Sunday, November 22, 2009

Kindred spirits?

According to an interview from this Studio 360 show about Darwin, the scientist was known to say that when he went ashore to do his research in remote places, the one poet he had to bring with him was Milton.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Follow ups from today

The outline of Paradise Lost which we talked about today can be found here.

Here's Milton's Nativity Ode, (here's the Dartmouth edition) where some of his lifelong themes (e.g., the twilight of the pagan gods) are first sounded, and here is John Rogers' talk on it.

Regarding the thought that Reason in a sense was Satan's prompter, here's the passage from Book I - it's the only time the word appears in Book I.

Is this the Region, this the Soil, the Clime,
Said then the lost Arch-Angel, this the seat
That we must change for Heav'n, this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so, since he [ 245 ]
Who now is Sovran can dispose and bid
What shall be right: fardest from him is best
Whom reason hath equald, force hath made supream
Above his equals.

Toward the end of his first lecture, Rogers suggests that Satan is practicing much the same sort of deconstruction of divine power that is often applied in cultural studies and social sciences to other large concepts and fundamental ideas:
Satan's saying that before the war in heaven, God's power just seemed like any other king's power, as if God sat on the throne of heaven merely because of those humanly constructed reasons of tradition, or of old repute or consent or custom.

As Lola reminded us, Milton was quite consciously on Satan's side as he argued, through several public writings, that the "divine right of kings" was basically a power play tricked out in Charles I's monarchic dress.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Umberto Eco on Lists

As we know from Homer, Genesis, Rabelais, Joyce and many other writers, vast lists and catalogs have exercised a certain fascination even prior to the advent of writing.

The superb Italian scholar and novelist is curating a show at the Louvre about lists, and was recently interviewed by Der Spiegel:

Umberto Eco: The list is the origin of culture. It's part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order -- not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity?

The list doesn't destroy culture; it creates it. Wherever you look in cultural history, you will find lists. In fact, there is a dizzying array: lists of saints, armies and medicinal plants, or of treasures and book titles. Think of the nature collections of the 16th century.. . .

Homer's work hits again and again on the topos of the inexpressible. People will always do that. We have always been fascinated by infinite space, by the endless stars and by galaxies upon galaxies. How does a person feel when looking at the sky? He thinks that he doesn't have enough tongues to describe what he sees. Nevertheless, people have never stopping describing the sky, simply listing what they see. Lovers are in the same position.. . .

SPIEGEL: Why do we waste so much time trying to complete things that can't be realistically completed?

Eco: We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death.

Update: Harvard Berkman Center scholar David Weinberger triggers an interesting discussion as he takes issue with certain of Eco's assertions.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Two Milton Chronologies

Early Notes for Paradise Lost from Christ's College Collection, Cambridge

Prof. Flannagan of Ohio University has a nice chronology of Milton's life.

In honor of his 400th birthday came this chronology of his published work. Some of the links here point to many rich additional resources, including many illustrations.

First Edition

...this pendant world

It can be bewildering getting a closely calibrated sense of the scale and orientation of things in Paradise Lost, so it's worth remembering that Milton is working with - and creatively reworking - inherited models of the universe, including the Hebrews' ancient conception, imaged here:

Image found here.

like a weather-beaten Vessel holds
Gladly the Port, though Shrouds and Tackle torn;
Or in the emptier waste, resembling Air, [ 1045 ]
Weighs his spread wings, at leasure to behold
Farr off th' Empyreal Heav'n, extended wide
In circuit, undetermind square or round,
With Opal Towrs and Battlements adorn'd
Of living Saphire, once his native Seat; [ 1050 ]
And fast by hanging in a golden Chain
This pendant world, in bigness as a Starr
Of smallest Magnitude close by the Moon. II.1043 ff

Monday, November 09, 2009

Bloom on Johnson (on Milton)

Mussy points us to this note on Dr. Johnson from Harold Bloom. It begins:
It has been three centuries since Dr. Johnson was born, on Sept. 7, 1709. He died on Dec. 13, 1784, still struggling for the mixed blessing of more life. His Falstaffian vitalism is always my first thought when I reread, teach again or continue brooding upon the canonical critic of Western literature.

Johnson's "Life of Milton" is here.

Bloom emphasizes the theatricality of Johnson:
Johnson’s personality was worthy of Shakespearean representation: sometimes I rub my eyes to dispel the illusion that Shakespeare wrote, not Johnson’s work, but the man himself into existence.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Norton Anthology Resources

Arline points to this rich set of resources from Norton Anthology, offering illustrations and references for the immediate historical context in which Milton was working. It has some unusual images from various cultural elements of the time.

