Friday, October 18, 2013

The Muse Urania and the Holy Spirit

Milton begins Book VII with a petition to Urania, one of the nine muses of ancient Greek mythology.  Specifically, she is the patron of astronomy and so is often seen holding a globe or crowned with stars.  She is also often connected with the goddess Aphrodite.  I wanted to do a little research on Urania seeing as how Milton petitions her specifically by name, though he adds the disclaimer "The meaning, not the name I call..." (l. 5).  The footnote to that line clarifies it a little by saying that "Urania" means "heavenly one" in Latin.  Milton being the consummate Humanist probably couldn't help but include this reference to the Classics as he begins a story that involves the creation of the heavens, but I did a little more research and ran across an interesting article written on this exact topic.  The authors posit an interesting theory about Urania and what she represents in Milton's universe.  The article by Stevie Davies and William B. Hunter titled "Milton's Urania: 'The Meaning, Not the Name I Call'" makes the argument that Urania is meant to represent the Holy Ghost, and that since the invocation of this muse is the third of three (the previous two being first in Book I and then in Book III) the three invocations are meant to be invocations to the Trinity.  Essentially, Milton is not invoking a single muse or spirit in these various petitions, but rather he is invoking the aid of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

I'd like to briefly go over some of the authors' arguments that I found most intriguing.  The full article can be accessed on JSTOR here.

The authors of the article stress the connection between Urania and her "sister" Wisdom saying at one point, "The linked figures of Urania and Wisdom stress the lovability and accessibility of the almighty…" (105).  The authors make the point that Urania (as the Holy Ghost) is meant to be a mediator between God and us.  This is especially important as, story-wise, we are about to leave the perfect, heavenly courts of God and descend (literally and figuratively) down to an earth “whose narrative (though it treats of creation) is on the verge of the Fall.  This invocation represents a search for inner comfort and security of knowledge and articulation within a world which is personally experienced as profoundly unsafe, in external terms…” (105).  The Holy Ghost is after all meant to be our guide while living in a fallen world.

The authors further argue that Milton is expressing a greater urgency in this third invocation as the story moves closer to the Fall.  They advance the idea that part of the reason for invoking a name with this muse is because “Venus Urania is traditionally Venus the reconciler, forgiving disparities, uniting opposites, restoring the mundane to the celestial. Hence Milton's ‘heavenly born’ Muse presents a medium between earth and heaven (as divine messenger, God's agent, advocate and revealer of language and vision, the traditional functions of the Holy Spirit)…” (106).  Though the story is gearing up to describe the Fall, Milton urgently wants to unite his narrative with the divine.  Though he has to describe “man’s first disobedience” he doesn’t want to lose the heavenly assistance.

I think this continues to show Milton’s Christian Humanistic approach to telling the story of the Fall in uniting old pagan figures with Christian ones.  I think this shows how Milton sought to find the most good in those Classic tales in order to tell this story in the most effective way possible.

I’m curious to know your opinion on this idea of the muse Urania being a representation of the Holy Ghost.  Agree or disagree?  Is it an interesting thought, mind-blowing interpretation, or complete hogwash?

Milton, John (2009-10-28).  The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose of John Milton (Modern Library).  Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Davies, Stevie and Hunter, William B.  “Milton's Urania: ‘The Meaning, Not the Name I Call’.  Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 28.1 (1988):  95-111.


  1. I took nearly that whole book as a tip of the hat to Galileo, but I can see that it could easily be interpreted as the Holy Ghost as mediator.

  2. I always wondered why he invokes the aid of these muses and also includes so many other Greek references (I mean, I know Greek mythology is a huge part of literary history) but I really like this idea--that he's calling upon the Godhead more and more urgently as we approach the fall. I think it's beautiful.