[Milton-L] Milton's use of rhetoric

John Leonard jleonard at uwo.ca
Tue Mar 2 10:23:04 EST 2004


I was intrigued to see that Lee Jacobus's (wonderfully useful) list of
schemes included the following:
 
 
Mirror Repetition (this may be a Miltonic invention--I "invented" the
name of the device)-- repetition of simple words or large sections of
verse to simulate a mirror.  see P.L.   IV 460-464 and IV 639-656.
 
 
What intrigues me is that Lee feels the need to invent a name for the
device that Milton employs at IV 639 (Eve's "Sweet is the breath of
morn" speech).  Critics have often likened this speech to a sonnet.
Others have tried to pin it down with a name from the rhetoric books.
Edward Le Comte calls its "a masterly example of the rhetorical device
known as 'the recapitulator' or cancrizone, 'moving backwards like a
crab'", since (he claims) the repetitions come "in reverse".  In fact
the repetitions come in the same order.  So far as I am aware, there is
no one rhetorical scheme that names what Milton is doing in these lines.
But I don't think the device is a Miltonic invention.  I think that
Milton is pointedly imitating (and alluding to) a specific passage in
Homer's Iliad-the parting of Hector and Andromache.  Hector, speaking to
Andromache, gives a list of miseries that will befall Troy, then repeats
the list, with negatives, concluding both lists with a sudden (and quite
unexpected) address to Andromache (the first direct address in the
entire speech) which retroactively turns everything that went before
into a poignant declaration of love.  No English translation quite
captures the effect of the repetitions, or the sudden turn in the direct
address which takes both Andromache and Homer's auditor by surprise.
This is Pope's version:
 
Yet come it will, the day decreed by fates!
(How my heart trembles while my tongue relates!)
The day when thou, imperial Troy!  must bend,
And see thy warriors fall, thy glories end.
And yet no dire presage so wounds my mind,
My mother's death, the ruin of my kind
Not Priam's hoary locks defiled with gore,
Nor all my brothers gasping on the shore,
As thine, Andromache!
 
That final intrusion of the proper name is Pope's addition.  Homer has
simply "hosson seu" (as thine), which I think was the inspiration for
Eve's "without thee is sweet."  Homer's text is also more clearly
repetitive.
 
There is another mirror repetition, clearly modeled on Homer, at PL
10.1087f.
 
John Leonard
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