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“Of Man’s First Disobedience, and the Fruit, Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast, Brought Death into the World, and all our woe, With loss of Eden, till one greater Man, Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat, Sing Heav’nly Muse …”

The opening lines of Milton’s most famous work, Paradise Lost are perhaps the most famous in the the English language. Today, the MIT Literature section and friends are hosting a marathon reading of the entirety of John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the author’s birth (December 9, 1608 — back then, the New Year began with the spring: for Elizabethan England, it’s still 2008).

The last writer of the Renaissance and the first major poet of the modern world, the 17th-century English poet John Milton is well-known for his sonnets, shorter lyric poems (Lycidas is among the famous), three plays and the two epics, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regain’d, the latter and more popular of which was initially conceived Paradise Lost as a weighty dramma per musica. Milton was also an active polemicist and worked as a civil servant under Cromwell’s government.

After Cromwell’s death and the restoration of the English monarchy, in a time of political and personal despair (the death of his first wife, his blind sight and plunge into poverty and occasional imprisonment), he composed Paradise Lost, now considered his magnum opus: his version of the creation and the subsequent fall of man, a magnificent story about power, good and evil, innocence, relentlessly provoking the audience to think about responsibility and the right to knowledge.

The peripatetic reading organized at MIT will move across campus (see schedule below) and will feature volunteer readers from several disciplines, including, but not limited to: Vice Provost Philip S. Khoury and Prof. Janet Sonenberg (21M) as God the Father, Prof. James “Joyce” Buzard (21L) as Satan, Prof. Robert J. Silbey (5) and Prof. Susan Silbey (21A) as Adam and Eve.

All are welcome to join at any point during the day, either as brave readers or as gentle listeners, as we tackle the epic task of reading the entire poem, whose difficulty commands close attention (and rewards it, generously). Should you join in the middle of the hour, there will be an usher at each location to welcome and orient you with a few pointers and a copy of the epic poem, though you are welcome to bring your own, if you have one. While the entire poem is robust and its plot riveting, highlights will be during the War in Heaven in Book V & VI around 2pm and The Fall of Adam and Eve (i.e. eating of the apple) in Book IX around 5pm.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

9 a.m.: 14E-304 (Book I)

10 a.m.: East Campus Talbot Lounge (Book II)

11 a.m.: The Bush Room (Book III & IV)

1-2 p.m.: Break

2 p.m.: Classroom AVT (7-431) (Book V & VI)

3:30 p.m.: Lobby 7 balcony (Book VII)

4:10 p.m.: The Bush Room (Book VIII)

5 p.m.: 16-440 (Book IX)

6:10 p.m.: Bexley Basement (Book X)