[Milton-L] Final lines -- an observation

John Leonard jleonard at uwo.ca
Thu Feb 24 07:26:52 EST 2011


A characteristically wonderful comment on Homer and Milton from Carrol. 
Both are superb "quiet" endings, and Carrol is surely right to feel that 
Milton's "calls up its great predecessor" (and Adam and Eve call up their 
great pre deceaser) in some way.  Not what critics usually mean when they 
use the word "allusion," but a real connection nevertheless.

John Leonard


----- 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 9:29 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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