September 19, 2007

Psalms or Greek Poetry?

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms,Literature :: Permalink

In his preface to The Reason of Church Government, Book II, John Milton talks about the choice that confronted him when he set out to write a great poem and that led eventually to the writing of Paradise Lost.  The basic choice was whether to write an epic, a tragedy or drama, or lyric poetry.  In each of these categories, Milton mentions a Greek or Latin example and then a biblical example.  Interestingly, following David Paraeus, Milton includes the Song of Songs and Revelation as examples of biblical drama.

As for the third category, lyric poetry, which includes the Greek poets Pindar and Callimachus, as well as the Psalms and passages in the Prophets, Milton adds something interesting.  Here’s C. S. Lewis’s summary:

Almost as if he had foreseen an age in which “Puritanism” shouild be the bear seen in every bush, he has given his opinion that Hebrew lyrics are better than Greek “not in their divine argument alone, but in the very critical art of composition.”  That is, he has told us that his preference for the Hebrew is not only moral and religious, but aesthetic also.  I once had a pupil, innocent alike of the Greek and of the Hebrew tongue, who did not think himself thereby disqualified from pronouncing this judgement a proof of Milton’s bad taste; the rest of us, whose Greek is amateurish and who have no Hebrew, must leave Milton to discuss the question with his peers.  But if any man will read aloud on alternate mornings for a single month a page of Pindar and a page of the Psalms in any translation he chooses, I think I can guess which he will first grow tired of (A Preface to Paradise Lost, pp. 4-5).

Posted by John Barach @ 3:31 pm | Discuss (1)

One Response to “Psalms or Greek Poetry?”

  1. once more with feeling » Blog Archive » Milton’s aesthetic literary judgment Says:

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