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DE IDEA PLATONICA QUEMADMODUM ARISTOTELES
“ Dicite." Mr. Keightley objects to this commencement of a poem in Iambic trimeters with a dactyl, on the ground that, “though the Scazontes used sometimes to commence verses with a dactyl,” he does “not believe that this was the case in the regular lambic measure.” But Horace, in a single ode in regular Iambic trimeters (Epode xvII.), has a dactyl at the beginning at least three times : lines 6, 12, 78. Mr. Keightley adds the remark, that all through this poem Milton makes “too frequent use of the dactyl and anapast."
2, 3. “noveni . . . numinis Memoria mater." Mnemosyne (Memory) was the mother of the nine Muses.
7—10. “ Quis ille," &c. : the Platonic Idea or Archetype. See Introduction, II. 359.
10. “exemplar Dei”: the model from which the Deity worked in the creation of Man.
11, 12, “ Haud ille," &c. The meaning is “This Eternal Idea or Archetype is not a mere conception of the Divine Mind, a kind of twin with Minerva in the brain of Jove."
13-15 • Sed, quamlibet,” &c. ; i.e.“ But, though his nature is common, in the sense of being distributed among many, yet he stands apart after the manner of an individual unit, and, wonderful to tell ! is bound to a definite locality.” This seems to be a rendering, in the language of poetical burlesque, of one part of Aristotle's famous criticism of the Platonic doctrine of Ideas or Universals. See Aristotle, Metaph. 1. vi.; or, for a summary of the Aristotelian criticism of Plato's Ideas, Schwegler's Hist. of Phil. (translation by Dr. Stirling), pp. 101–105. 16–24.
“Seu sempiternus,” &c. Here Milton, still in poetical burlesque of Aristotle, inquires what is the locality of the Archetype, in what part of the total Mundus he is to be sought; and, in doing so, he falls back, as always, on the Alphonsine conception of the Mundus as a thing of ten spheres (see note to preceding poem, 39–65). Is the Archetype up among the stars, roving among all the ten spheres at his pleasure; or does he inhabit the Moon's sphere only, nearest to the Earth? If not in those vacancies of mere space, is he to be found perchance down in the Lower World, sitting drowsily on the shores of Lethe, among those souls that are waiting to be ferried back and to re-enter mortal bodies (which would obviously be for the convenience of his business); or does he walk about somewhere on the Earth itself, a giant bigger than Atlas ?
23. “diis," misprinted "iis” in the edition of 1673.
25–34. “Non, cui profundum,” &c. The burlesque is still continued ; only in this form :-“No one can tell where the Archetype is : no one has ever seen him. Not the Dircæan augur (Theban prophet) Tiresias, whose blindness only enlarged his spiritual vision (see Introd. to Par. Lost, I. 104, 105); not the god Mercury himself (here called by his Ovidian synonym “ Pleiones nepos"), instructing his band of prophets through the silent night ; not any old Assyrian priest, learned in the most ancient lore of Ninos, Belos, and Osiris ; not even Hermes Trismegistus, though he knew all secrets and founded the Egyptian philosophy (see Il Pens. 88, and note there). 35-39.
“At tu,' &c. Tu is, of course, Plato; and here, it see to me, Milton intimates at the close that he does not believe that the Aristotelian representation of Plato's Idea, which he has been burlesquing in the poem, is a true rendering of Plato's real meaning. If it were so, if Plato had really taught any such monstrosity, then, &c. I rather think commentators on the poem have missed its humorous character, and supposed Milton himself to be finding fault with Plato.
36. " induxti” for “induxisti," misprinted "induxit” in the Second edition.
3. “ gemino de vertice” : Mount Parnassus.
14. "Clio”: the muse of History, inasmuch as what he is to say about his Father is strictly true.
“ Prometheve ... flammce": of the fire which Prometheus brought down from Heaven.
21–23. “tremibundaque Tartara carmen ima ciere valet,” &c. See L'Allegro, 145–150, and note there.
