[Milton-L] Sacred symbols in late Renaissance poetry

Dario Rivarossa dario.rivarossa at gmail.com
Sat Jun 8 16:14:33 EDT 2013

It had already been mentioned, either here and elsewhere, that the
eagle and the serpent turn out to be the main symbols both in Dante's
Divine Comedy and in Torquato Tasso's long poem "Gerusalemme
Conquistata" (Jerusalem Conquered, 1593).

On the other hand, the serpent is a symbol of Christ also, as it is
written in the Gospel of John 3: 14 and Tasso recalls in GC 20: 62. At
bottom, everything is included in the cosmic Purusha (Man), whose
fundamental dynamics - according to Tasso - would be entropy and
negentropy, though of course he wouldn't call them like that, but he
uses concrete images like ruin, death, oblivion, decadence, failure,
and the serpent; and healing, overcoming, memory, achievement,
miracle, grace, and the eagle. Both belong together. As the
Spanish-Indian Christian-Hindu philosopher Raimon Panikkar would put
it, "Reality is one, truth is manifold," i.e. inverting the approach
that's usually followed in the Western way of thinking (truth is one,
reality lies on different levels).

In Tasso's poetry the clearest symbol of this entropy/negentropy
polarity is the legendary phoenix, to which he devotes the longest
sub-tale in his poem "Il Mondo Creato,", and it appears ubiquitously
in GC. And the phoenix obviously means Christ, dead and risen, and
therefore the Holy Sepulcher, the Navel of the World, that's in fact
the goal to be reached in the poem.

Now, the importance of the Serpent as a symbol in PL goes without
saying. It may be wondered if the eagle plays a key-role too. In a
way, it does: the victorious Messiah "flies" against his enemies --
not by 'his own' wings, to be sure, or rather, yes, they _are_ his own
wings, as he is the Head of the cosmic Body made up by the angels. But
which (animal, etc.) symbol would Miltonists choose as representing
the opposite of the Serpent?


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