[Milton-L] Final lines -- an observation

James Rutherford james.rutherford at gmail.com
Thu Feb 24 10:15:19 EST 2011


I love this suggestion that Milton might be alluding (in some way) to Homer
in the very last line of PL.  I think that the relationship between the
conclusions of the two epics could be strengthened by reading a little
earlier in both of them.  I have always been moved by the fact that Milton,
like Homer, gives the last word to the woman on whom one might put most of
the blame for the deaths that are related in his narrative.  The speeches of
Eve and Helen differ very much in tone and content, though they are similar
in being tonally complex.  In particular, I find it interesting that both
characters focus in different ways on themselves.  Helen, quite
understandably, fears ill treatment in Troy without her protector, whereas
Eve takes solace in the fact that the promised seed shall restore all
through her.  I suspect that Milton wanted to dignify his heroine by this
contrast.  In any case, while Eve's speech contains a great deal of
antiquity in it, I think it might justify one's intuition of Homer's
presence right up to the end of Milton's poem.

Best wishes,
James

On Thu, Feb 24, 2011 at 5:15 AM, Gregory Machacek <
Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu> wrote:

> For what it might prove to be worth to these considerations, the phrase "of
> Hector breaker of horses" is formulaic (as one would expect of a
> noun-epithet combination), appearing three other times in the Iliad.  But
> the earlier half of the line "thus they managed the funeral" does not
> appear elsewhere in Homer's verse.  By itself, for Parry, that wouldn't
> necessarily disqualify the phrase as formulaic.  But in this case, the
> phrase doesn't have the other qualities that might prompt us to label it
> formulaic even in the absence of another instance.  This is the only case
> in which the verb (amphiepon) is used in conjunction with the world taphon,
> funeral rites.  It is the only case where either amphiepon or taphon occur
> at just this spot in the verse.  So there's a good chance that, in the
> Iliad's closing line, Homer's original audience would have heard precisely
> a mix of precedented and unprecedented language.  This funeral is special,
> but Hector is Hector.
>
> As John Leonard has suggested, the relation between Milton's closing line
> and Homer's is not what would usually get labeled an "allusion," since none
> of Homer's language gets picked up.  If we feel, as has been suggested
> here, that both epics are closing with a similar focus on "mere mortals
> engaged in the most commonplace of activities," we might call it a tonal
> allusion, I suppose
>
> I'm torn between following that reading and wondering if Milton wants his
> last line to be precisely un-Iliadic.  Death vs ongoing life.  Communal vs
> solitary.  Ritual vs exploration.  The trappings of "wars, hitherto the
> only argument heroic deemed" vs A &E's upcoming opportunities for a
> "greater fortitude of patience."
>
> If so, if Milton wants to start his epic with an evocation of the ancient
> epics, but end it by studiously *avoiding* such an evocation, that's no
> mean artistic feat in itself.  It's the form of originality that for
> Johnson earns PL the second place among the productions of the human mind,
> second *only* to Homer (who had the insurmountable advantage of actual
> temporal priority).
>
> Greg Machacek
> Professor of English
> Marist College
>
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