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Word Patriots

Mark Seinfelt

Word Patriots – Moore on Milton

This week on Word Patriots@Webtalkradio, I will be discussing the importance of reading the classics and the poetical works of John Milton with John W. Moore, Jr. John is an Associate Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature at Penn State. A zealous word patriot, he earned his B.A. and M.A. at Boston College and his Ph.D. from Stanford University. He has stressed to countless students the importance of reading the great books and studying the humanities. Blindness did not break the Olympians. Sightless as Polyphemus (or so it has at any rate been passed down), Homer sang of Troy’s sack by seagoing Akhaians, heroes with sun-bronzed bodies and hair the color of burnished gold. Milton became God’s exegete. The scales never fell from his eyes after he lost his sight; nonetheless he performed day labor, justifying the ways of God to man, when light was denied. In glorious lofty hymns, he celebrated the throne and equipage of the Almighty. Milton remains for me such an enigmatic figure. He read himself blind working so diligently translating Latin into English and vice versa for the Puritans and the blood-stained government of Cromwell—it’s a wonder Charles the Second upon assuming the throne did not send him to the headsman and the block—but in other respects he seems so liberal and modern, as in his advocacy of divorce. The great poet of Christianity and the Hebrew tradition, he of course modeled “Paradise Lost” on the Pagan epic poems of Homer and Virgil, and he also observed the classical unities in his play “Samson Agonistes.” Matthew Arnold speaks about the two great competing traditions of antiquity, the Greek and Hebrew. They wed so beautifully in Milton. Professor Moore and I discuss the many contradictory aspects and competing sides of Milton’s character, to what extent the civil war in Heaven in “Paradise Lost” reflects the civil war in England and the great events of Milton’s own time, Milton’s view on women and how Milton’s work remains timeless and inexhaustible.