In “Return To Paradise” (New Yorker, June 2), Jonathan Rosen starts from the 1638 meeting between Milton and Galileo.
The great astronomer was old and blind and under house arrest, confined by order of the Inquisition, which had forced him to recant his belief that the earth revolves around the sun, as formulated in his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. Milton was thirty years old—his own blindness, his own arrest, and his own cosmological epic, Paradise Lost, all lay before him.
This is nice. I admire the triple “and” in the first sentence. It's solid, sensible. And it's a bonus if you remember how Paradise Lost ends:
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide.
They, hand in hand, with wand’ring steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.
Here is the distilled essence of the Ross/Shawn New Yorker. If you know the allusion, there is it — it's fun, it draws you in, it illuminates the passage. But if you don’t see it — if you're an earnest college freshman or a harried banker and Milton is pretty much Greek to you — you aren’t stopped in your tracks, or shamed, or chided. (For more, see Menand’s American Studies.)