[Milton-L] Final lines -- an observation

richard strier rastrier at uchicago.edu
Thu Feb 24 01:26:30 EST 2011


---- Original message ----
>Date: Wed, 23 Feb 2011 20:29:17 -0600
>From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu (on behalf of "Carrol Cox" 
<cbcox at ilstu.edu>)
>Subject: [Milton-L] Final lines -- an observation  
>To: "'John Milton Discussion List'" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>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.
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