Writing assn. #2
5 February, 2000
Milton’s Concept of Truth
In Areopagitica, John Milton uses the images of a scattered body, a fountain, and a soldier to illustrate his concept of truth. These images advocate the need to search for truth, how to find it, and its ability to stand any test put to it.
A powerful image Milton uses is that of truth as a scattered body. Milton uses a classical allusion to the story of Isis and Osiris to explain that after Christ ascended into heaven, truth, like the pieces of Osiris’ body, was strewn across the earth. Milton stresses that like Isis, people need to be active seekers of this lost truth, which will not be found in its entirety until the Second Coming. At that time, “he [Christ] shall bring together every joint and member, and shall mold them into an immortal feature of loveliness and perfection” (pg. 27).
Milton also considers the erroneous ways in which some deal with truth; by leaving it (i.e. the truth of religion) in the hands of others to manage for them, or by assuming that sufficient truth has been found, and using time to be jolly. Milton emphasizes that, as in Psalm 85:11, truth is like a streaming fountain, which, “if her waters flow not in a perpetual progression, they sicken into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition” (pg. 25). Not examining the truth of something for oneself can lead to heresy. Milton asserts the need to make truth a personal responsibility, and not be satisfied with what is already known.
The final example that Milton uses to convey the concept of truth is that of a soldier. Milton uses this image to contend that censorship (i.e. licensing and prohibiting books) is unnecessary. He boldly states “let her [truth] and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?” (pg. 30). Milton claims that even if truth’s opponents have the advantage of wind and sun, (as in a battle), no matter what traps they lay to ambush truth, they will be unsuccessful. Like a successful soldier, truth can stand alone against all false beliefs found in writing and the world at large.
Through the images of the scattered body, the fountain, and the soldier, Milton’s Areopagitica conveys his concept of truth. These illustrations demonstrate the need to search for truth, making the endeavour one of personal importance and evaluation. Milton emphasizes that real truth is capable of withstanding any attacks on its validity, and all beliefs should remain uncensored in order to discover whether truth is within them.