350 Years of Paradise Lost
Paradise Lost, one of the greatest (and longest!) poems in the English language, is 350 years old this year. John Milton sought to put an English poem beside classical epics such as The Odyssey and The Aeneid, and in doing so he created this poem of biblical proportions - and content. He succeeded in his mission; Paradise Lost is one of the most important pieces of literature in the world.
Milton was completely blind when he started Paradise Lost, so he had to dictate the entire manuscript and have it written down by a scribe. It was then published in 1667, telling the story of Satan’s revolt against God; his subsequent fall from heaven; and his temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It was a parable of revolution, a topic Milton knew well as a participant in the English Civil War.
This is part of the reason why Paradise Lost is still relevant for readers today - it speaks to ideas of political revolution and social unrest. The poem has been translated more times in the last 30 years than in the previous 300, into even the most obscure languages, which says a lot about its ability to resonate with countless different audiences. There is a universality to this poem, with its themes of rebellion, deceit, and desire.
There have been a lot of celebrations of the poem this year, including a reading of the poem at Milton’s cottage (where it was completed) lasting 11 hours, with 350 readers - one for each year the poem has been around. There have also been performances of music inspired by Paradise Lost and countless lectures and blog posts all over the world. This is one of those rare pieces of writing whose appeal spans the centuries, never waning. One which inspires countless other works of art, whether direct translations and adaptations or entirely new creations. This anniversary is therefore one definitely worth celebrating.
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