An Essay on Man and the Great Chain of Being

693 Words May 28th, 2013 3 Pages
Kristen Sonnier
Andrew Hoffman, Instructor
English 215
06 May, 2013
An Essay on Man and the Great Chain of Being In Alexander Pope’s philosophical poem, An Essay on Man, Pope interjects his ideas on man’s role and purpose in this universe by expounding upon what is known as the Great Chain of Being, an ancient theological concept formulated by Plato and Aristotle. The Great Chain of Being, as it translates to Latin is, scala nuturae, meaning ladder or stairway of nature. The premise of this concept maintains the belief that everything that exists in this universe is connected in a hierarchical ordered “chain” according to God’s divine plan. In An Essay on Man, Pope reiterates this notion, as well as, expresses his want to “vindicate the
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Pope’s theory also supports the concept of fatalism, where all things are governed by fate, further reiterating the notion of man’s inferiority to God. In stanza eight, Pope gives somewhat of a physical description of the “Vast Chain of Being!” (1.237), where we can see where man falls in this hierarchy with God being at the top, also the beginning, and man being above beast, but below the angels. Pope describes the vastness of the chain as “from Infinite to thee, / From thee to nothing” (1.240-241), from God all the way down to “what no eye can see” (1.239), implying the vastness of God’s design, as well. Pope also warns that, “Where, one step broken, the great scale’s destroyed: / From Nature’s chain whatever link you strike, / Tenth or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike.” (1.244-246). Here, Pope emphasizes on the importance of man avoiding causing any type of disruption or interruption in the Great Chain, and as he had mentioned in stanza three, no animal had ever attempted to question God’s intent through science or philosophy, implying that if the chain were to ever break, man would most certainly be at fault. In conclusion, Alexander Pope has presented in An Essay on Man, an idea that man, beast, grass, and everything else, are all essential elements in the makeup of God’s

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