On the 8th of March, the English Department celebrated one of the great English poets with its fifth annual Miltonathon. Introduced to the UvA by Dr Kristine Johanson, the event is an all-day reading of John Milton’s poem, Paradise Lost and each year is scheduled to coincide with students studying the poem in the first-year course English Literature 2: Medieval to Early Modern Literature.
The seventeenth-century epic continues to amaze as a work of imagination that combines the story of Adam and Eve with a narrative of Satan’s rebellion against God. “The poem begins in Hell, with Satan chained to a lake of fire, and there are vast battle sequences, in which warring angels rip mountains out of the ground and hurl them at each other,” explains Dr Johanson. “But alongside all the drama, Milton includes speeches and dialogues that explore the nature of love, freedom, faith, and political sovereignty.”
Milton himself was a political rebel who lived through a tumultuous period that included religious reformation, civil war, regicide, and the creation of an English republic. Upon the eventual return to monarchical rule, Milton—who had gone blind in the service of the republican government—was imprisoned and almost executed. Paradise Lost, which dates from this stage of his life, was dictated over a period of five years.
“The poem is as dramatic and eventful as the times he lived through,” says Dr Johanson, “but contemporary readers are also fascinated by Milton’s exploration of faith and reason, of gender relations, and of free will, to name just a few themes. We may not be living through civil war, but in the age of Trump, Brexit and the Me Too movement we continue to debate about the uses of political rhetoric, the legitimacy of political institutions, and how (gendered) power is created and exercised in society.”
The Miltonathon was well attended by a mix of staff and students from the English Department and beyond, some dropping in to read or listen to their favourite sections of the poem, while others enjoyed the opportunity to make a whole day of it (refreshments were provided!).