Moreover, “allusion” here plainly means something other than what we mean by the word. As we shall see, there are so few appearances of the term in his prose that all examples may be quoted.We must first deal, however, with the problem why so allusive a poet so seldom speaks of allusion. The answer takes us back to the Romans, the first Western writers who created an extensive body of literature referring to, drawing on, and indeed often alluding to the considerably earlier literature of Greece. The answer is perhaps disappointingly simple. Our word, “allusion, ” had no real counterpart in classical Latin.There is a verb, “alludo, ” derived from “ad-ludo, ” and meaning to jest, sport, or play with or upon. Its figurative sense may concern waves playing upon the land, as in Cicero, De Natura Deorum 2.39, “the sea itself, yearning for the earth, sports against [alludit] her shores.” The use of “allusio” in our sense lay centuries ahead, and is not at all well established in English by the seventeenth century. In late Latin, “aemulatio” and the deponent verb “aemulor” continue to be used in nonliterary senses for rivalry in both good and bad senses, but verbal forms begin to take on our meaning. There are many ways of expressing ideas and practices of allusion in Latin, but the three bequeathed to, and developed by, medieval users of Latin are those beginning the title of Arno Reiff's compact study, interpretatio, imitatio, aemulatio. His literary examples range from the late Republic (Cicero) well into the empire (Aulus Gellius). Verbal and nominal forms of “allusio” simply make no appearance, and those of us with some remnants of Latinity can only be struck by Roman ingenuity, or perversity, in using a host of other words. For example, here are those in Reiff's index with initial “p”: paraphrasis; praetermittere; primus, princeps; proponere; proprietas, proprius; and provocare. We share literary concerns with the Romans, but in matters of allusion, we do not share their vocabulary.The OED gives four meanings for “allusion.” All of them except perhaps the first were available to Milton.
Pandaemonium, Citie and proud seate Of Lucifer, so by allusion calld, Of that bright Starr to Satan paragond.
|1.||Illusion. (Only one example, 1618)|
|2.||A play upon words, a word-play, a pun. (1556–1731)|
|3.||A symbolical reference or likening; a metaphor, parable, allegory. (1548–1781)|
|4.||A covert, implied, or indirect reference; a passing or incidental reference. (1612–present)|
The first, but so surprisingly late, quotation for the fourth meaning may be offered. It quotes Michael Drayton's Poly-Olbion, sig. A 2, “The verse oft, with allusion, as supposing a full knowing reader, lets slip.” Many of us could supply other examples and all of us may chafe with the seemingly uninspired fourth definition. But there is no counterpart, much less rival— alludor in the Latin sense—of these volumes of the OED.
Our next step involves reading of Milton's prose usages of “allusion (s).” In all Milton's English prose there are only six usages, given here, numbered for convenience, in chronological order of appearance. Volumes and page numbers refer to the Yale Complete Prose