ABSTRACT

The analogy of the tree that Raphael uses in Milton's Paradise Lost (V, 469–503) has generally been understood as a cosmic tree suggesting the Great Chain of Being. However, this interpretation needs to be modified to account for the temporal aspects of the image of the tree's growth. Once viewed as a spatial analogy for a temporal process, the tree can be said to function not only as an analogy but as a typological metaphor. In this context, it is most reminiscent of the Old Testament figura of the rod of Jesse. By considering the vertical, horizontal and circular motions described by Raphael, the image can be associated both with the Neoplatonic universe as well as the Christian drama of salvation. Within the imagery of Paradise Lost, this image reflects and relates to the “Forbidden Tree” and its fruit reunderstood as Christ upon the cross, Christ as creative Word and re-creative food in the Eucharist. Its revelation of Christ as cosmic and historical image is not, however, the entire meaning of Raphael's image; ultimately, the image is constructed from the eternal vantage point, and its motion and circularity fix a still point of eternity from which all is seen.

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