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Fear of Falling: Icarus, Phaethon, and Lucretius in Paradise Lost

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018

David Quint*
Yale University


This essay discloses a hitherto-undetected network of allusion and motif in Paradise Lost (1667). Satan falls through Chaos like Icarus in book 2, and like Phaethon in book 6. In book 6 the Son rides triumphantly in the Chariot of Paternal Deity as a good, successful Phaethon. Both myths of falling in a poem about the Fall involve Milton (1608-74) in a polemic with Lucretius, the classical poet of a godless, Epicurean universe that is ever falling and dying. In a parallel to the Son, Milton depicts himself in his invocations to his Muse as a successful Icarus, claiming to escape a condition offallenness on the wings of immortal verse.

Copyright © Renaissance Society of America 2004

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