Living Texts: Interpreting Milton

Living Texts: Interpreting Milton

Living Texts: Interpreting Milton

Living Texts: Interpreting Milton

Synopsis

The essays in this collection are a testimony to Milton's claim that books "doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are." They are proof that Milton's progeny, whether poetry or prose, continue to inspire readers to investigate and interpret, and that even the poet himself is at times the subject of scrutiny. Although these essays examine issues as widely diverse as the reliability of Adam's narration to Raphael and the portrayal of chaos in Paradise Lost to the poet's role as an object of erotic attention in the nineteenth century, all suggest that Milton's are still "living texts."

Excerpt

For Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a
potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was
whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a viall the
purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that
bred them.…[A] good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a
master spirit, imbalm'd and treasur'd up on purpose to a life
beyond life.

Areopagitica

John Milton's justifiably famous defense of books as possessing the intelligence, the potency, and, indeed, the very blood and marrow of their creators is, of course, the inspiration for Living Texts: Interpreting Milton. No other writer of the seventeenth century bequeathed to the twentieth century such vigorous progeny, offspring themselves capable of begetting living texts and thus destined to sustained “life beyond life.” And so it is that “generations” of readers, including those represented in the present collection, have “come / From all the ends of th′ Earth, to celebrate / And reverence…thir great Progenitor” (Paradise Lost, 11.345–47).

Michael Lieb, in the opening essay, describes Adam's story in book 8 of Paradise Lost as “structured with a consummate sense of artistry and skill. Adam is a superb storyteller. More than that, he is both a poet and an orator.” Adam, then, might well be seen as the image of his “master sprit” Milton, whose renderings of biblical narratives in Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes are, to use the phrase Lieb applies to Adam's account, “triumph[s] of poetic art.” But as the essays in this volume demonstrate, Milton's accomplishments extend beyond those of storyteller, poet, and orator. His “living intellect,” “preserve[d] as in a viall,” drew sustenance from human concerns as diverse as politics and obstetrics, and later centuries in turn have drawn sustenance from Milton's real or presumed roles as cultural icon and commentator on Christian doctrine.

The sixteen essays that follow were originally presented at the . . .

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