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John Milton among the neo-Latinists: three notes on Mansus.

Milton's Latin poem Mansus has been studied from a number of perspectives and in a variety of contexts: as a Renaissance reworking of the panegyric tradition,(1) as a clever fusion of classical motifs and topoi,(2) and more recently as a complex response to a 'written encomium'(3) which Milton received from the poem's Neapolitan addressee, Giovanni Battista Manso, Italian poet and patron of Tasso and Marino, and founder of the Oziosi academy.(4) I have argued elsewhere that Milton not only picks up and inverts aspects of Manso's tribute and the implications of that tribute, but also echoes a corpus of contemporary Italian poems in Manso's honour.(5) Read on a superficial level Mansus constitutes Milton's own encomium of Manso, in which the speaker sings the praises (not without a wry smile) of his Neapolitan host. But it is also much more than that. Through an intricate labyrinth of textual allusion, analogy, and verbal reminiscence Milton in an ingenious fusion of things 'ancient' and 'modern' reveals himself as a classicist, steeped in Greek and Latin literature, but also, and no less interestingly, as a man of his time, a Renaissance Englishman, self-consciously aware of the contrast between the cold northern climate of England and the sunny warmth of Italy,(6) but celebrating none the less the praises of his own native land - its poets, the ancient customs of its druids, its Arthurian heroes;(7) Milton moreover sees himself as following in the footsteps of such English poets as Chaucer (who had likewise visited Italy)(8) and by implication Spenser.(9) This note attempts further to extend this Renaissance context of Mansus by arguing for hitherto unnoticed parallels between the poem and works by three neo-Latin writers, namely Leland, Politian, and Petrarch.

(i) Mansus and the Latin poetry of John Leland

Nec tu longinquam bonus aspernabere Musam, quae nuper gelida vix enutrita sub Arcto imprudens Italas ausa est volitare per urbes. Nos etiam in nostro modulantes flumine cygnos credimus obscuras noctis sensisse per umbras, qua Thamesis late puris argenteus urnis Oceani glaucos perfundit gurgite crines.

(Mans., 27-33)(10)

In the course of his Latin poem Mansus Milton, the youthful Englishman, seeks inter alia to justify to his elderly Italian addressee the literary merits of England. In defending the genius of his native poets he employs the symbol of the swan as bard. While this finds precedent in both Latin(11) and English literature,(12) it occurs as a particularly prevalent leitmotif in the neo-Latin poetry of the sixteenth-century British antiquarian John Leland. This is perhaps most fully evident in Leland's poem Synchrisis Cygnorum et Poetarum, which draws some clever parallels between the swan and the poet: the swan is white in body, the poet is white in heart, the swan loves icy rivers, the poet loves his own spring. Both sing a song in springtime and seek the cool shade in the heat of summer:

Cure niveis ipsos cygnis conferre poetas ilium qui studuit, digna notasse puto. Candidus est toro concentor corpore cygnus, pectora sunt vatis candidiora nive. Laetus olor gelidis fluviis gaudere videtur, gaudet illimi fonte poeta suo; dulcia Laedaeus modulatur carmina cygnus, cum flores Zephyri lenior aura fovet; purpureo vates cum vere Favonius inflat, arguto resonum fundit ab ore melos. Viminea cygnus casula contermina ripis saepe sub ardenti sidere tecta petit: frigora vicinae silvae torrentibus undis aestivo vates tempore captat ovans. Quis neget albenteis cygnos nunc atque poetas convenisse suis undique nominibus?(13)

Leland's much lengthier poem, Cygnea Cantio, likewise employs the swan/poet allegory. The speaker introduces himself as a white swan reared by the river Thames, who was impelled by an ardent desire to travel upon the river and survey local beauty spots and sites as he swam upstream. This is followed by a catalogue of many landmarks in the Thames valley. The poem concludes with a song of farewell as the speaker envisages himself as a dying swan, leaving the river banks behind him, finding his abode in the heavens and wishing that posterity will remember him.

