December 8, 2008, 11:26 AM ET
Celebrate Milton's 400th With a Visit to the Milton Reading Room
If you’ve missed your chance to celebrate John Milton’s 400th birthday — which is Tuesday — by attending a marathon reading of Paradise Lost, you can still go online to enjoy a thoroughly annotated version of the poem in the Milton Reading Room. The Dartmouth College site — created by Thomas H. Luxon, a professor of English — offers annotated versions of a number of other Milton poems as well, including Paradise Regain’d and Samson Agonistes.
The annotations certainly come in handy, even for English majors. Say you’re reading the opening lines of Book 6:
All night the dreadless Angel unpursu’d Through Heav’ns wide Champain held his way, till Morn, Wak’t by the circling Hours, with rosie hand Unbarr’d the gates of Light. …
Click on the hotlinked “dreadless Angel” and you learn that Milton refers to “Abdiel, a fearless angel.” The “circling Hours” turn out to be the Horae, three (or maybe two) daughters of Zeus and Themis who were “wardens of the sky” and were also linked to ethical properties. The annotation notes — and links to — mentions of the Horae in the Iliad and in Faerie Queene. The “rosie hand” is another echo of Homer — this time of his oft-repeated “rosy-fingered dawn.”
And while we’re celebrating this week’s literary birthdays, Emily Dickinson’s 178th is Wednesday. You can read any of 597 poems online at Bartleby.com, but — sadly — without annotation. —Lawrence Biemiller