25. “ Phæbades," priestesses of Apollo (an Ovidian word); “ Sibyllæ,” the Sibyls, or prophetic women, of whom there were many, and one of whom gave to the Roman Tarquinius the famous Books of the Sibylline Verses.
32—34. Ibimus," &c. Rev. iv. 4, and v. 8.
Nunc quoque sidereis intercinit ipse choreis
Immortale melos," &c. The “nunc” here is emphatic, meaning “ Even now, while we are in this mortal life.” For even now does not the famous sphere-music of Pythagoras (see note, Arcad., 63—73) peal among the constellations (some of these mentioned by name); and what is it that prompts that sphere-music, leads it, and makes the melody inexpressible? What
but the Fiery Spirit itself which is beyond all the spheres, encircles them all, and regulates their wheelings? See Ezekiel i. 20, and connect that text imaginatively with Milton's idea of the Heaven or Empyrean, as explained in the Introd. to Par. Lost, I. 80, 81. In the present passage, it will be observed, there is a subtle addition of the “Spiritus igneus” of the Empyrean to the ordinary music of the spheres.
37. “ inenarrabile carmen.” Compare Lycid., 176 : “ the unexpressive nuptial song." 41–49.
“Carmina regales epulas ornare solebant,
Cum nondum luxus," &c. An allusion to such stories of old bards singing in regal halls as that of Demodocus in the Odyssey, Book vill., and that of Iopas in the Æneid, I. 740—746. But there is a blended recollection, touched up by Milton himself, of many
stories of the kind. One might even include, by foresight, the Lay of the Last Minstrel.-Lyaus is a name for Bacchus.
50-55. “Denique quid vocis modulamen inane juvabit,” &c. The purport of this passage is that song without words is but poor music. It might suit the sylvan choristers, or birds, but not a divine singer like Orpheus. No: it was not by his mere harp, but by the words of his song as well, that Orpheus performed his great feats in music, drawing the floods and oaks after him, and making even Pluto and the ghosts weep in Hell (see notes, L'Allegro, 145–150, and Il Penseroso, 103—108). Ovid, Met. X. 14, speaking of Orpheus, has the phrase “simulacraque functa sepulcris.'
56—66. “Nec tu perge, precor," &c. On these compliments to his father on his musical distinction see Introd., II. 361.
66. “ Dividuum.” The Latin adjective “dividuus” for “divisible" or “ divisible into two” had fastened on Milton ; and he turned it into English. See Par. Lost, VII. 382 and XII. 85 ; also On Time, 12.
68—70. “Neque ... ire jubebas qud via lata patet," &c. : to commerce? 71, 72. “ Nec rapis ad leges," &c. See Introd., II. 362.
74.“ procul urbano strepitu”: i.e. at Horton (see Introd., II. 159 and 362). The “ sinis,” in the present tense, in line 76, seems to certify that this poem was written there.
79. “ Cum mihi Romulee patuit facundia lingua, et ... grandia magniloquis elata vocabula Graiis ”: i.e. at St. Paul's School and the University; or perhaps rather at St. Paul's School alone, before he went to the University.
82—85. “Addere suasisti,” &c. Milton seems to have added French, Italian, and Hebrew to his Latin and Greek while he was at the University. His tutor Young had presented him with a Hebrew Bible as early as 1625. It is interesting to know that it was by his father's
advice that he ranged beyond Greek and Latin. See Stanza 10 of Francini's complimentary Italian Ode to Milton, antè, p. 37 ; also note to Translations of Psalms LXXX.-LXXXVIII., antè, pp. 483, 484.
84. “barbaricos . . . tumultus”: i.e. the Germanic invasions, which created modern Italian by corrupting the old Latin.
