[Milton-L] Eurydice, yes, but also Creusa

John K Leonard jleonard at uwo.ca
Tue Apr 19 16:16:21 EDT 2016


Those are excellent questions, Michael, and my answer (which I owe entirely to Louis Schwartz) would be that guilt is indeed one part of the complex of emotions in this great sonnet. Louis many years in a MQ article that subsequently became part of his splendid Milton and Maternal Mortality argued that Milton (and other early modern husbands) felt guilt at impregnating their wives who then died either as a direct result of childbirth or from complications arising from the process (including the appalling medical treatments). Not exactly "neglect" (too much attention rather than too little), but a sense of "betrayal" nevertheless, and the passages you pertinently cite reinforce Louis' argument. I think that Milton's verse has many surprising, even jarring, connections of this kind. I have long thought that Adam's "To me committed and by me exposed" (10.957) contains a guilty echo of the revised (Ed II) version of 1.505: "Exposed a matron to avoid worse rape" (Ed I has "Yielded", not "Exposed"). There was a sense in which Adam negligently "exposed" his matron, as the Levite did in Gibeah. Even if we think that Adam was right to respect Eve's freedom, a note of guilt is still audible in "by me exposed" and something like that guilt may well infiltrate Sonnet 23, as Louis argued and you now confirm.

All best,


John Leonard

On 04/19/16, "Bryson, Michael E"  <michael.bryson at csun.edu> wrote:
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> Interesting, especially the observation about Aeneas and Creusa, because that raises the idea of neglect and/or betrayal. Aeneas, as he is escaping Troy, famously takes rather less care of Creusa than he does of Anchises and Iulus, leaving her to follow behind as they flee for safety:
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>  ergo age, care pater, cervici imponere nostrae;
>  ipse subibo umeris nec me labor iste gravabit;
>  quo res cumque cadent, unum et commune periclum,
>  una salus ambobus erit. mihi parvus Iulus
>  sit comes, et longe servet vestigia coniunx. (2.707-11)
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>  Predictably enough, while Aeneas, Anchises, and Iulus reach safety, Creusa does not, and Aeneas admits he hadn't even given her a first thought, much less a second one, along the way:
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>   heu misero coniunx fatone erepta Creusa
>  substitit, erravitne via seu lapsa resedit,
>  incertum; nec post oculis est reddita nostris.
>  nec prius amissam respexi animumue reflexi
>  quam tumulum antiquae Cereris sedemque sacratam
>  venimus: hic demum collectis omnibus una
>  defuit, et comites natumque virumque fefellit. (2.738-44)
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>  And I have always tended toward what might be called the Ovidian reading of this scene, at least as it is rendered in Heroides 7, in which Dido is given her voice:
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>   omnia mentiris; neque enim tua fallere lingua 
>  incipit a nobis, primaque plector ego:
>  si quaeras ubi sit formosi mater Iuli—
>  occidit a duro sola relicta viro! (ll.77-86)
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>  Ovid's Dido essentially accuses Aeneas of lying about everything, and is especially pointed in her accusation that Creusa died because her cruel husband left her behind.
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>  Is there any element of this in Milton's sonnet? Fascinating, if so.
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>  Michael Bryson
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> From: milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu <milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu> on behalf of John K Leonard <jleonard at uwo.ca>
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> Sent: Tuesday, April 19, 2016 12:01 PM
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> To: John Milton Discussion List
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> Subject: [Milton-L] Eurydice, yes, but also Creusa  
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>  Orpheus, yes, but also all those moments in classical epic where a hero tries in vain to embrace the shade of a loved one. Some memorable instances: Achilles and the shade of Patroclus, who appears to him in a dream (Il. 23.99-107), Odysseus and the shade of his mother (Od. 11.204-9) and Aeneas and the shade of his father (Aen. 6.700-2). Closest to Milton's sonnet is Aeneas and the shade of Creusa (Aen. 2.789-95). Closest both because it is a husband and the shade of his wife, and because Aeneas tries to embrace her three times ("Love, sweetness, goodness") only to be triply disappointed ("I waked, she fled, and day brought back my night") as she slips from his hands "like light winds or most like a winged dream":
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>  ter conatus ibi collo dare bracchia circum;
>  ter frustra comprensa manus effugit imago,
>  par levibus ventis volucrique simillima somno. (2.792-4)
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> On 04/19/16, Michael Gillum <mgillum at unca.edu> wrote: 
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> >  Is Orpheus in sonnet 23, line 14? For me, he wasn't until I read a suggestion that he is, so now for me he is in there, vaguely, in an implied comparison. 
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