Great Books: Paradise Lost, by John Milton

– Okay everybody. Thank you for attending our first Great Books
session. This is the first of three for this semester
and we hope that you will be joining us again for the other two. I am Lorie Paldino, I’m an adjunct English
professor and Business Communications instructor and I am pleased to introduce Anthony Funari. (Applause). Okay, I’d like to do that again. Originally from Allentown, Pennsylvania, Dr.
Funari earned his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh and his Masters from
the State University of New York at Stony Brook SUNY in 2001. By 2005, he was back at it pursuing his doctorate
in Renaissance Literature at Lehigh University. His award-winning dissertation eventually
became a book published in 2011 entitled Francis Bacon and the Seventeenth-Century Intellectual
Discourse. Since becoming part of the adjunct faculty
at JCCC in 2010, Dr. Funari has been a reviewer for TYCAs publication Teaching English at
the Two-Year College and a Humanity Scholar for the Kansas Humanities Council 2016 Pulitzer
Prize grant. In 2015, Anthony was a recipient of the Lieberman
Teaching Excellence Award for Adjunct Faculty. And for the last couple of years at JCCC,
Anthony has been the college’s grant professional, a role in which he has the opportunity to
work with faculty and staff from across campus to develop competitive grant proposals. Dr. Funari is going to speak to us today about
John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost so that perhaps we might consider reaching for
it the next time we want something great to read and not just because it was assigned
in an English class. Francis Bacon once said, to bring this all
around, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed
and digested.” I’m going to assume that Milton’s Paradise
Lost falls into that latter category. Please give a warm welcome to Dr. Anthony
Funari. – (Applause) thank you. Thank you all for coming out today. Let me start off by saying the very fact that
we actually have this book is a miracle. And let me take it back to 1642 and the outbreak
of the English Civil War. Over the next decade, the country is divided
in bloody turmoil between those who support the King and those who support Parliament. Now this all culminates on January 21st, 1649
when the English people put on trial Charles the First, their monarch. And 9 days later, on — excuse me — January
30th, 1649, they actually behead him. Now this is a watershed moment in English
history. This is the very first time that the English
people actually put on trial a King. And this brings up a huge question of where
does power reside? Does power reside with the people in Parliament? Or does it come from the Throne? Well, with the execution of their King, this
gives rise to a very enigmatic figure, Oliver Cromwell. And he sets up his own government after the
Charles the First is executed. And John Milton will play a very, very key
role in this new government. He’s going to take on the role of Secretary
of Foreign Language. Essentially, they’re propagandists. He’s going to write all of their treaties
telling the world why was it was right and justified for the English people to have killed
their King. And one of the first treaties that he’s going
to write is The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates. And in this treaty, he sets out a very interesting
idea about tyranny. And he says this. Excuse me. “For indeed none can love freedom heartily,
but good men: The rest love not freedom, but license: Which never hath more scope, or more
indulgence than under tyrants…Consequently do bad men hate tyrants — excuse me. Consequently neither do bad men hate tyrants
but have always — had been always readiest with the falsified names of loyalty and obedience
to colour over their base compliance.” So think about that for a second. Think about how we normally think about — understand
tyrants. We usually think of tyranny as something that’s
imposed upon people. That a tyrant oppresses their people with
their power. Milton’s giving us a different idea here. He’s saying no. Tyrants are licensed by, of people’s own immorality. That if there’s tyranny, it’s a reflection
on the moral state of the people. In other words, the people get the government
that they deserve. All right. And I really want to stress that idea here
that, again, tyrants are licensed by our own immorality because it’s something I’m going
to come back to a little bit later on. So, jump ahead, 1658, Oliver Cromwell dies. His son, Richard Cromwell, takes over for
a little while but he’s a really horrible leader. And so what we have happen in 1660, is the
restoration. Charles the First’s son. Charles the Second comes into power. Now think about this if you were Milton. You had just spent the last ten years writing
