Word comes to us from the New York Times about a new translation of Milton’s Paradise Lost—into prose English. This “parallel prose edition” is tailored to those readers for whom Milton’s archaic diction, convoluted syntax, and obscure allusions have proved an insurmountable obstacle to enjoying the poem. Readers in college, for example. As a publisher of books about classic art, we are impressed by this sensible innovation, and will soon be translating our monograph on Hieronymus Bosch—whose bizarre vision and obsession with old-timey religion the kids have trouble relating to also—into a collected edition of Matt Groening’s “Life in Hell” cartoons.
But why stop there? It’s not easy passing the torch of high culture to our nation’s overburdened undergraduates, so we are calling on other publishers and institutions to join the effort. Why not a downloadable recording of Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio with 40% fewer notes? Citizen Kane: Parallel ‘American Pie 3’ Edition? ProustTube? A new Rothko exhibition with—actually the Rothko can stay pretty much as is. How about an edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost translated into a term paper on Milton’s Paradise Lost, an A-minus evaluation of same, and a letter of acceptance into a prestigious law school?
(The risk in all this, of course, is not just simplification but sanitization. The Times review notes that the new edition changes Milton’s description of Adam as “fondly overcome by female charm” to “an infatuated fool overcome by a woman’s charms,” thereby sacrificing the ambiguity of the word “fondly.” If the translator takes such a dim view of Adam in our post-feminist era, one can only wonder what he makes of “He for God only, she for God in him.”)