Well, friends, here we are, about to embark on the good ship Milton for the next two months.
And by “we” I mean Rick (Another Book Blog) and CJ (ebookclassics) and me, unless y’all step up to the plate and climb aboard (and no, Milton won’t be mixing metaphors the way I do.). Paradise Lost is dense, but we’ll only be covering 300 pages in two months, so it’s not exactly like tackling Moby-Dick or Middlemarch (not knocking — worthy books, both).
By the time Milton was starting work on the epic poem in English, his political cause was in decline, his first wife and only son were dead, and he was blind (he dictated the poem to one of his daughters). By the time Paradise Lost was first published (1667*) Milton had been imprisoned for his role in the English Revolution (and subsequently released, thanks in part to the offices of his friend, fellow poet Andrew Marvell) and London had burned in the Great Fire of 1666. Paradise Lost, then, was an epic born in a time of upheaval — personal, political, and national — for its poet.
Like the great Greek epics before it, Paradise Lost begins in medias res. Books I and II find Satan newly come to Hell, pondering his plan of resistance. We’ll find a Satan quite unlike the medieval caricature that might be expected, but that doesn’t mean that Hell is without horrors.
Here’s our reading and posting schedule — please join us!
January 1: Introductory post
January 10: Books I & II reaction
January 20: Books III and IV reaction
January 30: Books V and VI reaction
February 10: Books VII and VIII reaction
February 20: Books IX and X reaction
March 1: Books XI and XII reaction; Wrap-up
A word about editions: I’m partial to Gordon Teskey’s 2005 Norton Critical Edition of the poem. I was the teaching assistant (for one semester) for his Milton class at Harvard, and I was won over by his persuasive reading of the poem, and by his approach to punctuating it (lightly). The edition also includes goodies — critical responses, a brief biography of Milton, and extracts from some of Milton’s prose works. It’s third from the top in the picture above. Even if you decide not to go with this edition, I’d recommend sticking with a reputable academic publisher.
*Paradise Lost initially appeared in ten books; the 1674 printing expanded the poem to twelve books (like the Aeneid) and included a few small changes as well.