Free Speech Upon the Rock Above the City: re-wording John Milton

In 1644, John Milton wrote and published a pamphlet, a brilliant polemic on the importance of the freedom of the press and the freedom of speech, arguing for the undoing of an order by the British Parliament, which would license and censor publications.

In 2017, I opened up the copy of this pamphlet, Milton’s Areopagitica, that I had bought online, and I read the first two paragraphs three times through just to understand the flow and the meaning of it.

In equal parts I was struck by the difficulty of the language and by the brilliance and relevance, paragraph after paragraph after paragraph, of the arguments he was making. This was an argument needed for right now, yet in a grammar and a vocabulary that did not lend the piece easily to mass, modern readership. So I decided to do what I could to increase its exposure and appeal, and to re-word it, to translate it: English to English.

I have done my absolute best to not alter any of Milton’s arguments or points, nor to use them as an opportunity to infuse my own under his name. I took great care when I was unsure of what modern word I could use to replace an archaic one that he had written, looking into many synonyms and definitions in order to be sure that my version of his sentence, phrase, or paragraph was saying the same thing that he had said in his original. I aimed to translate the piece in such a way that the resulting text would sound as if Milton himself had reluctantly agreed to simplify his original, refusing to give up his style, turns of phrase, and lengthy sentences entirely, but accepting the task of making it more accessible to more people.

It took 10 months, but is finished.

I have created four PDF documents, described below and all available to download from this page for free. As my purpose in undertaking this task was to remove a barrier between Milton’s work and the general public of today, I did not want to then erect another barrier in the form of a paywall, however minor. But if you read any or all of the documents (besides Milton’s original) below and feel that it is earned, I have created a PayPal page for donations, that are neither required nor expected.

Here is my PayPal link, in order to donate: https://www.paypal.me/williamaltoft

You can download each of these by clicking on the titles.

  1. Free Speech Upon the Rock Above the City by William Altoft
    My version of Milton’s Areopagitica.
  2. Areopagitica by John Milton
    John Milton’s original text.
  3. Side by side (plain text)
    Both my version of the Areopagitica and the original Milton together in the same document, laid out in two columns, with corresponding paragraphs in line with one another for comparison.
  4. Side by side (colour-coded)
    As above, except each paragraph is made up of coloured text, with different sentences in different colours which match with the equivalent sentences in the corresponding paragraph of the other version of the text. This aids comparison between the two, and gives insight into the process of translation, and how each sentence was re-worded and re-formulated.

Download, read, abandon, finish, print off, delete, share, forget – do with them what you will, save for plagiarism and censorship.

In our time of hate speech, blasphemy laws, trolls, and trigger warnings, the notion of censoring speech and expression for what appears to be good reason has taken root. I hope that with my translation, with my re-wording, John Milton’s excellent response to that notion, countering it from the year 1644, has been preserved in his voice, yet made more readable and more accessible for people today, and brought back into the same conversation, 374 years later.

William Altoft

2 Thoughts

  1. Brilliant. Think of this William: I’m a stranger you’ll never meet. I’ll live my entire life and die, not knowing you, but you have made it better. You have alerted me further to the true censorship dangers we face from the left primarily, ironically, historically, as your CEO testified to last night on Tucker. As I tell my kids first and above all, if you cannot recognize the disguise, the disguise wins. ACT-WHILE YOU STILL CAN. Thank you. We must.

    Liked by 1 person

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