[Milton-L] Areopagitica in the NYPL

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Mon Feb 9 21:17:54 EST 2009

I always thought the relationship between the physicality of books and
their role or purposes in A. was pretty interesting.  The first
questions you should be asking are, "How can a spirit have lifeblood?"
 "What is the blood of a spirit?"  I think the answer to those
questions in A. is the human rational capacity, in an extended sense
of the word -- not just instrumental reason, but something more like
Stoic reason, what we have in common with the gods.  Reason, thought,
ideas -- these are fundamentally incorporeal, however.  They're
embodied in the human mind, but when the body dies, access to the
product or nature of one person's rational capacity to other human
minds becomes impossible.

Except through books, that is.  So books "embalm" or preserve or
"treasure up" the products of human reason long after the person has
died.  The rational capacity enjoys a "life" -- books continue to
speak, so continue to reason -- beyond "life," meaning, the physical
lifespan of the author.

Milton goes beyond this at points and says our rational capacity is
the best part of ourselves -- not quite as important as our lives, as
if the books we could produce are more important than our lives

This is a very powerful argument against censorship, of course, as by
suppressing books we suppress the best part of those who have gone

Jim R

On Mon, Feb 9, 2009 at 4:07 PM, Horace Jeffery Hodges
<jefferyhodges at yahoo.com> wrote:
> Now that I'm focused on this quote from Areopagitica, it strikes me as
> rather odd:
> "A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and
> treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life."
> Can blood be embalmed? It's usually removed in the embalming process, isn't
> it? What would 'embalmed blood' be? Chemically preserved?
> At any rate, an embalming process wouldn't provide the blood "a life beyond
> life," would it? Does this metaphor make any sense?
> Jeffery Hodges

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