Printer Friendly

Cadmus and Mammon in Pliny the Elder's 'Naturalis Historia' and Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'.

In Paradise Lost Milton tells how Satan, in order to tempt Eve, assumes the form of a serpent lovelier than 'those that in Illyria changed / Hermione and Cadmus' (PL, IX.505-6).(1) The allusion to Cadmus and Hermione evokes Ovid's story of how the couple prayed to be transformed into snakes (Met., IV.563-603).(2) After the Fall, Satan and his demons are involuntarily transformed into serpents (PL, X.504-84), and the details of their metamorphosis again recall Ovid's account of Harmonia and Cadmus, though neither person is actually named.(3) While Ovid probably was Milton's primary source for the myth, the English poet could have consulted a number of other mythological works. One overlooked source is Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia, an encyclopedic compendium of classical lore. In addition to the Latin text, the Naturalis Historia appeared in several Renaissance English editions, including Philemon Holland's influential The Historie of the World. Commonly called, The Naturall Historie of C. Plinius Secundus (1601 and 1634).(4) In Of Education, Milton writes that after a student learns grammar and reads Aristotle and Theophrastus, 'The like accesse will be to Vitruvius, to Senecas naturall questions, to Mela, Celsus, Pliny, or Solinus'. Philip Sheridan has noted the significance of Pliny's influence on Milton, and Charles Grosvenor Osgood has cited a number of echoes of Pliny in Milton's English poems.(5)

In his Naturalis Historia, Pliny says that 'tegulas invenit Cinyra Agriopae filius . . .; lapicidinas Cadmus Thebis, aut ut Theophrastus in Phoenice' ('Tiles were invented by Cinyra, son of Agriopa . . .; stone quarrying by Cadmus at Thebes, or according to Theophrastus, in Phoenicia', Nat. Hist., VII.lvi.195).(6) And he credits Cadmus with the invention of mining and metallurgy: 'argentum invenit Erichthonius Atheniensis, ut alii Aeacus, auri metalia et flaturam Cadmus Phoenix ad Pangaeum montem' ('Erichthonius of Athens, or according to others Aeacus, discovered silver; mining and smelting gold was invented by Cadmus the Phoenician at Mount Pangaeus', Nat. Hist., VII.lvi. 197).

In Paradise Lost, Mammon has a role similar to that of Pliny's Cadmus. The fallen angel is largely responsible for the construction of Pandaemonium out of the riches of Hell (PL, I.670-8), and he taught humans to mine the earth:

by him first Men also, and by his suggestion taught, Ransacked the centre, and with impious hands Rifled the bowels of their mother earth For treasures better hid.

(PL, I.684-8)

In particular, Mammon and his crew 'digged out ribs of Gold' (PL, I.690), on which they practiced metallurgy:

Nigh on the plain in many cells prepared, That underneath had veins of liquid fire Sluiced from the lake, a second multitude With wondrous art founded the massy ore, Severing each kind, and scummed the bullion dross: A third as soon had formed within the ground A various mould, and from the boiling cells By strange conveyance filled each hollow nook.

(PL, I.700-7)

The creation of Pandaemonium is like the construction of a city, such as Babel (PL, I.694) or Babylon (PL, I.717-19). It is also like the construction of Thebes, whose walls had magically risen when Amphion played his lyre (Met., VI.177-9). Pliny credits Amphion with being the inventor of music (Nat. Hist., VII.lvi.204), and music likewise figures prominently in the building of Pandaemonium. The smelting of Hell's gold into the walls of the infernal city is an infernal symphony. The liquid metal is poured into earthen moulds

As in an organ from one blast of wind To many a row of pipes the sound-board breathes. Anon out of the earth a fabric huge Rose like an exhalation, with the sound Of dulcet symphonies and voices sweet, Built like a temple, where pilasters round Were set, and Doric pillars overlaid With golden architrave.

(PL, I.708-15)

While Milton does not say that Mammon was the original Cadmus, he notes that 'Men called him Mulciber' (PL, I.740), the smelter of metals. Thus Milton associates the demon with Vulcan or Hephaestus, the god of the forge. Hephaestus may also be recalled in Paradise Lost, IX.505-7, where Milton alludes to the metamorphosis of Cadmus and Harmonia. In a gloss on the passage, Alastair Fowler argues in his edition that Milton 'almost certainly intends an allusion to Vulcan's fatal gift to Hermione, which made all her children impious and wicked'.(7) The mining and smelting of metals, which are the gifts of Milton's Mammon and Pliny's Cadmus, are likewise a cause of misery in Paradise Lost. When Adam looks into the future, he witnesses a repetition of Mammon's demonic metallurgy:

In other part stood one who at the forge Labouring, two massy clods of iron and brass Had melted (whether found where casual fire Had wasted woods on mountain or in vale, Down to the veins of earth, thence gliding hot To some cave's mouth, or whether washed by stream From underground) the liquid ore he drained Into fit moulds prepared; from which he formed First his own tools; then, what might else be wrought Fusile or graven in metal.

