John Milton – “Paradise Lost” Book 7

This book begins with yet another invocation (or proem), this time to Urania. Urania, the muse of astronomy, was refashioned by a 16th-c. French poet Du Bartas, into the muse of Christian poetry. But Milton gives her yet another twist – she is the sister of Divine Wisdom, the allegorical feminine figure described in the biblical Book of Proverbs. Milton asks her to help him come down on the Pegasus of his poetic inspiration from Heaven to Earth, so that he doesn’t tumble down. But he has also other reasons to ask her for protection: he asks her to drive away the revelers of Bacchus, and by that he doesn’t mean just drunkards outside his window. After the Restoration Milton was in danger of being executed in the traditional grisly manner with which traitors were dealt: disemboweled and dismembered, like some of his fellow republicans. This ties in quite neatly with the fate of the mythical Orpheus, torn to pieces by the Bacchantes, and his mother, the muse Calliope, couldn’t save him. Milton hopes the other muse, the light of the divine inspiration, won’t fail him, because she is “heavn’ly” while the other just “an empty dream”, making clear that although in his poem he mixes quite freely Greco-Roman mythology and Christianity, he can tell the difference between the two of them.

Having heard Raphael’s story, Adam muses for a while. But then he gets curious again and he asks Raphael to tell them the story of the creation of the world, telling him that apparently even the sun moves more slowly, because it wants to hear the story too, and if it finally sets down, and the moon and stars arrive to listen to him, telling stories in at night, when it is silent all around, is even better, and the sleep itself will stay up to listen to the story as well.


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