Living Texts: Interpreting Milton

By Kristin A. Pruitt; Charles W. Durham | Go to book overview

Satan and Servius: Milton's Use of the
Helen Episode (Aeneid, 2.567–88)

RAPHAEL FALCO

This brief essay has two aims. The first is to establish a plausible new classical—or pseudoclassical—source for Milton's Satan. And the second, less definitive aim is to explore the possibility that in his poetry Milton responds to Renaissance commentaries of standard authors (in this case Vergil). Although I do not foresee a new Quellenforschung coming into fashion in Milton studies, it seems likely nonetheless that as we begin to explore the resources of the various commentary traditions, new influences on Milton and his contemporaries are bound to surface. Early modern Neo-Latin poetic and biblical commentaries, as well as their vernacular counterparts, form a great mass of unmined practical criticism, containing all manner of intellectual debate from poetics to history to moral philosophy.1 Of course, the commentaries can be tough going, repetitive and pedantic, written sometimes in obscure shorthand. But their value as compendiums of culture has yet to be realized in English literary criticism of the early modern period. Craig Kallendorf once remarked to me that he thought the poetic commentaries might well supply the missing link in Renaissance studies. I am inclined to agree with him, at least provisionally, until more work has been done to disprove such a conjecture. It seems counterintuitive, as my essay indicates, that learned English authors would have failed to acknowledge and to respond to the aggregation of critical opinion in the margins of editions of their favorite authors.

Milton in particular, considering his vociferous engagement in intellectual matters, is unlikely to have ignored learned commentary. Commentary and response constitute the sine qua non of humanist literary production, the Roman forum of the res publica litterarum. Born long after the height of the movement, Milton might nonetheless be seen as an ideal product of Renais

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