Paradise Lost, 1668-1968: Three Centuries of Commentary

By Earl Miner; William Moeck et al. | Go to book overview

Excursus 10.425

From Patrick Hume's first annotations on Paradise Lost it has been a major occupation of commentators to identify Milton's uses—echoes, references, intertextual manipulations—of earlier writings. At times he seems engaged more nearly with quotation than with recollection. At times the ear of a given editor, Henry John Todd in particular, appears to hear echoes that are unnoticed by the rest of us, even when we have had them identified. As is shown by Excursus 3.19 (“To Venture Down and Up to Reascend”) Milton sometimes develops by recurrence, variation, and amplification a pattern of allusion to a single passage. On the other hand, as is shown by Excursus 2.921 (“To Compare Great Things”), what may seem allusion when but one prior exemplar is recognized is recognizably a topos or commonplace when fuller evidence is observed. These are familiar matters. It is, therefore surprising or even baffling to discover that if we turn to Milton for guidance we discover greater difficulties in seeking ease.It does appear odd that the grand master of allusion in English poetry should use the word but once in all the thousands of lines of his epic (10.424–26).

Pandaemonium, Citie and proud seate Of Lucifer, so by allusion calld, Of that bright Starr to Satan paragond.

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.
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


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Paradise Lost, 1668-1968: Three Centuries of Commentary
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Preface 9
  • Acknowledgments 11
  • Introduction 15
  • Early Comment 31
  • Book 1 - The Rebel Angels Awaken to Hell's Flames 51
  • Book 2 - Sin Opens the Doors of Hell 97
  • Book 3 - Satan's Hypocrisy Deceives Even Uriel 135
  • Book 4 - God Creates Adam and Eve 165
  • Book 5 - Adam Rids Eve of Satan's Dream 203
  • Book 6 - The Son Expels the Rebel Angels 237
  • Book 7 - Adam and Eve Listen Intently to Raphael 269
  • Book 8 - Raphael Departs After Warning Adam 287
  • Book 9 - The Fall 305
  • Book 10 - The Son Judges and Clothes the Human Pair 335
  • Book 11 - The Vision of Cain Slaying Abel 367
  • Book 12 - The Expulsion 393
  • The Illustrations 421
  • Excursus 1.50 427
  • Excursus 2.921 435
  • Excursus 2.967 439
  • Excursus 3.19 447
  • Excursus 5.791 451
  • Excursus 6.327 457
  • Excursus 6.616 461
  • Excursus 7.126 467
  • Excursus 7.594 471
  • Excursus 8.136 479
  • Excursus 9.512 489
  • Excursus 10.425 495
  • Excursus 11.385 499
  • Excursus 12.553 501
  • Bibliography 505


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