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Milton's vituperative technique: Claude Saumaise and Martial's Olus in the 'Defensio Prima.' (John Milton)

MILTON's personalized attacks upon Claude Saumaise as an incompetent scholar and foreign-born busybody adhere to the Graeco-Roman rhetorical strategy of attacking an individual's ethos from any perspective. Milton repeatedly denounced Saumaise's |Frenchness' in no uncertain terms. By using the adjective Gallus, he was able to strike an even deeper blow by calling Saumaise's masculinity into question. For the Galli were the castrated priests of Cybele known for their wild ranting and raving. A third meaning of gallus conveys yet another unattractive image. As a noun, it means a cock or rooster. Thus the following passages allow the reader to move between three levels of meaning:(1)

1. (pr. 16.15) noxas Gallicolatinas quibus ... scates, |the Franco-Latin blunders with which you abound'.

2. (1.62.6) te Gallum et errabundum, |you vagabond Frenchman'.

3. (5.280.7-9) cum tu ipse Gallus et, ut ferunt, vel nimium Gallinaceus, |since you yourself are French and as they say too "cocky".

4. (8.400.23-402.1) teque oberrare semivirum Gallum ... sinit, |she [France] allows you, a Frenchman, to wander around'.

5. (8.422.7) de vocabulo Gallicano altercari non libet, |it is not worthwhile to argue over a French word'.

6. (12.528.22-3) te... vappam et circulatorem Gallum ... quis ferat, |who can bear you, a good-for-nothing and a French mountebank?'

7. (12.530.5-6) ut cerebrosus iste et crumenipeta Gallus,' that hare-brained, purse-snatching Frenchman'.

The use of words with multiple meanings of this sort was part of Milton's arsenal of puns.(2) Those he hurled at Saumaise sometimes involved an understanding of other languages. Greek plays a part in two of the following examples:

1. (5.286.5-7) tibi ipsi non licebit Lupi domino ex Lupanari tuo, tanquam ex novo quodam lyceo ... emittere philosophiam, |will you, master of the wolf, not be allowed to send forth philosophy from your brothel as from some new Lyceum?' Here the pun plays on the noun for |wolf', lupus in Latin, its equivalent in Greek o [Greek Word Omitted], the name of Aristotle's school, [Greek Word Omitted] [Greek Word Omitted], the Lyceum, and the Latin word for |brothel', lupanar, which comes from lupa, a |she-wolf or prostitute'.

2. (8.402.2) sive equiti grammatistae sive illustri Hippocritico, |either some mounted grammarian or some "horse" critic'. The pun in this line depends on the combination of eques, the Latin noun for |horseman' or |knight', [Greek Word Omitted], the Greek noun for |horse', and [Greek Word Omitted], the adjective |critical' in Greek which adds up to |hypocrite'.

3. (10.486.16-17) non etiam veros tu quidem Britannicos sed pictos nescio quos vel etiam acu pictos videris mihi velle dicere, |indeed you seem to me not to be describing real Britons, but some sort of painted men or even painted with a needle'. The point of this pun is to distinguish between the real British, the Britanni, and a savage tribe from Scotland known as the Picti who were said to have painted their bodies blue and tattooed their skin.

At two points Milton launched a special assault on Saumaise by calling him Olus. Milton plucked this name out of a sixteen line poem by Martial in which Martial interwove this querilous refrain into the ending of every other line: Ole, quid ad te?; hoc ad te pertinet, Ole; ad me pertinet, Ole, nihil. |Olus, what's it to you?; this matters to you, Olus; nothing [you do], Olus, matters to me' (7.10).

Except for Martial no other Latin author of the classical period mentioned this unattractive quidnunc.(3) Milton however thought this name singularly appropriate for Saumaise. Toward the end of the proemium Milton asks nam nostrae leges Ole quid ad te, |what, indeed do our laws matter to you, Olus? (pr. 32.4)'. In chapter eight Milton reiterates his taunt, this time made fuller:

nam quid tua malum refert, quid rerum Angli

inter se gerant? Quid tibi vis, Ole, quid tibi

quaeris? Nihilne domi habes quod ad te pertineat?

Utinam eadem haberes quae habuit

ille notissimus in epigrammate Olus; et fortasse

habes; dignus profecto es.

(Why indeed is it any trouble of yours what

the English do among themselves? What do

you want for yourself Olus? What are you

seeking for yourself? Have you nothing at

home that matters to you? Would that you

had the same [problems] which that notorious

Olus had in an epigram! Perhaps you have;

you are certainly deserving.) (8.400.6-10)

The repetition was purposive. Ole, the vocative of Olus, can also be construed as the present singular imperative of oleo, olere, olui, a third conjugation Latin verb that means |reek', |stink', or |emit a smell'. Olus is then an unsavory character in propria persona whose very name can convey a derogatory command in Latin.

It therefore becomes clear that Milton marshalled his forces by combining his knowledge of Latin grammar in general and of the poet Martial in particular to launch a two-pronged attack at Saumaise. By quoting Marrial, Milton displayed his learning; by applying the quotations to Saumaise, Milton insulted him. A variation of this technique was repeated in the Defensio Secunda four years later in which the vocative of the Latin word for mulberry, more, was applied to Milton's would-be adversary Alexander More.(4) In this case Milton cleverly used it as a means to move between his references to Pyramus and Thisbe, who were to rendezvous at a mulberry bush, and the libidinous misadventures of More with Pontia that produced Morillus, a little mulberry. Such effective weapons of vituperation should indeed be counted among Milton's |artillery of epithets'.(5) (1) The Latin text here cited is from volume seven of The Works of John Milton, 18 vols, ed. Frank Allen Patterson (New York, 1932). The first number is the chapter, the second the page, and third the line. All translations are my own. I am grateful to Senthil Kathiresan for help in preparing the manuscript. (2) See William B. Hunter, |Puns, Milton', A Milton Encyclopedia (Lewisburg, PA, 1979), vii.68; Christopher Ricks, Milton's Grand Style (Oxford, 1963), 66-75; J. Mitchell More, |A Pun in Lycidas', N&Q, cciii (1958), 21; James Brown, |Eight Types of Puns', PMLA, lxxi (1956), 16-17,25; and Edward Le Comte, |Milton as Satirist and Wit', Th'Upright Heart, ed. Amadeus Fiore (Pittsburg, PA, 1967), 45-59. Le Comte's observation on p. 54 that |an analytical survey needs to be made of Milton's puns', is still correct. (3) Olus appears an an unsavoury character in four other epigrams of Martial, 2.63, 3.48, 4.36, and 10.54. (4) On Alexander More and the Latin noun morus see J. Milton French. |Milton as Satirist', PMLA, 51 (1936), 426-8. (5) French, 423.
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Author:Ronnick, Michele Valerie
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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