[Milton-L] allegory in classical epic

Harold Skulsky hskulsky at smith.edu
Sat Oct 26 17:53:11 EDT 2013


I am deep in other pressing tasks, with no time to elaborate, much less
make my case, but I hope that our facile critics of allegory in Milton's
epic face up squarely to three awkward facts:

(a) This ostensibly lame and dissonant narrative resource is a feature of
nearly every classical (ancient Greek and ancient Roman) epic that 17th-c.
schoolboys grew up with and eventually, if they fell victim to *cacoethes
scribendi*, imitated subtly, in meticulous detail, and with enthusiasm. The
irascible Dr. J. comes too late to be a trustworthy cicerone here.

(b) The classical semantics of allegory, like the classical semantics of
metaphor in general (see Aristotle, Hermogenes, Quintilian, Cicero), are
anything but a piece of cake to grasp for people not to the manner
born--and that means the vast majority of us, of scholars who, in their
nonage, never learned to riffle-- casually, comfortably and
idiomatically--through the Greek or Latin pages of Apollonius and Lucan and
Statius and Silius Italicus, not to mention the pages of the
*great*writers of classical epic from its inception on.

(c) When it comes to the validity of an expressive idiom in a work of art,
understanding comes first, and evaluation (including raised eyebrows and
sneers) only much later.

I wish I could be on hand to reply to the inevitable devastating challenges
to (a) (b), and (c), but unfortunately the coal mine awaits.
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