Maybe it’s because one was a scientist and the other was a poet. Maybe it’s because we tend to be taught history in isolation, so we don’t immediately connect an astronomer upsetting the Vatican in Europe to the guy who write Paradise Lost. Maybe it’s because we tend to segregate the arts and the humanities. Whatever the reason, I found it both strange and cool to discover that John Milton once met Galileo. As this New Yorker article says, it’s like a comic book in which Superman meets Spider-Man, only in this case it helped inform the Areopagitica, Milton’s polemic against the Licensing Order of 1643 and the censorship of the presses. I don’t really have anything profound to add, I just find this sort of thing interesting, in the same way that there’s something fascinating in the idea that Isaac Newton wrote commentaries on the book of Revelation (you can download Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John if you’re so inclined).
However, with all this talk of anti-censorship and religion, I should mention the latest BNP stunt. With the forthcoming Euro elections, the British National Party are apparently using pictures and words of Jesus as part of their campaign. Never mind that, as a middle-Eastern Jew the BNP would be offering Jesus money to leave the country if he was around today. Never mind that the verse they quote from John’s Gospel (“If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you”, verse 20) comes only a couple of sentances after “This is my command: Love one another”. Never mind that stories like The Good Samaritan depend on challenging ingrained racist attitudes amongst their original audience. When I first heard about this, I actually felt physically angry, but it’s difficult to know what the appropriate response is – call for the publicity to be banned? Call for the BNP to be banned? Well, it’s difficult to do that yet still want a free press. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t speak out against the misrepresentation of Christ in this case (or in any case) – I’m no fan of the wackier fringes of the Religious Right co-opting Jesus for the whole “rape-the-planet-smite-the-terrorists” thing, but the far right getting in on the act is faintly obscene.
Makes you wonder what Milton would think of it all.