Printer Friendly

Ring composition, Triptolemus, and the theme of nourishment in Milton's 'Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio Secunda.'.

Scholarship on the Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio Secunda has been sparse, but the work remains worthy of scrutiny.(1) If we look at the Defensio Secunda as a whole, one notable pattern, theretofore unnoticed, emerges, and that is Milton's use of ring composition to unify and give point to the overarching purpose of his endeavour. At the start, he announces his assumption of the role of an orator labouring under a handicap, who nevertheless will come to a glorious finish. Milton boldly declares

to whatever degree I am surpassed (of which there can be little doubt) by the ancient illustrious orators, not only as an orator, but also as a linguist (and particularly in a foreign tongue, which I employ of necessity, and in which I am often very far from satisfying myself), I shall surpass every orator from every age in terms of nobility of subject and actual argumentation

quandoquidem oratores illos antiquos & insignes, quantum ego ab illis non dicendi solum, sed & loquendi facultate, (in extranea praesertim, qua utor necessario, lingua, & persaepe mihi nequaquam satisfacio) haud dubie vincor, tantum omnes omnium aetatum, materiae nobilitate & argumento vincam.

(12. 5-10)(2)

He continues his self-portrait, and tells us that he feels like an orator who is surrounded not 'by a single audience as that found in the marketplace or the speaker's platform in ancient Greece or Rome, but by almost all of Europe, which was attentively rendering judgment (ipse me sentiam non in foro aut rostris, uno duntaxat populo, vel Romano, vel Atheniensi circumfusum; sed attenta, & considente quasi tota pene Europa, & judicium ferente (12.1113)). About twenty lines later, he then declares that he seems to himself 'to be bringing liberty back from exile, a fruit more noble than that which is said to have been proffered by Tripotolemus and Ceres', and that he 'is disseminating [it] the recently restored civic and free culture among the cities, kingdoms and nations' (videor iam mihi. . . libertatem . . . reducere: Et, quod Triptolemus olim fertur, sed longe nobiliorem Cereali illa . . . frugem ex civitate mea gentibus importare; restitutum nempe civilem liberumque vitae culture, per urbes, per regna, perque nationes disseminare (15.5-12)).

After handling a number of other points in the body of the text, Milton reintroduces this agricultural imagery at the close of the treatise. He does this a few pages from the end of the Defensio with a description of the nature of true liberty. He warns the English with these words:

Unless your liberty be the type that can neither be gotten, nor taken away by arms; (and that alone is the type, born of piety, justice, temperance and finally real virtue, that will have put down deep and intimate roots in your souls), you may be sure that there will not be wanting someone who . . . will speedily deprive you of what you boast to have gotten by arms.

(nisi libertas vestra eiusmodi sit quae neque parari armis, neque auferri possit, quae pierate, justitia, temperantia vera denique virtute nata, altas atque intimas tadices animis vestris egerit non deerit profecto qui vobis istam, quam vi atque armis quaesivisse gloriamini, etiam sine armis cito eripiat.


Then in the peroration of the work he refers to the huge harvest of glory that may be lost for want of men who 'are able to met the challenge of upholding liberty' (ingentem gloriae segetem . . . sed materiae defuisse viros, 254.5-6). If the English fail after such a strong start, Milton warns 'posterity will certainly be there as judge' (loquetur profecto posteritas (252.23)). For his own part, Milton knows that he has acquitted himself well on behalf of England, and of the world.

In the same portion of the Defensio, Milton maintains the idea of his own international celebrity saying that 'it was not before our own doors alone that I have borne my arms in defence of liberty' (meaque arma pro liberrate, non solum ante foras extuli (252.4-5)). Then in the last three lines he declares in regard to his own actions, that whatever the outcome, 'there was not found lacking one who could give good counsel; who could advise, encourage, stimulate, who could ornament and celebrate with praises that will live forever, both the outstanding deeds and those who did them' (non defuisse qui monere recta, hortari, incitare, qui egregie tum facta, tum qui fecissent, condecorare, & victuris in ornne aevum celebrare laudibus potuerit (254.7-9)).

Milton's agricultural vocabulary tells us that he, the inspired orator, the 'orator-poet' in the words of Joseph Wittreich, is in fact a sower of spiritual and political nourishment(3) The nouns such as radices, frugem, and segetem support this idea. One may look in vain for better or more precise antecedents among the classical sources in which Milton was so well versed. In hoth Greek and Latin, for example, we do find words that are apparent equivalents of the idea of a 'word-seeder'. These are [Greek Text Omitted], and seminiverbius, which is according to Alexander Souter in his Glossary of Later Latin, 'probably' an 'ad hoc coinage'.(4) Both have negative meanings however, and contradict the positive metaphor Milton constructed in the Defensio Secunda. The former appears in writers such as Plutarch in his Life of Demetrius, 28, and Eustathius in his commentary on the Odyssey, V.490. It means a gossip, an idle babbler, or a person who picks up scraps. In Latin the word also appears rather late. We see it in the Vulgate Bible, Acts 17.18.3. If these are in fact Milton's sources, he has completely and strangely inverted the meaning of the two words.

