33 pages 1 hour read

John Milton

Areopagitica

Nonfiction | Essay / Speech | Adult | Published in 1644

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Symbols & Motifs

Food

Milton uses food repeatedly as an illustration to explain his point of view on censorship and free will. He likens literature to meat: “For books are as meats and viands are: some of good, some of evil substance; and yet God, in that un-apocryphal vision, said without exception, Rise, Peter, kill and eat, leaving the choice to each man’s discretion” (348-49). He is referring to the moment in the New Testament in which Jewish dietary restrictions from the Old Testament are abolished. Whereas once men were beholden to strict regulations, now they live under the rule of free will. They must take responsibility for the health of their bodies. But unlike “bad meats,” which Milton claims “will scarce breed good nourishment in the healthiest concoction” (349), “bad books” can be used for positive purposes by a discerning and educated reader. With meat, God leaves “the choice to each man’s discretion” (348). For an unhealthy stomach, whether meat is “wholesome” or “unwholesome” (349) makes no difference, just as a “naughty mind” can use good books for mischief. By nullifying religious dietary laws, God gives man the opportunity to practice temperance. Similarly, “he then also, as before, left arbitrary the dieting and repasting of our minds, as wherein every mature man might have to exercise his own leading capacity” (349).

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