There are some noteworthy similarities between Leland's poem and Mansus. Both are in the first person. Common to both is the notion of nourishment followed by the speaker's desire to set out on a journey.(14) In Leland, the swan mentions the nourishment which he has received, and expresses his wish to travel:

Hic inter medios venustus atones, et divortia curva brachiorum, dura lente vagor et famem repello, depastis teneris lubenter herbis, nec non pisciculis, cibo suavi, casu nescio quo cupido magna invasit mihi pectus otiosum, et multis monuit modis benigna, ripas Isidis ut virentioreis intentis oculis, novaque cura collustrarem avide, quo usque salsas undas imbiberent maris refusi. (9-20)(15)

Milton alludes to a Muse which has scarcely been nourished (vix enutrita (28)) beneath the frozen Bear, yet which nevertheless has ventured to fly through the cities of Italy (imprudens Italas ausa est volitare per urbes (29)).(16) The choice of the noun Musa as subject and, more specifically, the depiction of her arrival in Italy may echo and invert one of Leland's shorter poems entitled Commigratio bonarum literarum in Britanniam:

Cana bonas passim cantavit fama Camaenas Alpinas nunquam transiliisse nives. Ut Pandionias facundia liquit Athenas, venit ad Italicos Musa polita lares. Fronte tamen salva dicam nunc, audiat ipsa Roma licet, Musa transiliisse nives. Nam penitus toto divisis orbe Britannis tersa Camoena dedit, verba rotunda loqui. Illa vetus linguis florebat Roma duabus, at linguis gaudet terra Britanna tribus.(17)

Milton's depiction of swans on the Thames (lines 30-3) is in general accord with the statement made in the prose dedication of Cygnea Cantio:

. . . Tamesim nemo ignorat cygnorum et altorem et cultorem esse maximum. . . .

The river plays an important role in the poem proper as it carries the swan in its current:

Decursus Tamesis celer profundi Jam me ducit, et impigre ad sinistram ripam. . . . (132-4)

One final link between Mansus and the Latin poetry of Leland is the speaker's description of his ascent to, and arrival in, Heaven. Mansus concludes as follows:

Tum quoque, si qua fides, si praemia certa bonorum, ipse ego caelicolum semotus in aethera divum, quo labor et mens pura vehunt, atque ignea virtus secreti haec aliqua mundi de parte videbo (quantum rata sinunt) et tota mente serenum ridens purpureo suffundar lumine vultus et simul aethereo plaudam mihi laetus Olympo.

(Mans., 94-100)

Cygnea Cantio envisages at two points the ascent of the poet/swan to Heaven:

Certe non moriar, petam sed astra coelites habiturus inter ipsos sedem conspicuo polo micantem, Phoebus noster ubi coruscat almus. (386-9)

In the concluding lines he sings his swan-song as he, like Milton, imagines that he is leaving this world and making his way to Heaven:

Iam longum viridis sinus valeto, Te praeconia, te manent coronae. Me coelum petit arduum canentem. At Cygni interea tui memento. Nutritor Tamesis valeto chare, Et Cygnis facilis faveto nostris. (690-5)

The notion of applause after death, so emphatic in the final line of Mansus, occurs in Leland's short poem Applausus Posteritatis:

Aera dum volucris, fluvios dum piscis amabit, applaudet numeris Musa Britanna meis. (1-2)(18)

(ii) Mansus and Politian's Praefatio to Sylvae, I

Tantum ubi clamosos placuit vitare bubulcos, nobile mansueti cessit Chironis in antrum irriguos inter saltus frondosaque tecta Peneium prope rivum: ibi saepe sub ilice nigra ad citharae strepitum blanda prece victus amici exilii duros lenibat voce labores.

(Mans., 59-64)

Milton's line-ending Chironis in antrum (60) may, as Bush notes,(19) recall Ovid, Metamorphoses, 2.630 or Valerius Flaccus, Argonauticon, 1.407. Unmentioned by Bush however is a possible neo-Latin parallel provided by Politian's Praefatio to his first book of Sylvae. Here the phrase Chironis ad antrum occurs as Politian describes the withdrawal of the Argonauts to the cave of Chiron:

Conveniunt Minyae gemini Chironis ad antrum, qua fugit obliquo garrula lympha pede, quaque ingens platanus genialibus excubat umbris; explicat hic faciles rustica mensa dapes. Crescit fronde torus, vernant in flore capilli; sed viret herculeis populus alba comis. (5-10)(20)

Besides the verbal similarity, both passages associate the cave with a river (Peneium prope rivum (62)/garrula lympha (6)); both mention a tree which provides shade (sub ilice nigra (62)/ingens platanus genialibus excubat umbris (7)); both convey the luxurious growth and vegetation of the scene (irriguos inter saltus frondosaque tecta (61)/crescit fronde torus, vernant in flore capilli (9)).

The Praefatio proceeds to describe the power of Orpheus's music and its effect upon the world of nature:

Finis erat dapibus: citharam pius excitat Orpheus, et movet ad doctas verba canora manus. Conticuere viri, tenuere silentia venti; vosque retro cursum mox tenuistis, aquae. Iam volucres festis pendere sub aethera pinnis, iamque truces videas ora tenere feras. Decurrunt scopulis auritae ad carmina quercus, nudaque peliacus culmina motat apex.


