[Milton-L] Eyes put out, for one thing, and Anna Beer's biography (Diodati goes to Heaven a virgin)

FLANNAGAN, ROY ROY at uscb.edu
Thu Feb 28 19:48:08 EST 2008

I cannot look at the cover of Carey's 1997 paperback Milton: Complete Shorter Poems which is a detail from Rembrandt's "The Blinding of Samson" apparently also titled "Triumph of Dalila," although that spelling would probably not have been Rembrandt's.
Why is it hard to look at?  Because it shows a Philistine soldier sticking the point of a large dagger right into the right eye of Samson.  And it is perhaps Rembrandt's most gruesome painting.
I listened to Anna Beer's being interviewed about her new biography of Milton (thanks for the Guardian site reference) and remembered her talk at the Grenoble Milton Symposium.  I didn't have too much of a problem with most of what she said, and I think she is a conscientious biographer and Milton-lover; but she and the interviewer snickered together over the ending of the Epitaphium Damonis, and Ms. Beer said that it was "the strangest vision of a young man in Heaven, ... too shocking to say," as if what Milton pictured for Diodati was some sort of gay orgy in heaven.  But Milton was clearly alluding to the celebrations for virgins in Revelations 14: 1-5, which various sects of Christians still make a great deal of, as a picture of innocence in Heaven.
This may lead us into the new/old debate over whether Milton was subconsciously gay, or whether Beer is correct to say that the Epitaphium Damonis is frankly erotic, despite its being frankly elegiac.  But I would correct her on the virgins-going-to-Heaven bit.
Roy Flannagan
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