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Nov 30, 2015, 9:13pm

I'm starting in on Paradise Lost for the first time.

Anyone have any advice? Want to encourage or discourage me? Share something about your contact with it?

Nov 30, 2015, 9:50pm

I tried reading it several times but never had the patience to get very far. Then a year or two ago I listened to the unabridged Naxos audiobook, read by Anton Lesser, who is a fantastic reader of verse and 'older' texts, e.g. Tristram Shandy. So I quite enjoyed it. I listened to it mostly while driving, so I made double use of that time -- travelling and Miltoning.

Random thoughts...
- I suspect a lot of our mental picture of the Fall, the Garden, Satan etc derives as much from Paradise Lost as from the Bible. Milton's handling permeates our (English-speaking) culture.
- It is clear that Milton was very familiar with the early sections of The Silmarillion.

Nov 30, 2015, 10:22pm

I think Milton's the greatest poet. The Odyssey may very well be the greatest poem, but overall I place Milton first among poets. (Shakespeare's greatness and his Number One position in literature is primarily as a playwright.) You might want to get hold of the Norton Critical Edition of PL for the value of its supplementary materials.

Personally, I think Paradise Regained is an overlooked gem. You'll also find it comfortably shorter than PL.

For some historical background on Milton in the context of the English revolution, Christopher Hill is especially worth taking a look at: Milton and the English Revolution, The World Turned Upside Down, and God's Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution are ones you might find particularly interesting.

Milton was enormously influential on the American Revolution. His anti-prelatical tracts influenced Jefferson in the disestablishment of the Church in Virginia. A work like The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates may have been particularly influential on John Adams, especially to the extent that the association of anti-monarchism with the author of PL gave a religious legitimization to republicanism. And Areopagitica (a pamphlet addressed to Parliament during a debate on renewal of licensure of the press) may be the greatest work every written on freedom of the press and on intellectual freedom.

Nov 30, 2015, 10:49pm

I agree that the Norton Critical Edition can be a real help. Scott Elledge was my Milton professor, and he edited the Norton Critical Edition that I have read, although we didn't use that in his class. A different person has done the later edition; someday I will read that, but I would already suggest that it is likely to be helpful.

I think that I have read the work up to maybe six times, although not recently. Different competences will require different approaches. Mine has been to read a book at a time. That was the right amount to tune into the language and not too much to bite off at a time. Don't be afraid to read some of it aloud.

"Some natural tears they dropped but wiped them soon. The world was all before them where to choose their place of rest and Providence their guide. They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow through Eden took their solitary way," has from time to time encouraged me through tough times.


Dez 1, 2015, 5:04am

As a classicist, you're already more than halfway to making sense of Milton, who had a tendency to write English like a native speaker of Latin (that doesn't make him any less of a great poet, but it's a big obstacle to making sense of him for some readers). As >3 CurrerBell: already said, for anything connected with seventeenth century England Christopher Hill is just about essential reading. If he's too left-wing for you, there's quite a readable biography of Milton by A.N. Wilson. And for light relief there is always Robert Graves's slightly ridiculous but well-meant Wife to Mr Milton.

When I read PL for the first time, I ploughed through the whole thing (in the OUP "Poetical Works" edition) as fast as I could, stopping for footnotes only when completely baffled: I don't know if that's a good idea, but it seemed to work for me. In between books I listened to Haydn's version...