It is striking that Milton's description of the cave is followed by a passage which conveys the Orphic powers of Apollo's music:

ibi saepe sub ilice nigra ad citharae strepitum blanda prece victus amici exilii duros lenibat voce labores. Tum neque ripa suo, barathro nec fixa sub imo, saxa stetere loco, nutat Trachinia rupes, nec sentit solitas, immania pondera, silvas, emotaeque suis properant de collibus orni, mulcenturque novo maculosi carmine lynces.

(Mans., 62-9)

On a more general level, it should be remarked that the Praefatio is a preface to Manto, the first book of Politian's Sylvae; Mansus is among the miscellaneous verse to which Milton gave the heading Sylvarum Liber. It is tempting to see in Milton's Latinized term Mansus a subtle allusion to Politian's Manto. Perhaps, as in the phrase mansueti . . . Chironis (60),(21) he is playing once again on Manso's name.

(iii) Mansus and Petrarch's Epistola ad Amicum Transalpinum

Tum quoque, si qua fides, si praemia certa bonorum, ipse ego caelicolum semotus in aethera divum, quo labor et mens pura vehunt, atque ignea virtus secreti haec aliqua mundi de parte videbo (quantum rata sinunt) et tota mente serenum ridens purpureo suffundar lumine vultus et simul aethereo plaudam mihi laetus Olympo.

(Mans., 94-100)

The positioning of videbo and serenum at the end of lines 97 and 98 respectively could be seen as an inversion of lines 86-7 of Petrarch's Epistola ad Amicum Transalpinum:

Pes Italam calcabit humum, purumque serenum laetius his oculis, et sidera nostra videbo.(22)

Other parallels exist. In both the speaker wishes to have a friend who will stand at his bedside and see to his burial.(23) Thus Petrarch:

Post ubi longaevo finem factura labori affuerit suprema dies, solamen et ipsum mortis erit tanti in gremio lacrimantis amici lassatum posuisse caput, manibusque sepulchro invectum iacuisse piis post proelia tanta fortunae, Ausonia saltem tellure recondi dulce mihi, et patriis longum requiescere saxis seraque cum fragilem tumulum convulserit aetas lenius Hesperia cinis hic agitabitur aura. (88-96)

Milton states:

O mihi si mea sors talem concedat amicum (78) . . . Tandem ubi non tacitae permensus tempora vitae, annorumque satur cineri sua iura relinquam, ille mihi lecto madidis astaret ocellis, astanti sat erit si dicam sim tibi curae; ille meos artus liventi morte solutos curaret parva componi molliter urna. Forsitan et nostros ducat de marmore vultus, nectens aut Paphia myrti aut Parnasside lauri fronde comas. At ego secura pace quiescam.

(Mans., 85-93)

Both express the wish to possess 'so great' or 'such' a 'friend' (tanti . . . amici (90)/talem . . . amicum (78)) - a friend who will weep (lacrimantis (90)/madidis . . . ocellis (87)); the very fact of having such a person will be a source of consolation (solamen . . . erit (89-90)) or sufficient in itself (sat erit (88)); the specific role of the friend is to see to the burial of the speaker (manibusque sepulchro invectum . . . piis (91-2)/ille meos artus . . . curaret parva componi molliter urna (89-90)), who will thereby rest in peace (longum requiescere (94)/secura pace quiescam (93)).

Underlying both poems is the contrast between youth and old age. Petrarch reminisces on the faded beauties of his youth (iamque haec puerilia retro/linquimus, ad metam rapimur properantibus annis (14-15)) and describes himself as a senex (28) as opposed to his youthful addressee (27-8). The theme recurs in an inverted form in Mansus for here it is the speaker who is the iuvenis - a iuvenis peregrinus (26) - while the addressee is the senex (49 and 70).

One further point of contact between the two poems is the theme of everlasting fame with a reference to virtus and an ascent to the heavens. Petrarch longs for immortality and predicts that Virtus of her own accord will ascend to the aethera:

clara quidem longos virtus ventura sub annos viribus ipsa suis sublimis ad aethera surget non aliena petens inopis suffragia linguae. (59-61)

Milton envisages his own ascent in aethera - an ascent which is the reward for ignea virtus:

Tum quoque, si qua fides, si praemia certa bonorum, ipse ego caelicolum semotus in aethera divum, quo labor et mens pura vehunt, atque ignea virtus

(Mans., 94-6)

Finally the very theme of Petrarch's title (Epistola ad Amicum Transalpinum) - as read by Milton - would suit Mansus quite well since the latter is a tribute to an Italian paid by a British neo-Latinist who has himself crossed the Alps.

