[Milton-L] "Millions of flaming swords"

John Hale john.hale at otago.ac.nz
Fri May 16 22:28:34 EDT 2014


I'd like to share a good recent experience.
The English Department here has a weekly seminar, at which staff and students strut their research, usually in the form of trying out conference papers, book chapters, or thesis-proposals. So for several years now I have been presenting aspects or conundrums arising from my editing of De Doctrina, This time, I thought my long-suffering colleagues had heard enough about Milton's theology and its Latin or its MS. Instead, as a day-after sequel to an alumni reunion which featured a performance of Paradise Lost Book IX, we invited the alumni to meet the usual auditory to hear an easygoing talk about "The People of Paradise Lost." It was a slide-show, using the riches of Google Image, to tell the story of PL. 
	The first four "people" were subjects of Milton's allusions there: Galileo, Moses, Homer, and Charlemagne. the next four people had to do with the poem's publication: Ellwood, Simmons, L'Estrange, and Marvell. The third foursome comprised Bentley, Masson, Darbishire, and Empson. Four contemporaries completed the 4 x 4. It was well received, what with calculated beverages afterwards.
	I'm sharing it in this medium because it was enjoyable and useful, to me at my place. Much of the story of the poem has to do with its people. My sixteen embraced people within the poem who are less important than its characters or personages. Or ones who helped or hindered its first appearances. Or stood out for some reason in its reception. It's all the sort of thing we all know, but don't find occasion to teach, nor to write about except in a specialist way. The human story, strung together by images and power-point. 
	Once upon a time, it might have made a radio talk.
	Now, if outsiders or generalists like to watch and listen, in a relaxed way, who knows whether it might humanise a poem which (alas) many folk find remote, or forbidding, or indefinitely postponable. The portrait-gallery, like performances, might make such folk think again and give the poem a try.




John Hale


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