by John Milton
Areopagitica was published 23 November 1644 at the height of the English Civil War. It takes its title in part from Areopagitikos, a speech written by Athenian orator Isocrates in the 4th century BC. (The Areopagus is a hill in Athens, the site of real and legendary tribunals, and was the name of a council whose power Isocrates hoped to restore.) Some argue that it is more importantly also a reference to the defense that St Paul made before the Areopagus in Athens against charges of promulgating foreign gods and strange teachings, as recorded in Acts 17:18–34.
Like Isocrates, Milton (who was not a member of parliament) did not mean his work to be an oral speech to that assembly. Instead, it was distributed via pamphlet, thus defying the same publication censorship which he argued against. As a radical, Milton had supported the Presbyterians in Parliament, and would later work as a civil servant for the new republic, but in this work he argued forcefully against Parliament's 1643 Ordinance for the Regulating of Printing, also known as the Licensing Order of 1643, in which Parliament required authors to have a license approved by the government before their work could be published.
This issue was personal for Milton, as he had suffered censorship himself in his efforts to publish several tracts defending divorce (a radical stance which met with no favour from the censors). In particular, The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce 1643), which he published anonymously and unlicensed, was condemned by the Puritan clergy as being heretical and intending to foster sexual libertinism, and it was cited in petitions to parliament as evidence of the need to reinstall a system of prepublication licensing. Areopagitica is full of biblical and classical references which Milton uses to strengthen his argument. This is particularly fitting because it was being addressed to the Calvinist Presbyterians who composed Parliament at that time.
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