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Lisa Ono

Huey Lewis

This is true liberty, when free-born men,
Having to advise the public, may speak free,
Which he who can, and will, deserves high praise;
Who neither can, nor will, may hold his peace:
What can be juster in a state than this?

Euripid. Hicetid.

Begin reading part one.

Background information, texts, and links:


"In 1644 the English poet and man of letters, John Milton, published the Areopagitica as an appeal to Parliament to rescind their Licensing Order of June 16th, 1643. This order was designed to bring publishing under government control by creating a number of official censors to whom authors would submit their work for approval prior to having it published. Milton's argument, in brief, was that precensorship of authors was little more than an excuse for state control of thought. Recognizing that some means of accountability was necessary to ensure that libellous or other illegal works were kept under control, Milton felt this could be achieved by ensuring the legal responsibility of printers and authors for the content of what they published."

"In this essay, attacks on Catholicism should be read with the context of the English Civil War kept in mind. Although the English had had some form of censorship since about 1530, Milton tried to shame Parliament into adopting his views by claiming it a recent Catholic import, a product of the King's Star Chamber, which so recently had been abolished (1641), and which had been the principal opponent of the Protestant Parliament. While the Licensing Order had as its official intent the restoration of the legal protection of the Stationer's Company monopoly on printing, Milton saw as its byproduct the return of state control over publishing in general. His own experience in having to get his writings on divorce published without license, reinforced his views that a new dogmatic authority was replacing the old."

"While knowledge of this context is important to an understanding of the nature of Milton's passion in writing this pamphlet, it is not essential to a modern appreciation of its contents. Milton's words are just as powerful today in their call for freedom of thought as they were in his own. The issue he is addressing is still with us: the debate between legitimate societal control and freedom - whether of printing, speech, or thought - is on-going, and will continue to be of central importance in our media-dependent culture."

The following extracts should, it is hoped, bring out the vision that was Milton's, and make clear why this pamphlet is, to this day, an important part of English letters, and will hopefully provide grounds for fruitful reflection on this, its 351st anniversary. Editorial comments have been inserted prior to some sections, using italics to differentiate them from Milton's own words.
Sid Parkinson, Editor,

cover image

A high-resolution digital facsimile of a rare book originally published in London, 1644. Milton's landmark defense of the freedom of the press that has been quoted for centuries. You can view the actual pages of this rare book from cover to cover - in all their original brilliance - on your computer! Magnify pages up to 600% to see the finest details in full color. Print a color or black & white copy on your computer's printer. You can even search, and copy and paste the complete text. Compatible with Macintosh, Windows, and UNIX platforms.

From the Publisher
When John Milton wrote Areopagitica in 1644 he was not making a contribution to the great debate on church versus state or the limits of toleration, except incidentally. Areopagitica was the result of the response to his Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce the previous year. Advocating divorce seemed to strike at the roots of any religious society; it was universally condemned, and a divine of the Westminster Assembly demanded from the pulpit that Milton's tract be burnt. The Stationers' Company, less interested in theology than the preservation of the copyright system (Milton, like most of his contemporaries, had not obtained a license for the book), joined in the chorus of condemnation. In Areopagitica, Milton first of all defended himself and his right to express what he had written, and then he moved on to consider a new aspect of the problem, the rights of a book itself, independent of the intention of its author. On the day the English Parliament abolished the Court of Star Chamber and the ecclesiastical Court of High Commission, freedom of the press, both as an idea and as a material fact, was born. It was to take some time to grow to maturity, and its first years were not without risks and dangers. Parliament had no intention of setting the press free - rather of transferring control into its own hands. But when it finally got around to tackling the problem two years later with the Ordinance of June 16, 1643, Pandoras box had opened - political consciousness had come to the country, brought by the hundreds of books and pamphlets that had been printed in the interval. So not only did this Ordinance have little or no practical effect, it created a new and separate idea of debate among the mass of religious and political controversy: How free can speech be? It was against this background that Areopagitica was published in 1644. - excerpt from the commentary by Nicolas Barker on the CD-ROM

John Milton's Areopagitica is a sweeping history of censorship from antiquity to modern times, establishing the democratic right of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The title of the work derives from "Areopagus" ("Hill of Ares"), the name of the site from which the high court of Athens administered its jurisdiction and imposed a general censorship. Milton argues that to mandate licensing is to follow the example of the detested Papacy. He defends the free circulation of ideas as essential to moral and intellectual development. Furthermore, he asserts, to attempt to preclude falsehood is to underestimate the power of truth.

