Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ruskin's Dubious Heroes

Yesterday the subject was Ruskin's essentially disdainful description of the deaths on the Matterhorn  in 1865 of four climbers from England's Alpine Club. Their leader, Edward Whymper, survived to write a book about the climb and the accident, which of course became a publishing sensation. I discovered a contemporary engraving by Gustave Doré conceiving the scene of gracefully tumbling figures like a movie-still.

What I was really looking for when I found the falling mountain climbers was Doré's more famous engraving of Satan on a mountaintop tempting Christ, as described in Book III of Paradise Regained.

William Fuller's new book of poems (called Quorum) takes for its epigraph a single line from Book III of Paradise Regained 

In Rhombs and wedges, and half-moons, and wings

I looked up the context of this line within the poem, originally published in 1671. Sure enough, the phrase selected by Fuller belonged to Milton's Satan. 

Nobody these days has much use for the "good" characters in Paradise Lost or Paradise Regained.  But the inhabitants of Hell (and Satan in particular) remain highly fashionable as objects of study and description and quotation.