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DuRocher addresses Milton's merits in Mellby Lecture

By Trent Chaffee '09
October 20, 2006

Professor of English Richard DuRocher presented this fall's Mellby Lecture, "Why Milton Matters," Oct. 19 in Rolvaag Memorial Library 525.

Professor of English Rich Durocher will discuss the ideas of John Milton for this year's annual Mellby lecture series Oct. 19.
The subject of DuRocher's talk, the 17th-century writer and poet John Milton, has been of interest to DuRocher for more than 20 years. During that time, DuRocher has studied Milton's personal life, his style and remarkable use of language, and his significance to the liberal arts. DuRocher hopes to encourage other people to read Milton and to consider the importance of his works.

For DuRocher, Milton's significance is bound up with three phrases: "discriminating freedom," "the rhetoric of heroism" and "searching for wisdom and beauty." Through his experiences as a Christian writer, Milton taught the difference between one's own freedom and the license to restrict that of another, to look not for heroes but for leaders of action, and to find truth for one's self.

DuRocher's strong background in language and classics has aided his Miltonist studies. While growing up along the Gulf Coast, he attended Jesuit school and, during high school, learned Latin, which has been important in analyzing Milton, who wrote in several languages.

DuRocher says he sees parallels between Milton and one of his other passions: chess. "Chess is about always playing ahead," DuRocher says. "Milton is like that; he always makes you think. He can be fun, but he's serving some plan and deeper meaning."

In addition to Milton and chess, DuRocher takes an interest in the works of 20th-century writer C.S. Lewis. DuRocher notes several similarities between Lewis and Milton, including that both writers found Christianity in a similar manner and wrote during a time of war. They also both understood that people wrestle with questions of courage and seek answers through big questions. For example, during a time of great conflict, Milton posed the question: "How can there be a God?"

DuRocher has written two books on Milton: Milton Among the Romans (2001) and Milton and Ovid (1985). He has taught in St. Olaf's English department since 1986. He earned his bachelor's degree at Loyola University and completed his master's and doctoral degrees at Cornell University. Before coming to St. Olaf he taught English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Florida State University.

The annual Mellby Memorial Lectures are given in remembrance of St. Olaf faculty member Carl A. Mellby and were established to let St. Olaf faculty share their research with others. Mellby, known as "the father of social sciences" at St. Olaf, started the first courses in economics, sociology, political science and art history at the college. He was professor and administrator from 1901 to 1949, taught Greek, German, French, religion and philosophy, and is credited with creating the college's honor system.

Contact David Gonnerman at 507-786-3315 or