Miltonathon: Celebrating Poetic Legends Marathon Style

Tess Dunkel, Staff Writer

On Sunday, April 10, Colgate celebrated the beauty of John Milton’s epic poem, “Paradise Lost,” through the sixth annual Miltonathon. The marathon-style event began at 11 a.m., and students and professors continued to read around one book per hour until the poem’s conclusion. Students, professors and members of the Hamilton community were invited to attend the celebration of Milton’s epic literature and legacy, which was held in Lathrop Hall’s Fager Lounge.

“Milton can sometimes seem to be an especially daunting or intimidating poet, so one of my goals for the Miltonathon is to make his poetry more accessible and available for readers of all kinds,” said Visiting Assistant Professor of English Tom Clayton. “He’s a very rhythmic and musical poet, and to appreciate these qualities it helps to hear his verse out loud.”

Students read as the voices of Adam, God, Satan, choirs of Angels and other familiar biblical characters to bring the daunting poem to life. Sticking with the biblical theme, food and drinks from a local caterer, Curtain Call, were cleverly named to fully immerse attendees in the setting of the poem. Students enjoyed devil’s food and angel cake cupcakes, “temptation” red apples and decadent hot chocolate. A local baker, Sharon Stevens, baked a snake-shaped cake filled with chocolate coins to represent the serpent within the Garden of Eden. The detail put into the event’s theme matched with the reading of “Paradise Lost,” helping students get into the spirit of reading Milton, as well as connecting with small businesses in surrounding areas.

“The Miltonathon presented me an opportunity to hear Milton’s classic ‘Paradise Lost’ for the first time, as my public school education from Virginia never exposed me to such classic British literature,” sophomore Dre Pedemonte said.

Many participating students and professors were enrolled in classes dedicated to the study of Milton’s work such as ENGL 200: “Major British Writers” or other pre-18th century literature courses. However, this was not the case for all students, and it was encouraged for all English concentrators and interested students to attend or drop by for a portion of the marathon. Copies of the poem were provided for first-time readers to reference during their readings. 

“After reading ‘Paradise Lost’ on my own and discussing it in class, I really loved hearing it read out loud by different voices. It was also fun to just meet professors and other students from classes reading Milton,” sophomore Bela Hawkins said.

Marathon readings are very common around the world, and Colgate has hosted several in years past. In earlier years, Colgate hosted an Iliathon and Odysseyathon for the reading of Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” respectively. These epic poems, as well as Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” were primarily written to be read aloud so that readers and listeners can fully internalize the power of the syntax and diction. Reading Milton’s “Paradise Lost” in a marathon-style allowed English students and other attendees to hear a magnified and participatory version of the poem, as Milton intended. 

Clayton made sure to credit all those involved with the organizing of this year’s event: 

“I’m new to the English department at Colgate, but I’m lucky to have great mentors and a rich tradition of reading Milton and hosting Miltonathons. I’ve gotten a lot of help from professors Margaret Maurer, Susan Cerasano, Connie Harsh and professor emerita Deborah Knuth Klenck,” Clayton shared. “Professor Knuth Klenck hosted the last five Miltonathons before she retired, and she taught me a great deal about how to make it fun, accessible and practically feasible. I’ve also had a tremendous amount of help from Tess Jones, the program coordinator in the English department.”