Cartography’s ascendance in the early modern period as a universal form of visual communication profoundly destabilized earlier modes of literary and iconographic expression. Milton’s Paradise Lost, as this essay demonstrates, was a poetic response to this representational upheaval. More than offering an ekphrastic rendition of contemporary pictorial practices, Milton structurally “remapped” both scripture and classical epic to produce a literary work that accorded with new standards of representational authenticity. Close analysis of the poet’s long-neglected cartographic sources, alongside key passages of Paradise Lost, reveals such visual–textual exchanges at two perceptual scales. On the global scale of its narrative form, the poem exhibits a fantastically nonlinear temporal structure that mirrors the complex display of information on English bible maps. On a closer descriptive scale, Milton’s rich depictions of Edenic abundance draw from new standards of estate surveying to present Adam’s garden as the original prototype for rural property.
Recipient of the 2015 Schulman and Bullard Article Prize from the Association of Print Scholars.