[Milton-L] Milton's use of rhetoric

James Rovira jrovira at drew.edu
Tue Mar 2 13:09:04 EST 2004

OT scholarship recognizes mirror repetition in the Hebrew of the opening 
chapter of Genesis, I believe, but I don't have my sources handy at the 


John Leonard wrote:

> 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
>Milton-L mailing list
>Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu

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