[Milton-L] Final lines -- an observation

Mario A. DiCesare dicesare1 at mindspring.com
Wed Feb 23 23:11:52 EST 2011

  A couple of observations on both of these very perceptive comments. 
Carrol, I think, strikes just the right note. The last book of the 
/Iliad /-- which seems to me perhaps the most sublime composition in all 
our western literature -- is about fathers and sons: Achilles' releasing 
the body of Hector to his old father even while he knows he doesn't want 
to do it, he no doubt wants to drag it around Troy all over again, is a 
great compassionate action.  Achilles remembers his own old father, whom 
he will never see again and who will never see him again, and he weeps 
with Priam.

Whether the last line is a formula seems to me beside the point. Its 
power does not depend on its being original in some way. What we know is 
that after the days of mourning and burial, they will go back to 
fighting again and to killing, the action that marks the /Iliad /above 
all others. How men die, with dignity or not, and how they are killed, 
honorably or not, matters immensely, in ways in which the variegated 
killings in the /Odyssey/ or the mountains flung around in the War in 
Heaven in /Paradise Lost/ simply do not.

Carrol's observation -- the immortal actors disappear as we approach the 
close -- seems to me just right. The flaming sword or the murderous 
Achilles may both be there, but distantly; the sadness of those who have 
been defeated broods over the endings of both poems, as it does of the 
/Aeneid/.  The epic poets honor the gods in many ways, but they know 
that the fundamental difference between gods and men is that gods don't 
have to cope with the reality of death and so their actions simply don't 
have the weight and basic meaning that human actions do.

Mario DiCesare

On 2/23/2011 10:39 PM, Salwa Khoddam wrote:
> A very interesting observation, Carrol.  Your comments started me 
> musing on these endings.  It will be interesting to know if the last 
> line in the Iliad is a formula and where else it is found.  Its style 
> seems to be Biblical. However, I do see a big difference between the 
> two endings.  In PL, the couple are still protected by Providence as 
> their guide.  The world is open to them,  evil and all, but there is 
> also the coming of Christ, a way to the "inner Paradise." The ending 
> of the Iliad is more human centered, filled with the sorrow of Troy 
> and a burial that will bring only temporary relief, for Achilles is at 
> the gate with the Trojan horse.  The Trojans are abandoned, and they 
> will have to face disaster on their own.  They will bury others in the 
> future leading up to the death of Turner by Aeneas, and so on. . .all 
> a cycle of conflicts and burials that will never end.
> The ending of the Iliad is very sorrowful  and implies that suffering, 
> sometimes man made and sometime made by the gods, is the fabric life.
> Thanks for your thoughts.
> Salwa
> Salwa Khoddam, Ph.D.
> Professor of English, Emerita
> Oklahoma City University
> 2501 N. Blackwelder
> OKC, OK  73106
> Phone:  405-208-5127
> Email:  skhoddam at cox.net
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Carrol Cox" <cbcox at ilstu.edu>
> To: "'John Milton Discussion List'" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
> Sent: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 8:29 PM
> Subject: [Milton-L] Final lines -- an observation
>> I have been thinking about the marvelous final line of the Iliad, a 
>> line of
>> great power even in translation:
>> And so the Trojans buried Hektor breaker of horses.
>> What first strikes me is the use of a formula in the final line of a 
>> long
>> epic. I'm not a classical scholar, and it is many years since I read
>> anything on the use of such formulae. But it seems to me that in the 
>> final
>> line it can't really be serving merely a metrical purpose: the bard 
>> surely
>> had plenty of time to compose the line without help of a formula. He 
>> must
>> have wanted it there! It is precisely, it seems, the commonplace, 
>> deliberate
>> commonplace, of this  last line that is so striking. And it raises 
>> for me an
>> interesting resemblance between the Iliad and PL. Both poems are 
>> stuffed as
>> it were with immortal actors; in both poems the immortal actors 
>> disappear as
>> we approach the close, and we are left not only with mere mortals, 
>> but mere
>> mortals engaged in the most commonplace of activities: seeking 
>> shelter for
>> the night or burying the dead.
>> And these musings led me to Johnson's final 'summing up' of PL: It is 
>> second
>> to the Iliad among epics only because it was not the first. And why 
>> should
>> this matter in literary judgment? I think the answer is that this 
>> dramatic
>> commonplace of the endings of the two poems, however striking the second
>> time around may be, and Milton's ending is certainly striking, that 
>> it calls
>> up its great predecessor makes a difference.
>> Mere musing, but perhaps someone will also find it interesting.
>> Carrol
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