Project Gutenberg Areopagitica

The edition of the Areopagitica used by the Project Gutenberg has been widely disseminated. The e-text was originally created by Judith Boss, Omaha, Nebraska. The text has been simplified and modernized. The University of Oregon has the text as she transcribed it and as she prefered to present it:

Dartmouth has a Milton reading room in which the speech is separated into parts. The text of the speech is closer to the original archaic style of eglish as Milton wrote it than most other reprintings of the work. Esoteric or archaic terms and references are annotated in a presentation using framed webpage. The Dartmouth website has by far the best in depth information. Here are a couple of short exerpts from the introduction.:
The title of Milton's Areopagitica alludes to both the Areopagiticus of Isocrates and the story of St. Paul in Athens from Acts 17: 18-34. Isocrates' tract, which outlines a program for political reform, specifically mentions the degradation of the judges of the Court of the Areopagus, the highest court in Greece. Milton may fancy himself a man similar in virtue and sagacity to the old judges of the Areopagus whom Isocrates praises; following this allusion, the morally weakened judges of the Areopagus are symbolic of England's sitting Parliament. Milton doubly identifies with the voice of reform and the sober-minded leaders of a previous generation. The allusion to Paul in the book of Acts contains a similar parallel: St. Paul preaches to the pagan Athenians at the Areopagus (the hill where the judges once sat). In his appeal to the Athenians, Paul uses a stock phrase from a poem by Aratus, with whom the Greeks would certainly have been familiar. Paul uses a pagan idea to instruct the Athenians about the truth of Christianity."

"As always, Milton divides his scholarly affections between the classical and the Biblical in Areopagitica. Notice, though, that in this speech classical allusions outweigh biblical, particularly in the first half of the tract. Milton seems to be making an attempt, by way of copious example, to demonstrate just how Greek and Roman learning can reside within the boundaries of Christian morality. At first, one might be inclined to dismiss this as merely Milton's attempt to reconcile the differences between his two intellectual loves. But a closer examination of the Areopagitica, with attention to the purpose of the speech, will reveal Milton's more cagey purpose for allowing classical references to dominate. It is a subtle attempt to flatter members of Parliament, by comparing their commonwealth to the enlightened societies of Athens and Rome. By playing off of the vanity of English politicians, who would of course like to think of themselves as the senators of a latter-day Troy, Milton hopes to reverse the opinion of the legislative body. Only an ignorant man would criticize the policies of Athens, and that city, as far as Milton argues, did not support licensing of books. Milton seems to express a faith that England's enlightened leaders would never embark on a policy that would demonstrate their country's inferiority to those ancient societies."

" The Puritan poet John Milton (1608-1674) was educated at Christ's College, Cambridge at a time of fervid religious controversy, when a new Church policy was being implemented. The last great poem from Milton's youthful period, Lycidas (1637), alludes to this period of theological dissent. Milton's later years were marked by hardships, including a fire, which destroyed his home, and glaucoma, which eventually left him blind; despite these afflictions, the poet commenced work on Paradise Lost, an epic poem setting out his theological conception of the world."

"Order Of The Long Parliament For The Regulating Of Printing, 14 June, 1643
Being The Occasion Of Milton's Areopagitica
Whereas divers good Orders have bin lately made by both Houses of Parliament, for suppressing the great late abuses and frequent disorders in Printing many, false forged, scandalous, seditious, libellous, and unlicensed Papers, Pamphlets, and Books to the great defamation of Religion and government."
Fordham University is an excellent source of information on Areopagitica:

"But the importance of Milton's pamphlet is not to be measured by its effect on the political situation which was its immediate occasion. In his enthusiasm for liberty, the master passion of his life, he rose far above the politics of the hour; and the "Areopagitica" holds its supremacy among his prose writings by virtue of its appeal to fundamental principles, and its triumphant assertion of the faith that all that truth needs to assure its victory over error is a fair field and no favor."

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