200 Days in the Life of the College

Sunday, February 27

Satan and sustainability: Now that’s a good read

By Katie Hee ’14

Images of Adam, Eve, snakes and apples fill Burke Library as Hamilton students and faculty members gather early this morning to begin reading Paradise Lost. For 10 hours, the group, some wearing T-shirts with a quote from John Milton (“Whom shall we find sufficient?”) remains gathered around a table as everyone takes a part, reading aloud from the epic poem and building the two-year Milton Marathon — organized by Margie Thickstun, the Elihu Root Peace Fund Professor of English, and already noted by The New York Times — into a tradition.

Thoughts of environmentalism are presumably not on everyone’s mind, but that’s not the case for Tory Grieves ’12. When Grieves first enrolled in a Milton course a year ago, she had no idea that her environmental studies major not only would relate to Paradise Lost but would also eventually become the theme of her final paper. She notes that although the environmental movement did not really emerge until the 1960s, Paradise Lost anticipates the anthropocentric view of environmentalism — the idea that humans need to care for the planet on which they live. Grieves explains that the location of the Garden of Eden, surrounded by wilderness, illustrates Milton’s belief that “our impact on the environment should be limited.” Adam and Eve, the “most pristine beings” in “our perfect state,” meticulously care for their environment.

Grieves may have finished that Milton class, but she returns for the Milton Marathon, to reflect on how the recent phenomenon of environmentalism resonates in the blank verse of a 17th century poem. As Milton wrote: “Accuse not Nature, she hath done her part; Do thou but thine.”