ESTELLE HAAN The Queen's University of Belfast

1 See Ralph Condee, 'Mansus and the Panegyric tradition', Studies in the Renaissance, xv (1968), 174-92, reworked in his Structure in Milton's Poetry: From the Foundation to the Pinnacles (Pennsylvania, 1974), 85-103.

2 See Anthony Low, 'Mansus: in its context', Milton Studies, xix (1984), 105-26.

3 See my 'Written Encomiums: Milton's Latin poetry in its Italian Context', in M. A. Di Cesare (ed.), Milton in Italy: Contexts, Images, Contradictions, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies (Binghamton, New York, 1991), 521-47.

4 On Manso, see Angelo Borzelli's useful study: Giovan Battista Manso (Naples, 1916).

5 In 'Written encomiums', 536-421 suggest points of contact between Milton's poem and the many Italian tributes which Manso had received from his contemporaries and which, some three years before Mansus was written, he had appended to the collection of his own verse (Poesie Nomiche (Venice, 1635)).

6 See Mansus, 26 where Milton describes himself as missus Hyperboreo iuvenis peregrinus ab axe; at line 37 he refers to the British as suffering brumalem . . . Booten. See in general Z. S. Fink, 'Milton and the theory of climatic influence', Modern Language Quarterly, ii (1941), 67-80.

7 See Mansus, 80-4 for Milton's intention to write an Arthuriad.

8 It has long been accepted by commentators that Mansus 34 constitutes an allusion to Chaucer (via Spenser). Douglas Bush, A Variorum Commentary on the Poems of John Milton, vol. 1, The Latin and Greek Poems (New York, 1970), ad loc., describes the line as 'Milton's earliest reference to Spenser's Shepheardes Calender and accepts that Milton is referring to Chaucer under the name of Tityrus. (See n. 9 below.) Milton is obviously drawing a parallel between himself and Chaucer, another English poet to visit Italy. He did so twice in 1372-3 and 1378. During Chaucer's first visit in 1372-3 he spent about three months in Italy. As esquire of the king's chamber he had been sent with a trading mission to Genoa. He was accompanied by two Genoese of high rank - Giovanni del Mare and Jacopo Provano. The purpose of his second visit to Italy in 1378 was to deliver the king's greetings to Bernabo Visconti, lord of Milan. Milton's visit of course lacks such an official purpose.

9 Spenser uses the name Tityrus for Chaucer at The Shepheardes Calendar, Februarie, 92, June, 81, and December, 4.

10 All quotations from Milton are from The Works of John Milton, ed. Frank A. Patterson et al. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1931-40). I have modernized spelling and punctuation.

11 See, for example, Horace, Odes, 2.20.

12 Spenser uses the Thames/swan symbol at Prothalamion, 11: 'Along the shoare of silver streaming Themmes'; 37-8: 'With that I saw two Swannes of goodly hewe./Come softly swimming downe along the Lee'. Cf. Ben Jonson, viii.392 (of Shakespeare): 'Sweet Swan of Avon! what a sight it were/To see thee in our waters yet appeare,/And make those flights upon the bankes of Thames,/That did so take Eliza, and our James!'

13 Principum ac Illustrium aliquot et eruditorum in Angila virorum, Encomia, Trophaea, Genethliaca et Epithalamia a Ioanne Lelando Antiquario Conscripta (London, 1589), 1-2.

14 The motif also seems to underlie Ad Salsillum, 9-13 as Milton describes himself as an alumnus of London who leaving his nest (qui suum linquens nidum (10)) and the inclement weather of England, reached Italy: venit feraces Itali soli ad glebas (14).

15 Cygnea Cantio Auctore Ioanne Lelando Antiquario (London, 1658).

16 Cf. Ennius, Var., 18: volito vivos per ora virum.

17 Principum ac Illustrium 3.

18 Ibid., 11.

19 Douglas Bush, op. cit., 276.

20 Angelo Ambrogini Poliziano, Prose Volgari Inedite e Poesie Latine e Greche Edite e Inedite, ed. Isidore del Lungo (Hildesheim, New York, 1976).

21 For puns in Mansus, see Haan, 'Written Encomiums', 541-2.

22 Text: Petrarche Opera (Basel, 1554), II, 1369.

23 As noted by Bush, op. cit., 280.
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Author:Haan, Estelle
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Date:Jun 1, 1997
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