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Milton’s Sword of the Angel and the 1664 Comet

As it relates to Spinoza and the Caliban Question below, there is an illumination of the special place the comet of the winter of 1664 played in the political, philosophical and poetic minds of that time. It is thought that Milton had this harbinger light in mind when he wrote of the sword of the “hastning Angel” who ushered out Eve and Adam from the Garden, in the last lines ending the extraordinary poem. Conceivably finished with the comet of ’64 burning still in the sky, Milton’s Paradise Lost, in that it harkens to the soterial and Spinoza’s Ethica stand in particular relation, as mediations on the historically redemptive. I have not seen a study that puts these two together, but should like to.

Th’ Archangel stood, and from the other Hill
To thir fixt Station, all in bright array
The Cherubim descended; on the ground
Gliding meteorous, as Ev’ning Mist
Ris’n from a River o’re the marish glides, [ 630 ]
And gathers ground fast at the Labourers heel
Homeward returning. High in Front advanc’t,
The brandisht Sword of God before them blaz’d
Fierce as a Comet
; which with torrid heat,
And vapour as the Libyan Air adust, [ 635 ]
Began to parch that temperate Clime; whereat
In either hand the hastning Angel caught
Our lingring Parents, and to th’ Eastern Gate
Led them direct, and down the Cliff as fast
To the subjected Plaine; then disappeer’d. [ 640 ]
They looking back, all th’ Eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late thir happie seat,
Wav’d over by that flaming Brand, the Gate
With dreadful Faces throng’d and fierie Armes:
Som natural tears they drop’d, but wip’d them soon; [ 645 ]
The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
Through Eden took thir solitarie way.

Paradise Lost

Blakes’ watercolor illustration, more than a 100 years later, brings this to light:

 

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