[Milton-L] PL and the Sabbath and classical myth

Rose Williams rwill627 at cox.net
Tue Dec 21 10:03:03 EST 2004

We need to remember that before and during Milton's day much value was seen in classical myth. Even during the Middle Ages Dante employed Vergil as his guide in the afterlife. During the Renaissance classical myth was considered symbolic of universal Christian truth. Minerva was divine wisdom coming to bless mankind, etc. in the great painters. In Botticelli's mythological paintings Primavera and The Birth of Venus, the pagan story is taken with reverent seriousness and Venus is the Virgin Mary in another form. Vasari, speaking of the first printed Dante (1481) said of Botticelli "Being of a sophistical turn of mind, he wrote a commentary on Dante and illustrated and printed the Inferno, spending much time over it."
It is probably that the Cromwellians frowned on this, as they frowned on so much else that was beautiful, but, considering Milton's early Latin writings, it is doubtful that he shared the view that myth was evil.
Rose Williams
----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Samuel Smith 
  To: John Milton Discussion List 
  Sent: Monday, December 20, 2004 2:00 PM
  Subject: Re: [Milton-L] PL and the Sabbath and classical myth

  One superb study for working toward an answer to the second query (the fallen angels and classical myth) is Philip Gallagher's "Paradise Lost and the Greek Theogony," English Literary Renaissance 9 (Winter 1979): 121-148.

    ----- Original Message ----- 
    From: nick dodd 
    To: 'John Milton Discussion List' 
    Sent: Monday, December 20, 2004 8:26 AM
    Subject: [Milton-L] PL and the Sabbath and classical myth

    Two queries:


      1.. What was Milton's attitude to the Sabbath?  I ask this wondering about the idea that the description of Pandemonium is a satire of the building of St Peters in Rome.  Did the Puritan suspicion of temples or 'steeple houses' (as George Fox had it) extend to the Sabbath i.e. was the idea that there were no especially sacred places, because all places were equally God's creations, extended to the idea that there were no days essentially more sacred than others? 
      2.. Is it right to suggest that the procession of the Fallen Angels offers a way of reading classical myth? Does it suggest that classical myth is always the product of humanity's willingness to be seduced by the speciousness of the devils?  The pagan gods are the form in which humanity turns the devils into idols, so classical myth is the 'scripture' of humanity's mistaken worship of the devils.  If this is the case for Milton, can one then suppose that the allusions in the poem carry systematically distinct veracity?  The Biblical allusions demonstrate the true inspiration of the poem's narrator/poet, and count for more than the allusions to the natural world and the world of humanity, which in turn have more of truth, because they are a testimony to a virtuous apprehension of God's creation and the trials of a true believer within it, than the allusions to Greek and Roman Epics.

    I wonder if anyone can help me with these questions.  I am teaching Books 1 and 2 of "Paradise Lost" to sixth formers at a college in Huddersfield, England.  My students are aged 17 and 18.  I am a Milton novice, but am enjoying teaching his poetry.  Forgive me if these questions are so rudimentary as to beggar belief, but I would be grateful for clarification or for being suggested some reading that would clarify my confusion.


    All good wishes,

    Nick Dodd

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