about why it was right to kill the current King’s father. Needless to say, Milton was incredibly scared
at this point. Right away there’s a warrant issued for his
arrest. All of his works are publicly burned. I should let you know, Charles the Second
goes on a hunting spree for anybody that was associated with the killing of his father. He actually digs up Oliver Cromwell’s body
that has been decomposing for two years now, and puts it on display in front of Parliament. Okay? This is how vengeful he is. And so Milton is in hiding for this whole
time. Eventually he’s pardoned but the reason he’s
pardoned is because he’s going blind now. Okay, so it’s now 1660-ish. Milton’s 52. Destitute. I mean, he has no money. His life’s pretty much ruined and now he’s
going blind. And this is when he gives us Paradise Lost. This is a work he had always been dreaming
about writing. This is what his career, he’d always imagine
his life as a poet was building up to and now he has the time to do it but he’s blind. Now Milton, when it came to his blindness,
didn’t see it so much as a curse but he reinterpreted it as a blessing because he had thought this
allows me to contemplate God without any distractions. And so, the way he actually — there’s a story
about how he actually writes Paradise Lost and it’s — at night, he claimed that a spirit
came to him. He claimed the muse would come to him and
dictate to him these lines. And in the morning, he would wake up claiming
needing to be milked. And so he would dictate every line that was
given to him by this spirit to his daughters. So Paradise Lost, all 12 books come to us
through a blind man dictating these lines to the daughters that pretty much hated him. He actually, Milton was not a very big proponent
of women’s rights to say the least. He actually wrote out against women being
educated. So you can imagine how this was a little tension
with his daughters. So as, the return to my earlier point, the
fact that we have this book is absolutely amazing. So let’s start off at the very beginning with
the opening lines of Book 1. Now please forgive me, I tried my best with
my reading voice but Milton’s verse is, I will never be able to do it justice. It’s just so rich and beautiful. Okay. So:
Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
brought death into the World. And all our woe, with loss of Eden, till one
greater Man restore us, and regain the blissful Seat. Sing, Heavenly Muse, that, on the secret top
of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire that Shepherd who first taught the chosen seed in the beginning
how the heavens and earth rose out of Chaos: Or, if Sion hill delight thee more, and Siloa’s
brook that flowed past the oracle of God, I thence invoke thy aid to my adventurous
song. That with no middle flight to soar above the
Aonian Mount, while it pursues things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.” You can already see the grandeur of this poem. He sets out right away what the topic of his
poem’s going to be. The first disobedience, the fall of humanity. But he goes beyond that, in a way, to claim
that he’s going to attempt something here that has never been tried before either in
rhyme or in prose. This is going to be something entirely new. Really, what a claim to make right away. It’s absolutely, you know, you know, you know,
crazy in a way. And what is this that he’s going to attempt,
that has never been tried in prose or rhyme before? He’s going to try to tell us why there is
evil in the world. Why did we fall? Why did humanity get expelled from Eden? And he’s going to do this in a very, very
important way. He’s going to give us the very first Christian
epic poem. Now, why is that important? Think of it this way. I’m sure you all are kind of familiar with
some epic poems. You know, you’ve read The Odyssey or the Iliad
or The Aeneid. An epic poem is not a Christian-based form
of poetry. It’s a pagan form, okay? So what Milton’s going to do, he’s going to
be combining classical pagan tradition with a Christian text. With a Christian material. And this is something really, really new. And he already gives us signals in this very
first few lines that he’s going to be doing this. First off, we get a reference to Mount Sinai
where God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. And we get a reference to Mount Sion, you
know, the city of King David. But we also get a reference to another mountain,
the Aonian Mountain. The haunt of the classical muses. So he’s comparing himself both to Christian
tradition, or putting himself in a Christian tradition but also in a pagan tradition as
well. So he’s kind of bridging the gap. So to give you a little sense here. A really good definition of literary genius,
what makes a great author, is the fact that they can work within a particular convention