(PL, XI.564-73)

When he finds the scene pleasant, Michael corrects him:

Those tents thou saw'st so pleasant, were the tents Of wickedness, wherein shall dwell his race Who slew his brother; studious they appear Of arts that polish life, inventors rare, Unmindful of their maker, though his Spirit Taught them, but they his gifts acknowledged none.

(PL, XI.607-12)

These children of Cain will one day fight wars (PL, XI.638-73) 'and multiply / Ten thousand fold the sin of him who slew / His brother' (PL, XI.677-9). Thus the early metallurgy of Cain's descendants will be used to forge weapons. The technology of Cadmus and Mammon, then, is potentially evil, though not necessarily so. But Milton is more emphatic in his criticism when he says that people will follow Mammon's example by digging 'For treasures better hid' (PL, I.688). Milton's account alludes to Ovid's description of the iron age, the age of tools (Met., I.127-9), when people mined the earth for hidden treasures that provoked bloodshed (Met., I.138-43).

Milton's allusion to Cadmus in Paradise Lost, IX.506 thus creates a complex intertextual relationship among Pliny's Naturalis Historia, Ovid's Metamorphoses, the myth of Mulciber, the involuntary transformation of the demons into serpents in Paradise Lost, X, and the building of Pandaemonium in Paradise Lost, I. By inventing mining and metallurgy, Mammon makes possible the evils of warfare that plague humanity, whether the descendants of Cain or the citizens of the Ovidian iron age. In doing so, he follows the example of Pliny's Cadmus. Cadmus, in turn, is the founder of Thebes, whose walls rise magically and musically like the temple of Milton's demons. And while the mining and smelting of gold may be beneficial to humanity, Cadmus is also the giver of Hephaestus' golden necklace to Harmonia, which brings misfortune to all who possess it. He is also, ultimately, the source of the fratricidal strife of the legend of Thebes, which so closely mirrors the civil disorders and bloodshed that make Hell on earth and which parallels the War in Heaven. Through his use of Pliny's Cadmus, Milton further emphasizes the lasting evil of Mammon and places the fallen angel within a larger mythological context.

GEORGE F. BUTLER Fairfield, Connecticut

1 Milton's poetry is cited parenthetically by book and line number from Paradise Lost, ed. Alastair Fowler (London: Longman, 1971).

2 Milton's editors and Douglas Bush, Mythology and the Renaissance Tradition in English Poetry (New York: Pageant, 1957), 282, have pointed out that George Sandys used 'Hermione' rather than 'Harmonia' throughout his edition of the Metamorphoses, and that Milton could also find 'Hermione' susbtituted for 'Harmonia' in a number of other classical works.

3 This similarity has been noted by many critics, including Richard J. DuRocher, Milton and Ovid (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985), 128; Charles Martindale, John Milton and the Transformation of Ancient Epic (Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble, 1986), 190; Louis L. Martz, Milton: Poet of Exile, 2nd edn (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986), 91, 151; and John M. Steadman, Milton's Biblical and Classical Imagery (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1984), 46.

4 Gilbert Highet, The Classical Tradition: Greek and Roman Influences on Western Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1949), 125; The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, ed. F. W. Bateson, 4 vols (New York: Macmillan, 1941), I, 765.

5 Complete Prose Works of John Milton, ed. Don M. Wolfe et al., 8 vols (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1953-82), II, 390-1; Philip Sheridan, 'Pliny the Elder', in A Milton Encyclopedia, ed. William B. Hunter, Jr et al., 9 vols (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1978 83), VI, 153; Charles Grosvenor Osgood, The Classical Mythology of Milton's English Poems (New York: Henry Holt, 1900), 4, 14, 21, 43, 52, 53, 70, 71, 77, 87.

6 Pliny's text is cited parenthetically by book, chapter, and section number from Natural History, with an English trans. by H. Rackham and W. H. S. Jones, 10 vols (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1938-63).

7 DuRocher, 128 n. 38, repeats Fowler's remark. Apollodorus says that at the wedding of Cadmus and Harmonia, Cadmus gave her a robe and the necklace made by Hephaestus, which the god may have given to Cadmus (Lib., IlI.iv.2). He then tells how the necklace leads to the deaths of Eriphyle, Alcmaeon, and Phegeus, along with Phegeus' wife and sons; and to the enslavement of Callirrhoe (Lib., III.vi.2-III.vii.7).
COPYRIGHT 1998 Oxford University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:poet John Milton
Author:Butler, George F.
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Dec 1, 1998
Words:1585
Previous Article:Ring composition, Triptolemus, and the theme of nourishment in Milton's 'Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio Secunda.'.
Next Article:Some echoes of John Taylor's 'A Bawd' in the dedication of William Wycherley's 'The Plain-Dealer.'.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters