[Milton-L] Milton and "the majesty of darkness" (was "Credited Wiki")

Hannibal Hamlin hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com
Sat Nov 4 11:29:47 EDT 2017


He may also have somewhere in mind the episode in Acts, where the apostle
Philip encounters "a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under
Candace queen of the Ethiopians," who is reading Isaiah but having trouble
understanding it. Philip explains that it's all about Jesus, and the
Ethiopian asks to be baptized, which Philip then does.

Hannibal

On Sat, Nov 4, 2017 at 11:24 AM, John Leonard <jleonard at uwo.ca> wrote:

> As for the danger of associating a rich skin tone with "darkness," Milton
> was a man of his time, prone to the prejudices of his time (especially in
> the prose), but Terrance should recall that the goddess Melancholy in Il
> Penseroso is
>
>
> Black, but in esteem,
>
> Prince Memnon's sister might beseem,
>
> Or that starred Ethiop queen that strove
>
> To set her beauty's praise above
>
> The sea-nymphs
>
>
> The Ethiop queen is Cassiopeia. Ovid depicts her daughter Andromeda as
> black. Milton seems to be following this tradition rather than that of
> European painting, which depicts Andromeda as lily white.
>
>
> John Leonard
> ------------------------------
> *From:* milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu <milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu> on
> behalf of Margaret Thickstun <mthickst at hamilton.edu>
> *Sent:* November 4, 2017 10:44:26 AM
> *To:* John Milton Discussion List
> *Subject:* Re: [Milton-L] Milton and "the majesty of darkness" (was
> "Credited Wiki")
>
> Thank you for this illuminating post. I would also like to point out the
> danger of associating a rich skin tone with "darkness."
>
> On Sat, Nov 4, 2017 at 9:23 AM, John Leonard <jleonard at uwo.ca> wrote:
>
> In the note he appends to his illustration of Satan as “a black man,”
> Terrance Liddell writes: “In Paradise Lost clearly dark is bad and light is
> good. So Satan as a black man might be symbolically appropriate. . .” But
> is it really the case in *Paradise Lost* that “dark is bad and light is
> good”? The statement has a certain prima facie plausibility based on some
> memorable lines (“Hail holy light”, “what in me is dark,” “the dark
> unbottomed infinite abyss”) which is no doubt why the topic of “dark and
> light” has so often (and boringly) been assigned for student essays. (I
> wonder if that is where Terrance’s image comes from?) Milton’s imagination
> is much richer than this crude binary. Some of his most hauntingly
> beautiful images come from the mingling of light and dark, and the
> challenging of our easy assumption that “dark is bad and light is good.”
> Recall the eclipse simile in book one where Satan “darkened so, yet shone.”
> Milton’s Satan is the Prince of Twilight, not the Prince of Darkness.  If
> there is something light about Hell’s darkness, there is also something
> dark about Heaven’s light. God also has his dark side, and not in a bad way:
>
>                                                        This deep world
>
>       Of darkness do we dread? How oft amidst
>
>       Thick clouds and dark doth Heav’n’s all-ruling Sire
>
>       Choose to reside, his glory unobscured,
>
>       And with the majesty of darkness round
>
>       Covers his throne; from whence deep thunders roar
>
>       Must’ring their rage, and Heav’n resembles Hell?
>
>       As he our darkness, cannot we his light
>
>       Imitate when we please? (PL 2.262-70)
>
> The speaker is admittedly Mammon, but the lines also have a ring of truth
> (biblical truth): “he made darkness his secret place” (Ps. 18); “the Lord
> hath said he would dwell in thick darkness” (II Chron. 6.1). Terrance
> coarsens both Milton’s art and his own with that flat statement “in
> Paradise Lost clearly dark is bad and light is good.” Mammon claims
> darkness for Hell, but his acknowledgement of God’s “majesty of darkness”
> gives him the lie. Hell’s darkness, no less than its light, is plagiarized
> from Heaven (“cannot we . . . Imitate when we please?”)
>
> John Leonard
>
>
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>
> --
> Margaret Thickstun
> Jane Watson Irwin Professor of Literature
> Chair, Literature and Creative Writing
> Hamilton College
> 198 College Hill Road
> Clinton, NY 13323
>
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-- 
Hannibal Hamlin
Professor of English
The Ohio State University
Author of *The Bible in Shakespeare*, now available through all good
bookshops, or direct from Oxford University Press at
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164 Annie & John Glenn Ave., 421 Denney Hall
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hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com
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