[Milton-L] Scansion and line 1

J. Michael Gillum mgillum at ret.unca.edu
Tue Sep 17 14:09:41 EDT 2013


A small thought about the opening "of"--think of how many Latin treatises
have titles beginning with "de." It suggests a dimension of PL that
distinguishes it from classical epic and partially aligns it with the
tradition of literary "anatomy"--the intellectual aspect, examining a
concept from various perspectives.


On Mon, Sep 16, 2013 at 7:44 PM, Gregory Machacek <
Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu> wrote:

> Prior to Nancy, here, nobody *had* brought up the possibility of
> stressing "Of."  As Jim points out, his raising that possibility was based
> on a *misreading* of one of Richard Strier's posts.
>
> But, just to further stir the pot with this line, I'll mention that, years
> ago, in a Milton Quarterly article, I floated the idea that the opening two
> words of PL pun on the word Woman. Adam recounts naming Eve "Woman," which
> he translates/glosses as meaning "Of man / extracted" (8.896-7) and KJB
> 2.23 also renders this using the phrase "of man."  (Evidently the Hebrew
> means something more like "her man.").  Anyway, the run-together noun that
> emerges in this punning sense would I think be pronounced with the stress
> on the first syllable: "OFman's."  So there, now someone has
> (semi-)seriously proposed stressing the first syllable.
>
> What I contrast with Milton's lowly preposition "of" is not "sing," but
> menin or andra, the single summarizing noun that is the very first word of
> the Iliad and Odyssey.  I agree that it is odd to start an epic with a
> preposition (though I don't think you have to stress it to bring out FIRST).
>
> For as much as I've enjoyed this conversation, there's a level on which JD
> Fleming is not wrong.  It takes so much explication to bring out the
> subtleties of poetic rhythms that the explanatory superstructure always
> seems to overwhelm the experiential foundation.  Rhythms are too gossamer
> to bear the weight of the interpretations we foist on them. Still, there's
> *something* in the contrast between the rhythmic murkiness of the first
> line and what Kat Lecky calls the "easy cadence" of the last four lines.
>  And what else are you going to do but talk til you get said what it is?
>
>
>
> Greg Machacek
> Professor of English
> Marist College
>
>
> -----milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu wrote: -----
> To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
> From: Nancy Charlton **
> Sent by: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
> Date: 09/16/2013 04:40PM
>
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Scansion and line 1
>
> If you stress "of" it might bring up a question Milton doesn't really get
> into except in passing. OF man's FIRST dis-o-BED-yence...  Implies that
> there are subsequent disobediences, any of which might merit epic
> treatment. To stress OF would tie the phrase more forcefully to "Sing",
> possibly at the expense of the other matters catalogued before the
> invocation is made. Possibly their inclusion at the very opening is a
> distancing on JM's part is an attempt to keep the focus on the divine
> rather than the human history.
>
> The Iliad's "Sing" is an imperative or vocative, whereas "of" is a lowly
> preposition which in classical languages would be part of a genitive noun
> and given little stress even as a long-syllabled diphthong.
>
> As to the pronunciation of the d-word, is it not possible that JM, fluent
> in Italian, might have read the ie as y? Or would this come out as in j or
> dg, as someone suggested yesterday?
>
> Nancy Charlton
>
> Sent from my iPhone
>
> On Sep 16, 2013, at 12:10 PM, James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> I initially brought up the possibility of a stress on "of" because, as Ben
> I think observed, I misread Richard's initial cap as indicating a stressed
> syllable. Yes, I agree, prepositions are normally unstressed both in
> everyday speech and in poetry. Yes, like all unstressed syllables, they can
> be take a stress under specific conditions. Having misread Richard's
> scansion, I considered the possibility of stressing the first word of an
> epic poem to be interesting -- like Sing at the beginning of the Iliad.
> However, I never would have considered the possibility of a stress on "of"
> had it not been for that misreading.
>
> Many apologies for the confusion.
>
> Jim R
>
>
> On Mon, Sep 16, 2013 at 2:58 PM, J. Michael Gillum <mgillum at ret.unca.edu>wrote:
>
>> These are good comments by Greg and Richard, but I am puzzled as to why
>> people are saying that "of," the first syllable of PL, is stressed.
>> Prepositions are unstressed unless for contrastive purposes in speech.
>> There is nothing in the text to suggest  that such "rhetorical" stress is
>> called for. And there is nothing in the structure of the line that suggests
>> the first syllable realizes a beat (metrical accent). Quite the contrary.
>>
>> Perhaps I should have said that prepositions are normally unstressed
>> unless you are a local public radio announcer.
>>
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