[Milton-L] Milton's use of rhetoric

Sheila Rebecca Sander sheila at hum.ku.dk
Tue Mar 2 20:10:31 EST 2004

In connection with my study of the use of rhetoric in the 17th century, I have looked at Eve's description of 'That day... when from sleep I first awaked' (IV.440-491) in some detail and humbly admit that I too have tried to 'pin down' what it is that Milton does in ll 463-464 ('pleased I soon... ') with a name from the rhetoric books. What I have found is that it must be an example of 'antimetabole' (the repetition of words in reverse grammatical order) and 'onomatopoeia', which not only denotes the use of words that seem to imitate or echo the sound or sense to which they refer, but also 'The use of naturally suggestive words, sentences and forms for rhetorical effect' (OED. 2). In other words: the form of the figure mirrors the mirroring of Eves figure or form...

'Sweet is the breath of morn, her rising sweet' (IV.641) is, I would suggest, a clear-cut example of 'epanalepsis': 'a repetition at the end of a line, phrase, or clause of the word or words that occurred at the beginning of the same line, phrase, or clause' (Silva Rhetoricae).

Sheila Rebecca Sander
University of Copenhagen

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: John Leonard 
  To: 'John Milton Discussion List' 
  Sent: Tuesday, March 02, 2004 4:23 PM
  Subject: RE: [Milton-L] Milton's use of rhetoric

  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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