It’s probably the most famous text ever written about devils and their doings. So it’s fitting that when a bunch of Blue Devils gather Friday for a 10-hour reading, they will read from the pages of Milton’s “Paradise Lost.”
The reading, organized by the Duke English department, takes place Friday from 8 to 6 p.m. in Room 328 of the Allen Building and is open to the Duke community, said Charlotte Sussman, associate professor of English and one of the event organizers. Extras include “Milton Bingo” and snacks such as apples dipped in caramel – a nod to poor Adam and Eve and their fateful bites.
President Brodhead speaking Friday morning during the Milton reading. Photo by Megan Mendenhall/Duke Photography
“We are encouraging everyone to come, whether to read, to play ‘Milton Bingo’ or just to listen,” Sussman said.
Duke President Richard Brodhead, William Preston Few Professor of English at Duke, has already claimed a spot and will read around 8:45 a.m., Sussman added.
Marathon readings are having their moment. In August, a 16-hour event in London brought listeners Homer’s “The Iliad” in its entirety, and this Friday and Saturday, the Whitney Museum in New York City hosts a two-day reading of the full text of “Moby Dick.”
The Duke reading builds on past Milton traditions within the English department, Sussman said. Before his death, the late English professor and fiction writer Reynolds Price taught hundreds of Duke undergraduates to love the 17th-century poet.
Generations experienced Milton’s words in similar ways, Sussman added. During Milton’s life and for generations afterwards, “Paradise Lost” was often read aloud, in times when readers were somewhat rare and books rarer still.
And there’s yet another reason why reading Milton aloud makes sense, Sussman said: Milton had gone blind by the time he wrote “Paradise Lost.” He composed the entire work – all 12 books and 10,000 lines of verse – entirely in his head.
“He would compose about 10 lines of perfect iambic pentameter in his head,” Sussman said. “He would communicate this to his daughters, who were his secretaries, and they would write it down.”