but also change it in a way. Change it while they’re working within it. Challenge our expectations. And Milton does this. He’s going to write an epic poem but he’s
going to play with what we kind of are anticipating. So, he does this by his choice of protagonist. Now, just quickly if you want to yell, what
are some traditional, you know, epic heroes that you might know of? Anybody? – Beowulf. – Beowulf. Ulysses. – Aeneas. – Aeneas, yes. Okay, these are heroes. These are people that embody virtue that are
held up as standards and moral pillars for us. And in this role, Milton’s going to put Satan. Satan’s going to be his epic protagonist. Satan’s going to be. And we know this, one of the reasons why is
because Satan’s the one that goes on a journey. Now
there’s a typical convention in epic poetry or in an epic tradition. And that is the journey into the Underworld,
okay? It happens almost all the time really. So what we see here in Book 11 of the Odyssey. Odysseus journeys into hades to give alms
so he can make his way back to Ithaca. In Book 6 of The Aeneid, Aeneas journeys to
the Underworld to go speak to his dead father, Anchises. In the Batman saga, Batman journeys to the
Bat Cave to become Batman. Okay? There’s always this trajectory of the hero
journeying to the Underworld. Satan does the reverse. Satan journeys out of hell. So already here what we see, in this illustration
we can see Satan about to battle death and sin becoming in between them so he can break
through the gates of hell. So there’s always this inversion, okay? Milton’s really kind of playing with what
we think an epic poem should be. But here’s the crux of it. Here’s what makes it so, so interesting. Satan’s journey out of hell and his whole
mission to cause the fall of man becomes the most compelling part of Paradise Lost. It’s the thing we always remember. It’s the thing that’s the most exciting part
of this whole epic poem. And the really interesting part, the real
rub is, we cheer him along. We are drawn along with him on his journey. We are inadvertently taking Satan’s side through
the whole thing. Kind of forgetting that, wait, he’s trying
to get us, he’s trying to make us fall. He’s trying to cause the fall of humanity. Milton is able to bring us along and have
us take Satan’s side. So how does he do this? How does Milton get us to kind of take Satan’s
side? And there’s some really interesting ways he
does this. But one of the great ways he does this is
through Satan’s speeches. His power of rhetoric. And let me just give you a taste. So, Book 1. It opens up in the middle of things. So, like again, like a typical epic poem,
we begin right after the main events, after the events have already started. We open with Satan chained to a lake of fire
after his failed battle to take over Heaven and having been cast out of Heaven and fallen
for 9 days with the rest of his rebels, rebel army. And he, we see him wake up on this lake of
fire. He breaks through his chains. He flies to this burnt shore and he surveys
all around him. And this is what he says: “Farewell, happy
fields! Where joy forever dwells! Hail, horrors! Hail, Infernal World! And thou, proudest Hell, receive thy new possessor-one
who brings a mind not to be changed by place or time. The mind is its own place, and in itself can
make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” Or has he goes on to say: “To reign is worth
ambition, though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell than in serve in Heaven.” How could you not be inspired by that? Seriously? I mean, think about how this kind of speaks
so much to our own values. What we see here is this indomitable spirit. This place where — excuse me — Satan’s saying,
my circumstances will not change me. It will not change how I look at things. I will still rise above this, okay? I will make — I will change my circumstances. I will change my surroundings. Isn’t that something that we prize now? I mean, we prize the person who is the self-made
person, who will rise above the situation that they find themselves in, that will not
be put down by that. I mean, it speaks to something that we hold
as a value. Or later on in this book, where Satan tries
to rally his fallen legions. I love — this is one of my favorite speeches
by him. Okay. “Oh Myriads of immortal spirits. Oh powers matchless, but with the Almighty,
and that strife was not inglorious, though the event was dire. As this place testifies, and this dire change
hateful to utter: But what power of mind foreseeing or presaging, from the depth of knowledge
past or present, could have feared, how such united force of gods, how such as stood like
these, could ever know repulse? For who can yet believe, though after loss,
that all these puissant Legions, whose exile hath emptied Heaven, shall fail to re-ascend
