Aeropagatica–Rhymes with…

Continuing on with Milton, I have to say that the class last Wednesday on Lycidas did end off on a nice note, our professor demonstrating the wonderful way that various themes were woven into the poem. I’d have to check my notes to actually remember how and what, but it was a fairly interesting class.

This week’s reading is Aeropagatica: For the Liberty of unlicenc’d Printing. This is Milton’s 17,950-word plea to the parlament [sic] against book pre-publication censorship (which was effected in 1643).

Now, I respect Milton’s purpose, and agree with him that such censorship is uncalled for. I believe he made good points in trying to show how the ancient Greeks renounced censorship and how the Catholics installed it, and that it is virtually impossible and unfeasible to try to stifle the flow of ideas. I imagine that the government would have taken his ideas to heart. However,  I read the short (2-page) introduction in the Dartmouth Milton Room, which noted that “Milton’s Areopagitica had virtually no political impact in its day: Parliament ignored it.”

Then I got down to reading it. Did I mention that this is 17,950 words long? I read and read and read and read and it went on and on and on and on. There never seems to be a place to come up for air. I didn’t note any elegant transitions. After a while, I lost track of what I was reading as the words just seemed to register on my retina and dissolve somewhere between there and  the thought centers in my brain. About half-way through I gave up (I’ll get back to it later on, but at this point, my head is popping and it’s time to feed the dogs.)

Just for fun. I timed myself reading a bit out loud: It took me about 7 minutes to read 1,000 words, meaning that reading 18,000 words (without pause) would come to just a bit over two hours. Non-stop. Might I venture that the reason it had no impact is because by about the 30th minute of his speech his listeners had tuned out and were dreaming about their dinner? Or having a short snooze? Or perhaps they had (like what seems to go on in Knesset) left the hall? Dunno.

My professor is an esteemed Milton expert. In fact, he wrote an introduction to the Hebrew translation of Aeropagatica. I imagine if anyone can help me “appreciate” this long, drawn-out diatribe, it will be him. So, while I consider reading it (at this point) to be somewhat tortuous, I am looking forward (sort of) to class tomorrow to see what will come out of it.

Comments welcome!



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