The Gender of Milton's Muse
and the Problem of the Fit Reader

Maureen Quilligan

If we ... look at one of Milton's invocations in Paradise Lost, we shall see how he confronts the problems of the gender of inspiration and the concomitant problem of his reader's gender. In book 7 Milton invokes his muse for the first time by a specific name—Urania—and for the first time explicitly indicates that the Muse can be figured forth as female in gender. (In book 1, Milton invokes a double-gendered Spirit, who "with mighty wings outspread / Dove-like sat'st brooding on the vast abyss / And madest it pregnant" (1.20-22). The Invocation to book 3, insofar as it associates the Holy Light with the Son/sun (potentially distinct from the Muse), would appear to address a more specifically masculine source of inspiration. However, guessing the genders to the first two invocations is not as important as sensing the peculiar impact of Milton's directly assigning one in book 7.) Embedded within this invocation is Milton's most famous remark about his readership; it is important to look closely at the interconnections between the source of his inspiration and his fears about his audience. After naming Urania, he makes a request:

Return me to my native element:
Lest from this flying steed unreined, (as once
Bellerophon, though from a lower clime)
Dismounted, on the Aleian field I fall
Erroneous there to wander and forlorn.

____________________
From Milton's Spenser: The Politics of Reading. © 1983 by Cornell University Press.

-125-

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