ABSTRACT

Milton’s relation to Lucretius has been ignored, interpreted as hostile, or reduced to a few spectacular moments in the epic descriptions of Chaos and Creation. This article shows, contrarily, that Milton’s engagement with this Roman poet-materialist was intimate, systematic, and lifelong. To this end, it brings together the well-known Lucretian moments in Paradise Lost, a host of hitherto-unrecognized echoes in that epic, De Doctrina Christiana, the divorce tracts, Milton’s Latin poems, and some of his little-studied marginalia. Starting with Naturam non pati senium, it establishes Milton’s habit of extensive citation and strategic redeployment of Lucretius even when arguing against him. Milton rightly embraced Lucretius, not as a frigid atomist but as a pansexual vitalist. The ancient poet’s primordial particles are living seeds, wombs, and genitalia rather than mechanically colliding atoms, and Milton’s citations cluster around this theme. Subsequent sections explore the two authors’ shared imagery of procreation, nutrition, growth, elimination, emotion, cognition, and—in conclusion—poetic creativity.

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