self-raised, and repossess their native seat?” So to kind of translate, you know, horribly,
what Satan is saying here is, saying, look. Even though we have lost the battle, even
though it was impossible, given how our strength, to have anticipated that we would have been
cast out of Heaven, that God would’ve had more power to be able to do that. Even though we could not have anticipated
that, we are not lost. We — even though we are exiled, we will gain
a Heaven back through our own power. Through our own will. This is the coach in half-time telling us,
even though we’re down and out, don’t worry! We are going to come back! I mean, this is — Satan would make a great
football coach. I’m telling you. He’s inspiring. Or when he talks about how he’s going to assume
the hazardous journey out of hell. He says: “Wherefore do I assume these royalties,
and not refuse to reign? Refusing to accept as great a share of hazard
as of honour, due alike to him who reigns, and so much to him due of hazard more as he
above the rest High honoured sits?” Again, Satan’s just saying here, look, because
I have been given this great position of reigning over all you, I should take on this hazardous
journey. I should be the one that does this because
this is my responsibility. Okay. Now, this idea that Satan is the most attractive,
powerful figure in all Paradise Lost has really grappled readers for the past 200 years. One of the greatest readers and illustrators
of Paradise Lost was a man by the name of William Blake. He’s actually the one who does a lot of the
illustrations that I’ve been showing you. And he said this of Milton. He said: “The reason Milton wrote in fetters
when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a
true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.” So essentially what he’s saying there is that,
look, when Milton was writing Paradise Lost he had intended for this to be about God and
God and about Christ, redemption, so on and so forth. But he said, no, he found out that I really
like writing about Satan. And that this is kind of, and that he inadvertently
revealed that he’s more on Satan’s side and maybe a little Satanic in a way. And that in some way, Satan hijacks the poem
away from him. I would say that’s not the case. I’d say, I disagree with Blake and here’s
why. Just to go back. Remember what Milton wrote way back when. He said the reason why tyrants exist; the
reason why tyrants have power is because we fail morally. We are morally bankrupt. And that’s what’s Milton’s doing here. When Satan draws us in with his rhetoric,
when we start to find Satan to be so charismatic, it’s because Milton’s reminding us, hey, we’ve
fallen. We’re sinful. We’re morally bankrupt. I had a friend of mine when I was in grad
school when we were at a party, kind of explained this whole Paradise Lost to me and I thought
it was the funniest thing. He said, the way you can think of Paradise
Lost is this, you know, you go along and you’re seeing. Milton’s saying, hey isn’t Satan great? Look at him, isn’t he powerful? Wow, look what he can do. And then he says, no, you idiot! He’s Satan! And he keeps, we keep doing that. So what happens is, it’s really fascinating,
in Paradise Lost, Milton puts the reader in the position of Adam and Eve. We fall just like they do. We’re reminded of our innate moral failings. Now I kind of want to conclude this talk with
this question, the question kind of ties this all together. Why should we still read Paradise Lost? Okay, look, if you ever pick up the book,
you know, this tome of it. It’s dense. You know, Milton’s poetry, his verse is not
easily comprehensible. You do probably need to read it in an English
class. It’s one — I’ll be honest, it’s one of those
that you need a little guidance with. But what value does it have? And I think it has this value. It gives us a warning for those leaders who
kind of base their authority on power, on strength, on will. The strong man politicians that we see today. You know, they don’t come out of nowhere. We authorize them. We’re a — there’s something sinfully attractive
about those leaders that play to our sense of will, of strength. And that’s really one of the messages of Paradise
Lost. Be aware of those leaders that draw us in
with their own charisma and strength and will. And that’s why it’s really important to still
read this book today. Thank you. (Applause) I think we have some time left. So, a few minutes. So if there’s any questions. Please, yes. – I’ve got one that’s about one of your quotations
there was so interesting that had to do with of that the failure of the United Nation. How we would never have imagined that this
could have happened to us. Like the 9-11. I kept thinking about bad things will happen
when terrorists show up but we could not have imagined how horrible it could be. It’s that sense of, I think that’s where the
romantic poet, why I admire Milton so much is because he’s speaking to what should be
the imagining. What is the power of imagination is so much
better than the power of rhetoric. – Right. Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, there’s this — Satan has this really
— that was very much the attraction Milton Satan held for the romantic poets was the
fact that of his indomitable mind. But what’s kind of interesting is when Satan
actually reaches Eden, when he actually sees for the first time, Adam and Eve, in all their
happiness and all their bliss, he realizes something. His journey’s been a failure. He actually says this point that I cannot
escape hell. Hell is with me. Hell is not a location but a state of mind. And by trying to escape it, I actually go
further into hell. He’s shown as having failed in his whole journey. So yeah, that was a great question. Any other questions? – Do you think your interpretation or reading
of beware of strong men is appealing rhetoric as of a lesser take in message than, for example,
Blake’s? Whereas the admirable rebel? – I like to think that when it comes to literary
interpretations, it’s always so interesting to see how a text is just mirroring that particular
moment in history. I think when it came with Blake’s time, he
was seeing in Satan what his community prized. I think that to make text still relevant to
every period and why we should read them, we need to go back and reread them from our
own perspective. And so, yeah, I would say that for with this
perspective in comparison to Blake’s, yeah, this is the value that Paradise Lost has for
us today. That that’s how we should read it. That value. – All right. I know this is a dumb question but I proceed
to put it out anyway. Since he was dictating to his daughters, why
do we think for sure it was all him? – We don’t. That’s a great question. We don’t. Actually, we don’t. We don’t. I should put that out. We don’t. And actually what’s really kind of interesting
here, when Milton describes the actual scene where Adam and Eve fall. Okay, so you look back at the bible, right? You know, the traditional Genesis. The fall is really put on Eve’s shoulders. I mean she’s the one who’s kind of held culpable
for the fall. And, you know, scholars have wrestled with
this really, really. The gender issues in how Milton presents Eve. But here’s what happens. Okay, so Eve eats the apple. Okay, goes to Adam saying, “Hey look. I ate this apple, you really should too.” Okay? And Adam’s reaction is this, oh my God, you
ate the apple? You know, the one thing we weren’t supposed
to do? Oh well. I guess since we can’t get forgiven for this
I’ll go eat it as well. And Milton, and the whole point of that is,
the reason why Adam eats the apple too is because he believes what Eve has done is beyond
forgiveness. That God can’t forgive this sin. He puts a limitation on God which is exactly
the same sin that Satan does. Satan constantly puts a limit on God, God’s
power. And anytime — so really, Paradise Lost blames
Adam for the fall, not Eve. Adam should have known better. – Isn’t it also true though that Adam decides
in Paradise Lost to eat the apple because he can’t imagine life without Eve. – Yes. – Okay. – Yes, that’s exactly. Oh yeah. That’s exactly it. Yeah. – So I have not going to give her off. – Right. Yeah. He prizes Eve more than being in paradise,
okay? And yeah, he can’t imagine his life without
Eve. Yeah. – So is this, do we think that the daughters
might’ve added that viewpoint? Is that what you’re saying? – I mean, it could be. I mean, it’s really. The way this book was written, the way it
comes to us, there’s so many hands in it, it’s really hard to say that, you know, about
that. So yeah, I would say, you know, there’s so
many books out there about Milton’s daughters. He had three daughters by the way, by, I think
it’s two different wives. So and, yeah, he had a very, very sorted relationship. In his will he didn’t leave his daughters
anything. Yeah, he left them destitute. – No sons? – No, no. Well, he didn’t have much money to leave. But he left them out the will entirely. Yeah. – Can you elaborate on what we’ve talked about
in the hallway yesterday as far as Milton’s possible influence on the founders of the
United States? – Sure. – I mean, I see some light connections here. – Oh yeah. Absolutely. I would love to. Okay. So as I mentioned, you know, Milton was a
political writer as well. He wrote poetry but a lot of his works were
political works. So he wrote the doctrine on divorce which
actually was the first time to argue for divorce based on incompatible differences. Okay? You know, before that, the idea that you got
divorced was really more because either, you know, infidelity, so on so forth. He made the argument that no, divorce should