The image also appears in the form of a simile in Tacitus' Dialogus 6. There Marcus Aper says 'for in intellectual talent also just as in a field, although things which are sown and cultivated for a long time may be pleasing, the things which spring up on their own are more pleasing' (nam in ingenio quoque, sicut in agro, quamquam grata quae [alia] diu seruntur atque elaborantur grata, gratiora tamenquae sua sponte nascuntur).(5)

There is one straightforward classical connection, however, and that is Milton's especial mention early on in the text of Triptolemus, and his divine patron Ceres. Triptolemus' status as an Athenian culture hero had obvious appeal to Milton who had an enduring interest in high culture and in political freedom. For it was during the fifth century as J. W. Day noted in 1980 that Triptolemus 'was employed as a symbol of Athens' civilizing mission.'(6)

The evidence for this is twofold. According to Isabelle and Antony Raubitschek in a essay written in 1982 'after the Persian Wars representations of the mission of Triptolemus on vases became frequent', and were perhaps an 'acknowledgment of the aid given by the Eleusinian deities to Athens at Marathon and Salamis', as well as a display of 'gratitude for Demeter's gifts to Athens, and through Athens, to the world'.(7) These vase paintings were rendered 'by distinguished artists working in the best workshops during the period between the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars'.(8) There is also evidence from the literature of the period. Isocrates in his Panegyricus, 28-9 and Plato in his Menexenus, 238a-b, both speak of Demeter's gifts to Athens and to mankind. And Aristophanes poked fun in the Acharnians, 47ff. at the complicated familial relationship between Triptolemus and Demeter.

Thus it seems that Milton has constructed an original metaphor from the myth of Triptolemus, the culture bearer, of the orator planting seeds for a future harvest of virtuous living and political freedom among his fellow human beings. Milton's identification with Triptolemus as a culture hero whose gifts would take root at other times and in other places is an important one, and one that predicted his own place in history. The metaphorical language of a nutritious harvest for human benefit served an immediate purpose: that of joining the beginning and the ending of the Defensio Secunda through the device of ring composition.

The larger purpose and lasting outcome, was to announce Milton's awareness of the credit due to him for a very challenging job very well done. Milton looked back to the cultural legacy of fifth-century Athens as he envisioned the future role of the English people as set against the broad panorama of human existence in the West. As England's champion of liberty he fought against Saumaise and the royalists by cultivating a literary fruit that would bring, to use Livy's words (AUC, 1.17.3), libertatis dulcedo, the 'sweetness of liberty' to his fellow citizens, not only then, but in time to come.

MICHELE VALERIE RONNICK Wayne State University, Michigan

1 Scholarship that looks at the Defensio Secunda as a whole is rare, despite E. M. W. Tillyard's declaration in 1930 that the work was 'one of the greatest of Milton's prose works and one of the greatest of the world's rhetorical writings', in E. M. W. Tillyard, Milton (New York, 1930), 192. See perhaps Richard Hoffman, 'The Rhetorical Structure of Milton's Second Defense of the People of England", Studia Neophilologica, xliii (1971), 227 45.

2 Milton's Latin here cited comes from The Works of John Milton, gen. ed. Frank Allen Patterson, 18 vols in 21 (New York, 1931-8), VIII. The first number in this citation refers to the chapter, the second to the page, and the third to the line. All translations are my own.

3 Lesser examples of this metaphorical language of spiritual nourishment and its extremes, starvation and gluttony among those who would lead and those who are led, occur at earlier points in Milton's English and Latin writings. We see it at lines 118 19 of Lycidas written in November of 1637 which describe corrupt clergy 'And shove away the worthy bidden guest; Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to hold / a sheep-hook, or have learned aught else . . .'. It is present in line 18 of the Latin poem, Epitaphium Damonis, which was written in the fall of 1639. 'Go home, lambs unfed, your master has no time for you now', Ite domum impasti, domino iam non vacat, agni. Lest we miss the importance of this line in a poem of 219 lines Milton has repeated it sixteen additional times (26, 35, 44, 50, 57, 62, 68, 74, 81, 87, 93, 112, 124, 139, 151, 179). This ovine image occurs in the Second Defence as well which was published in 1654. At 180.21-2, Milton says that the avaricious 'clergy should be called sheep rather than shepherds' oyes appellandi / quam pastors, pascuntur magis quam pascant (180.21-2). This image of feeding recurs in magnificent adaptation found in Book IX of Paradise Lost, one of Milton's last works published in 1667, as, of course, Eve's apple in the garden of Eden.

4 Alexander Souter, Glossary of Later Latin (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949), 372.

5 The Latin text here cited is that of Alfred Gudeman, P. Cornelii Taciti Dialogus de Oratoribus (Boston: Ginn & Co., 1894), 7.

6 J. W. Day, The Glory of Athens: The Popular Tradition as Reflected in the Panathenaicus of Aelius Aristides (Chicago: Ares, 1980), 24.

7 Isabelle K. and Antony E. Raubitschek, 'The Mission of Triptolemus', Hesperia Supplement 20: Studies in Athenian Architecture, Sculpture and Topography (Princeton, 1982), 112. See also Arthur Bernard Cook, 'Triptolemus', Zeus, 3 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914-40), 1, 211-37 for more information on the vase paintings that feature Triptolemus. Consult Jane Davidson Reid, 'Triptolemus', The Oxford Guide to Classical Mythology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 1037-8, for information about his image in later periods of art.

8 Raubitschek (n. 7 above), 133.
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:Athenian hero; poet John Milton
Author:Ronnick, Michele Valerie
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Dec 1, 1998
Previous Article:John Milton's 'Ad Patrem' and Hugo Grotius's 'In Natalem Patris.'.
Next Article:Cadmus and Mammon in Pliny the Elder's 'Naturalis Historia' and Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |