chapter  8
18 Pages

Falling masonry and the redemption of public speech: reading Milton through Hannah Arendt

ByHELEN LYNCH

Milton’s great poems, Paradise Lost , Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes, involve individual temptations and falls with huge collective consequences. In each case, though, the long-term prognosis (assuming you are not Satan or a Philistine) appears to be good. Not only are these temptations undertaken through verbal persuasion and enacted through utterance in the texts, but they seem also to be about speech itself: the possibility of apprehending and communicating divine truth, of a virtuous political rhetoric, of instruction through dialogue (Socratic or otherwise), of the convergence of ‘poetry and all good oratory’ to which Milton overtly aspires (in his Note on ‘The Verse’ to Paradise Lost ).