Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Milton at 400

Via NPR (thanks Shaw):

Dec. 9 marks the 400th anniversary of the birth of John Milton, and fans around the world are celebrating with literary events, exhibits and readings of his epic poem Paradise Lost.

Milton, who visited Galileo in 1638, was also the first writer to ever use the word "space," in the sense of "outer space," to consider the infinite scope of the universe. As he wrote in Book 8 of Paradise Lost:

... this earth a spot, a grain, 
An atom, with the firmament compared 
And all her numbered stars that seem to roll 
Space incomprehensible (for such 
Their distance argues and their swift return 
A rare first American edition of Paradise Lost is included in the Morgan Library exhibit. It was published in 1777, one year into the American Revolution. Kiely says that Milton opposed the monarchy in England — and that the founding fathers read him.
"His theories of republicanism, of the people's right to overthrow a magistrate, or a king, or any ruler if they were not carrying out the will of the people, was directly influential on the Constitution of this country," says Kiely.

Addendum: a bit more on the idea that Milton's God rejects kings:

The Tyranny of Heaven
Milton's Rejection of God as King

Michael Bryson
(U. Delaware Press, 2004)

The Tyranny of Heaven argues for a new way of reading the figure of Milton's God, contending that Milton rejects kings on earth and in heaven. Though Milton portrays God as a king in Paradise Lost, he does this neither to endorse kingship nor to recommend a monarchical model of deity. Instead, he recommends the Son, who in Paradise Regained rejects external rule as the model of politics and theology for Milton's "fit audience though few." The portrait of God in Paradise Lost serves as a scathing critique of the English people and its slow but steady backsliding into the political habits of a nation long used to living under the yoke of kingship, a nation that maintained throughout its brief period of liberty the image of God as a heavenly king, and finally welcomed with open arms the return of a human king.

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