From the section, "Civil Wars of Ideas," we read of King James I:

Already an author, James reprinted at the time of his accession his True Law of Free Monarchies (originally published in 1598), defending royal absolutism grounded on the divine right of kings. In his very elaborate coronation procession through the City of London, he passed through spectacular Roman triumphal arches at various stages, thereby identifying himself as a new Augustus. That Roman style was emphasized by the designer Inigo Jones in sets for court masques and in new buildings such as the banqueting hall at Whitehall, the site for many such masques. An early court entertainment, Jonson's Masque of Blackness (1605), represented James as a sun king....On the political side, the central issue became the location of sovereign power in the state....

From the Norton site, an illustration (of Adam) from the 1688 folio edition of Paradise Lost

An engraving from a satire that portrayed Milton as the founder of a sect of "Miltonists" or "Divorcers":

A glimpse of angels

The Hebrew word for Angel is mala'ak. See here a list of angel appearances in the Old Testament.

The Catholic Encyclopedia entry on "Angels" builds on the Hebraic Tradition and the New Testament, and adds input from Church Fathers. On the question of evil angels:

The distinction of good and bad angels constantly appears in the Bible, but it is instructive to note that there is no sign of any dualism or conflict between two equal principles, one good and the other evil. The conflict depicted is rather that waged on earth between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the Evil One, but the latter's inferiority is always supposed. The existence, then, of this inferior, and thereforecreated, spirit, has to be explained.
There are also multiple traditions regarding the ranks of angels. Here from the same entry:
We know on the authority of Scripture that there are nine orders of angels, viz., Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Dominations, Throne, Cherubim and Seraphim. That there are Angels and Archangels nearly every page of the Bible tell us, and the books of the Prophets talk of Cherubim and Seraphim. St. Paul, too, writing to the Ephesians enumerates four orders when he says: 'above all Principality, and Power, and Virtue, and Domination'; and again, writing to the Colossians he says: 'whether Thrones, or Dominations, or Principalities, or Powers'. If we now join these two lists together we have five Orders, and adding Angels and Archangels, Cherubim and Seraphim, we find nine Orders of Angels.
The angelogical lore in the Hebrew tradition is vast -- see for an idea of its scope, this site from the Jewish Encyclopedia. It also has a table of the chief angels and their responsibilities.

Another look at angels is found at, which seems to be of Protestant provenance. The site cites Psalm 148 in support of the fact that the angels were created:

1 Praise ye the LORD.
Praise ye the LORD from the heavens:
praise him in the heights.

2 Praise ye him, all his angels:
praise ye him, all his hosts.

3 Praise ye him, sun and moon:
praise him, all ye stars of light.

4 Praise him, ye heavens of heavens,
and ye waters that be above the heavens.

5 Let them praise the name of the LORD:
for he commanded, and they were created.

Of course Wikipedia also has a wide-ranging entry on Angels.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Satan in Job and elsewhere in the Bible

Wikipedia has a fairly detailed article on Satan.

In the book of Job (Iyov), ha-satan is the title of an angel submitted to God. In Judaism ha-satan does not make evil, rather points out to God the evil inclinations and actions of humankind. In essence ha-satan has no power unless humans do evil things. After God points out Job's piety, ha-satan asks for permission to test the faith of Job. The righteous man is afflicted with loss of family, property, and later, health, but he still stays faithful to God. At the conclusion of this book God appears as a whirlwind, explaining to all that divine justice is inscrutable. In the epilogue Job's possessions are restored and he has a second family to replace the one that died.
שָׂטָן ‎ śâṭân
From 7853 an opponent; especially (with the article prefixed) Satan, the arch enemy of good: - adversary, Satan, withstand.

Here's the first entrance of Satan in Job 1:7 ff:

[6] Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them.

[7] And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.

[8] And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?

[9] Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?

[10] Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.

[11] But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.

[12] And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.

For a list of other appearances of the name Satan in the Old and New Testaments, click here.

Hints of the War in Heaven

The Scriptural basis for the war in heaven is - you guessed it - Revelation. Before that, there is very little deviltry in the Bible.

Here are a few mentions: Isaiah 14: 12-20:

12: How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
13: For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
14: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
15: Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
16: They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms;
17: That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners?
18: All the kings of the nations, even all of them, lie in glory, every one in his own house.
19: But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and as the raiment of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcase trodden under feet.
20: Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land, and slain thy people: the seed of evildoers shall never be renowned.

