[Milton-L] Paradise Lost and Epic Catalogs

Richard DuRocher durocher at stolaf.edu
Tue Dec 21 11:52:21 EST 2004


In response to Nick Dodd's question about PL 1 and the parade of devils:

	First, how wonderful that your question elicited, among other apt 
remarks, Mario di Cesare's brilliant and magisterial post!  What a gift 
Mario has given us all in his thorough, nuanced, and judicious response 
to the proem of PL 9, and in particular to its engagement with the epic 
tradition!  This is what it means to have a master spirit touch on a 
critical issue and give an exemplary, informative reading.  My little 
bark will attempt something less heroic.
	I wanted to respond particularly to Nick's questions about a) the 
appropriateness of seeing the parade of devils as a case of Milton 
invoking the classics, and b) the issue of veracity such allusions 
raise, along with his call for useful bibliography.
a)  Without question, the list (or procession, or parade) of devils in 
PL 1 alludes to the epic tradition of naming a catalog of warriors.  
Your instincts, Nick, are absolutely right there, and you can usefully 
place alongside Milton's list precursor catalogs in Homer, Virgil, and 
Ovid.  Along with the evident similarities (invocation of the muse; 
telling who first, who last; the drama or sequence of each list), you 
and your students will quickly recognize important differences: among 
them, the point that the names in Homer and Virgil would correspond 
with family names among the bard's original audience (and would thus be 
highly honorific), whereas the devils are worshipped under their names 
as pagan deities (highly suspect for the "fit audience" of Milton's 
poem).
b)  The question of veracity is natural and carries far-reaching 
significance.  With Mario, I would urge resisting the tendency to 
reduce the question to a binary opposition, particularly one that 
yields the simple answer that, in PL, classical figures signify evil.  
Yet Milton does warn repeatedly, and in several ways, that the 
classical myths yield only a kind of dim, partial, or indirect 
illumination of ultimate Truth.  The narrator in the epic is 
particularly careful to qualify the truth value of several overt uses 
of classical matter, such as the Hephaestus or Mulciber myth  ("Thus 
they relate, / Erring, for he with this rebellious rout / Fell long 
before) toward the end of Book 1, and the direct allusion to Deucalion 
and Pyrrha at the beginning of Book 11 ("th' ancient Pair / In Fables 
old, less ancient yet than these [Adam and Eve]").  In both of those 
cases, the biblical story enjoys truth thanks to its temporal priority. 
  Yet the ancient myths are not, in my view, simply rejected or exploded 
as worthless: obviously Milton keeps using them.  More than that, the 
narrator says so, describing Eden in Book Four as the place where he 
finds the "Hesperian Fables true, / If true, here only, and of 
delicious taste."  I have written about this in MILTON AND OVID, but 
there are many valuable critical resources one might consult.  A list 
follows, with apologies to those of my classically minded colleagues 
whom I will inadvertently leave out of this illustrious catalog:

c)  1.  Thomas Greene, THE LIGHT IN TROY, with its useful 
discrimination of four kinds of allusions Renaissance writers make to 
the classics, Milton's in PL being in Greene's view "heuristic 
imitation," in which the later writer underscores the historical 
limitations of the earlier myth or text.
2.  Gordon Campbell's "Catalog of the Winds," Milton Quarterly 18 
(1984): 125-28.  Exactly what you are looking for as far as the issues 
go, though on a different catalog.
3.  John Steadman, MILTON"S BIBLICAL AND CLASSICAL IMAGERY, or indeed 
almost any of Steadman's books.
4.  Francis Blessington, PARADISE LOST AND CLASSICAL EPIC, which 
students are likely to find most accessible among the scholarly works.
5.  John Mulryan, THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY, which offers a learned and 
insightful approach to the veracity issue.
6.  Stella Revard has a newer essay on the progress of the four proems 
(forgive me, Stella, can you give the reference?) that extends, 
sharpens, and refines the classic work by John Diekhoff on the 
same--both of these exploring further aspects of Milton's engagement 
with classical authorities in the proems to Books 1, 3, 7, and 9, in 
their own masterly ways, complementing Mario's post with which I began.

	Excelsior,

	Rich DuRocher
	St Olaf College



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