be based on incompatible differences, kind of what we have today. He wrote — his most influential political
work was Areopagitica. This was a work that argued for a free license
of the press, one of the first English works to do so. In Tenure of Kings and Magistrates and in
the first and second defenses of the English people, he actually made the argument that,
look, power cannot reside with a King. Power must reside with a constitution. That there’s a law above the King. And that we need to have a constitution that
we believe in, that circumscribes him. Before that, the idea, the phrase was to describe
the King’s power was lex loquens which translates from Latin, “the speaking law”. So whatever the King spoke became law. Milton made the argument that no, it needs
to be constitutional. And all these ideas that were kind of simmering
and driving the English Civil War come out in the American Revolutionary War and actually
inspire our Founders. They actually reference Milton. So he’s really, really essential to the way,
to our own politics, our own country’s founding. Yes. – I also might be, this might be a bit redundant,
which I’m not sure if you a little bit. What was the ending for Paradise Lost? What was the resolution that he finally came
up with? – Oh, you mean, how does it kind of conclude
and all that? Okay, that’s great. Actually, I’m glad you said that. That’s a great thing. – You can’t give it away. – Well, Adam and Eve are getting expelled. Okay, we got that. So they do fall, right? You know, there’s the whole Satan becomes
a snake so on and so forth. But here’s the really cool part of what happens
to Satan at the end. So Satan he does the, he causes the fall and
he journeys back to hell. And by doing so, he makes, Milton describes
this path that he lays between Hell and Earth that sin and death now follow. So sin and death are now in the world, right? Okay, so Milton goes back. Goes to his legions of army and says, look,
I’ve accomplished this. Look at the great thing I just did. Okay, but here’s the problem. After he gives a speech, rather than claps,
everybody starts hissing. And the reason why? They’re all transformed into snakes. – That’s pretty crazy. – Yeah, it’s a really cool thing because it
actually — Milton describes so well the process. Satan starts feeling his arms close in and
starts slowly turning into a snake. That’s what happens at the end. And one of the reasons why we have to question
whether, you know, Satan’s really meant to be the hero here, he’s turned into a snake
at the end. But thank you, that was a great question. Any others? Yes. – Why do you think it took 12 books? – That’s actually a really good question. Here’s what happened. Okay, so when Paradise Lost was originally
published in 1667. By the way, this coming year is the 350th
anniversary. Great time to read it. When it was originally published in 1667,
it was published in 10 books, okay? When it was published again in 1668, it was
published in 12 and the reason why is because 12 books is the traditional number of books
for the epic poem. And so that’s why we know that he was trying
to write an epic poem. Originally, the reason why it was 10, it kind
of breaks out into 5 acts. Milton really wanted to do this as a play. So there’s really, this is where we get some
of those, why we get some of these great speeches. But he turns it into 12 because of the epic
tradition at the end. Yeah. – Was there any thought at the time that he
might be still trying to write about tyranny, you know, still be trying to justify killing
the King? – Oh yeah. – So is there anymore conflict with the government
after that? – That’s a good story too. Okay, so I told you that, you know, he was
pardoned, right? And the reason why is because he had a lot
of friends who worked inside politics. One of them, Andrew Marvell, who is another
poet at that time was a very good friend of his and was able to kind of persuade the King
into pardoning him. One of the reasons why they pardoned him was
because, you know, hey you’re going blind. Some biographers think that maybe he might’ve
played that up a little bit. Maybe it wasn’t as blind and they called it
the blind man’s bluff. So one of Milton’s biographers or modern biographers,
David Hawkes, says that that was one of the Charles the First biggest mistakes was pardoning
Milton because he goes to write about Paradise Lost. So, bad for Charles the First, good for us,
we get this. Yeah? Any other questions? All right. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed this. Really loved it. Thank you. (Applause).

3 thoughts on “Great Books: Paradise Lost, by John Milton

  1. Wasn't The Divine Comedy the first Christian epic poem? Dante combined Classicism and Christianity more than three hundred years before Milton.

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