86–92. “Denique quicquid ... per te nôsse licet, per te, si nôsse libebit," &c. The tenses of the verbs seem to show that Milton, when he wrote this poem to his father at Horton, was actually engaged in those miscellaneous scientific studies of which he here speaks. Altogether the probability is that this poem was written shortly after Milton had left the University in 1632. It would be then, if ever, that his father would address to him those mild remonstrances about his disinclination to any profession to which the poem is an answer. Moreover, it is significant of the date that Milton inserted this poem in his own editions just before his Greek pieces, the first of which was written in 1634. 93. “ I nunc, confer opes," &c. Warton quotes Ovid, Heroid. XII. 204 :
“ I nunc, Sisyphias, improbe, confer opes.” 98–100. “Publica qui juveni commisit lumina nato, atque Hyperionios currus.” The “juvenis” is Phaethon, to whom his father entrusted the chariot of the Sun (Hyperion here taken for the Sun). IOI-104.
victrices hederas inter laurosque sedebo," &c. Todd quotes Virgil, Ed. viii. 12, 13
“ Hanc sine tempora circum
Inter victrices hederam tibi serpere lauros ;" and Richardson, for the whole passage, Horace's words in the first of his Odes :
“ Me doctarum hederæ præmia frontium
Dîs miscent superis ; me gelidum nemus
Secernunt populo.” 107. “Sæva nec anguiferos extende, Calumnia, rictus." Compare In Quint. Nov., 146.
“ Et vos; O nostri, juvenilia carmina, lusus," &c. It does not seem to me improbable that these six lines were added to the poem just before its publication in the volume of 1645. The phrase * juvenilia carmina" seems to refer to that volume as containing this piece among others. Anyhow it was a beautiful ending, and prophetic.
“ Ergo ego
See Introductions to these Verses, II. 365, 366.
AD SALSILLUM, POETAM ROMANUM, ÆGROTANTEM.
1-5.“ O Musa, gressum que volens trahis claudum," &c. A humorous description of the kind of verse in which he has chosen to address Salzilli : viz. the Scazon, Choliambus, or Hipponactic Trimeter (see Introd., II. 367). Though it is a limping measure, and walks with the gait of the lame Vulcan, it thinks itself no less becoming on occasion than when Deiope, the fairest of Juno's attendant nymphs, moves her graceful and perfectly-matched legs before the couch of that goddess.- In Latin Scażons the strict rule of prosodians is that the last foot should always be a Spondee and the penultimate always an Iambus; Greek Scazons allowed either an Iambus or a Trochee for the penultimate. Milton, in the present piece, uses great license. He has frequently a Spondee for the penultimate; and once at least (22) he has an Iambus for the last foot, converting the line into a regular lambic trimeter.
6. s'is," i.e. “ si vis."
7, 8. Camæna nostra cui tantum est cordi, quamque," &c. The reference is to Salzilli's extravagant Latin compliment to Milton (printed antè, p. 34), where he had said that Milton would be equal to Homer, Virgil, and Tasso put together.
9. “ Millo.” Observe that Milton adopts here the Latin form of his own name which Salzilli had used in his verses, instead of Miltonius or Miltonus, which were the more common forms.
15.“ Visum superbâ cognitas urbes fama,” &c. Compare stanzas 6-9 of Francini's Italian Ode to Milton (antè, p. 36).
“ Tam cultus ore Lesbium condis melos." This line is not a Scazon: see note, 1–5. The Lesbium melos is poetry after the mariner of Alcæus and Sappho, natives of Lesbos. By Romano ore Milton probably means Italian, not Latin, as it seems to have been by his Italian poetry that Salzilli was best known in Rome.
25, 26. “sive tu magis Pæan libenter audis” : a Latin idiom. Compare Epilaph. Dan, 209, 210, and Par. Lost, III. 7. 26. “hic”: Salzilli.
Querceta Fauni, vosque rore vinoso
Colles benigni, mitis Evandri sedes." These are poetical designations for Rome and its neighbourhood. Both Faunus and Evander are important personages in the myths of primitive Latium, They are represented as contemporaries--Faunus, an old