Isaiah uses a Hebrew word that means "morning star," which was translated into Greek as ἑωσφόρος, which in Latin and English became "Lucifer":
הֵילֵל ‎ hêylêl
From 1984 (in the sense of brightness); the morning star: - lucifer.
In Luke 10:18 we find Jesus saying:
18 And1161 he said2036 unto them,846 I beheld2334 Satan4567 as5613 lightning796 fall4098 from1537heaven.3772
The Greek is σατανᾶν, the Latin is Satanam.

Another passage sometimes cited is in Ezekiel 28:14 - 19:

14 Thou859 art the anointed4473 cherub3742 that covereth;5526 and I have set5414 thee so: thou wast1961 upon the holy6944 mountain2022 of God;430 thou hast walked up and down1980 in the midst8432 of the stones68 of fire.784

15 Thou859 wast perfect8549 in thy ways1870 from the day4480 3117 that thou wast created,1254till5704 iniquity5766 was found4672 in thee.

16 By the multitude7230 of thy merchandise7404 they have filled4390 the midst8432 of thee with violence,2555 and thou hast sinned:2398 therefore I will cast thee as profane2490 out of the mountain4480 2022 of God:430 and I will destroy6 thee, O covering5526 cherub,3742 from the midst4480 8432 of the stones68 of fire.784

17 Thine heart3820 was lifted up1361 because of thy beauty,3308 thou hast corrupted7843 thy wisdom2451 by reason of5921 thy brightness:3314 I will cast7993 thee to5921 the ground,776 I will lay5414 thee before6440 kings,4428 that they may behold7200 thee.

18 Thou hast defiled2490 thy sanctuaries4720 by the multitude4480 7230 of thine iniquities,5771 by the iniquity5766 of thy traffic;7404 therefore will I bring forth3318 a fire784 from the midst4480 8432 of thee, it1931 shall devour398 thee, and I will bring5414 thee to ashes665 upon5921 the earth776 in the sight5869 of all3605 them that behold7200 thee.

19 All3605 they that know3045 thee among the people5971 shall be astonished8074 at5921 thee: thou shalt be1961 a terror,1091 and never369 shalt thou be any more.5704 5769

The word "cherub" is from the Hebrew, and is constant through all four languages:

כְּרוּב ‎ kerûb
Of uncertain derivation; a cherub or imaginary figure: - cherub, [plural] cherubims.

The source of the "war in heaven" as a dramatic scene is Rev. 12:7-12:

7 And2532 there was1096 war4171 in1722 heaven:3772 Michael3413 and2532 his848 angels32fought4170 against2596 the3588 dragon;1404 and2532 the3588 dragon1404 fought4170 and2532his848 angels,32

8 And2532 prevailed2480 not;3756 neither3777 was their848 place5117 found2147 any more2089in1722 heaven.3772

9 And2532 the3588 great3173 dragon1404 was cast out,906 that old744 serpent,3789 called2564the Devil,1228 and2532 Satan,4567 which deceiveth4105 the3588 whole3650 world:3625 he was cast out906 into1519 the3588 earth,1093 and2532 his848 angels32 were cast out906 with3326him.846

10 And2532 I heard191 a loud3173 voice5456 saying3004 in1722 heaven,3772 Now737 is come1096 salvation,4991 and2532 strength,1411 and2532 the3588 kingdom932 of our2257 God,2316and2532 the3588 power1849 of his848 Christ:5547 for3754 the3588 accuser2725 of our2257brethren80 is cast down,2598 which accused2723 them846 before1799 our2257 God2316 day2250and2532 night.3571

11 And2532 they846 overcame3528 him846 by1223 the3588 blood129 of the3588 Lamb,721and2532 by1223 the3588 word3056 of their848 testimony;3141 and2532 they loved25 not3756their848 lives5590 unto891 the death.2288

12 Therefore1223 5124 rejoice,2165 ye heavens,3772 and2532 ye that dwell4637 in1722 them.846Woe3759 to the3588 inhabitants2730 of the3588 earth1093 and2532 of the3588 sea!2281 for3754the3588 devil1228 is come down2597 unto4314 you,5209 having2192 great3173 wrath,2372 because he knoweth1492 that3754 he hath2192 but a short3641 time.2540

According to the Polyglot Bible, Satan's name is of Chaldee origin:

Of Chaldee origin corresponding to 4566 (with the definite article affixed); the accuser, that is, the devil: - Satan.

More on the War in heaven from Wikipedia is here.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Blake's Milton

A friend recently went to the Blake exhibit at the Morgan Library, and happened to mention that there were several of Blake's images inspired by L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, which occasioned envy in this blogger's soul. Here are two: