. The poetical tradition gave Milton meanings too…the number associations were not arbitrary, then, as they might seem to our “modern” minds now.

The contradiction: 26=YHVH. That, in itself, rests upon believing that one meaning has “pre-eminence”. Gematria is notoriously unstable and condradictory and rests upon a reader privileging the meaning that they want.
Yes, there are very detailed readings of Spenser’s numbers—Fowler, Spenser and the Numbers of Time and Brooks-Davies, The Mercurian Monarch.

There are more than 2 types of numerical analysis…you do not mention structural: eg, the 33 days of PL to indicate the 33 letter name of God and the years of Christ on Earth; and often this will work in relation to triumphal structuring and Milton’s view of Kingship. He used this—allusively—in Lycidas for the dead Edward KING. (See an early post of mine, in June, if interested). And I suspect that there are others…such as triumphal structuring and placement of entries…especially within the rhetorical visions of PL and PR.
Good luck with your research.

 
At 2:44 AM, Anonymous Jonathan Olson said...

Sorry, by "contemporary" I meant 16/17th century examples of numerological interpretations of Spenser...

It's been a while since I looked at Fowler's Numbers of Time but, as I recall, the many sources he draws from are contextual and were not themselves written in reference to Spenser. Of course an absence of extant criticism hardly means Milton did not himself find number symbolism in Spenser, as it's not exactly hidden in the Faerie Queene et al. Fellow poets apt to notice such things may have felt themselves bound by the Pythagorean oath not to publish such observations in any case, choosing to respond instead by using similar devices in their own poetry.

Instead of "less valuable critically" I should have said "less persuasive to critics." Nonetheless I admit to undermining my reading, as the problematic nature of such analysis was already evident in this discussion: Does 26 imply the name of God, or does 42, or 72? That's why I think it is less persuasive to skeptics, without denying its clear importance to Milton. That said (and to further contradict myself) this summer Prof. Fowler told me he thinks the 10,565 = YHWH argument quite persuasive while he considers claims to the golden ratio in PL more suspect (since it usually degenerates into approximations).

You make a fantastic point that "All symbolism is ambiguous…so it is somewhat disingenuous of critics, as they do with Milton, to pretend that numbers are vague whereas normal poetical imagery is stable." Critics always praise ambiguity in texts until it comes to numeric symbolism!

Finally, I conceive of structural criticism as a broader type of analysis which (since structures can be measured) is sometimes manifested as number symbolism (as in the 33 day chronology), sometimes as proportional relationships (as in triumphal centering), etc. And because structural analysis also incorporates traditional formal conventions such as chiasmus, it often unites numerology with "proper" literary criticism. Galbraith Crump's work was one of my early inspirations.

Thanks for the response, I've enjoyed this exchange.

 
At 6:20 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jonathan, thanks for the detailed posts on Milton and numbers. It's a scholarly area that I know little about and will probably learn about only gradually.

I've visited your blog on comics, which is interesting. Do you also have a Milton blog or website?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:21 AM, Anonymous Jonathan Olson said...

Thanks, but I don't maintain an academic blog as practically everything I write on Milton at the moment is for my dissertation. Aside from the occasional post on a literary topic it's mostly devoted to comics and movies.

Given that focus, however, I expect to follow fairly closely the production of the Paradise Lost film to be directed by Scott Derrickson as more news will no doubt emerge next year.w

 
At 7:17 AM, Blogger Rodak said...

Here's something almost eerie. Just today I came across Volume 20, Number 1 [March 1986] of the Milton Quarterly in a university archive, which contains Eve Keller's article. The article had much the same effect on me, as the idea apparently had on you, so I photocopied it with the intention of posting about it on my blog. (I still intend to do so.)
But, how is that for synchronicity?
(I found your site by googling, in an attempt to find the Keller article online.)

 
At 7:39 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Rodak, thanks for the comment. Milton is a timeless source of fascination for me . . . and for others.

I hope that this blog entry provided you something of use.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:59 AM, Blogger eddy883 said...

Regarding comments made about the numerology in paradise lost and the 26 extra lines,possibly referring to God's name YHWH =26, reference was also made to the golden proportion. Bloggers may be interested to read about a thesis entitled " Structural patterns and proportions in Virgil's Aeneid" by George Duckworth which shows how extensively the golden proportion was used in the Aeneid. Published by the University of Michegan Press. The website www.goldenmeangauge.co.uk includes examples of the above as well as limerick's, liturgy and and music.

 
At 6:18 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Eddy. I'm sure that some of us will find this useful.

Jeffery Hodges

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