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Th' archangel stood; and from the other hill
Gliding meteorous; as evening mist
And gathers ground fast at the labourer's heel
Fierce as a comet; which with torrid heat, 635 And vapour as the Lybian air adust,
Began to parch that temp'rate clime : whereat
Led them direct, and down the cliff as fast 640 To the subjected plain; then disappear'd.
They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
With dreadful faces throng'd, and fiery arms. 645 Some natural tears they dropp'd, but wip'd them soon.
The world was all before them, where to choose
1. “Of man's first disobedience.” The infuriated Dido could imprecate on similarity between the opening of Para Æneas, her betrayer.) dise Lost and the Iliad, in the simplicity Μηνιν αειδε, θεα, Πηληλαδεω Αχιληος and unostentatious solemnity of the lan Ουλομενην, ή μυρι’ Αχαιοις αλγε' εθηκε, guage, in the smooth flowing harmony
Πολλας δ' ιφθιμας ψυχας αιδι προιαψεν
“Ηρωων, αυτους δ' έλωρια τευχε κυνεσσιν, of the versification, in the brief and
Οιωνοισι τε πασι. . Διος δ' ετελειετο βουλη. unadorned introduction of the subject and its consequences, in the avowal of
Yet I do not say, Milton intended an
imitation in each instance. Milton says, dependence on a Divine spirit for illumination, in the sudden transition from
“ Instruct me, for thou knowest— thou humble invocation to the inspired narra
from the first wast present—what in me
is dark illumine." Homer has similar tive, and then in the sudden flight into unexampled sublimity, is singularly
sentiments (Il. ii. 483) :striking. Milton, no less than Homer, Εσπετε νυν μοι Μουσαι Ολυμπια δωματ’ εχουcomes up to Horace's just and well
Υμεις γαρ θεαι εστε, παρεστε τε, ιστε τε παντα known conception of an epic poet :
“Ημεις δε κλεος οιον ακουομεν, ουδε τι ιομεν. “Non fumum ex fulgore, sed ex fumo dare Milton asks,“ Who first seduced them lucem
to that foul revolt?" and then the Cogitat, ut speciosa dehinc miracula pro
heavenly Muse, who is supposed henceThe subject - matter of both poems,
forward to dictate the poem, promptly “ Man's first disobedience, and the fruit
replies, " The infernal spirit," &c. This of the forbidden tree,” and “The wrath
resembles the questions and answers in of Achilles," is the very first sentiment
the Iliad, as closely as the subject will
admit:expressed. The same epithet is next applied to both acts, mortal or destruc Τις τ' αρ σφωε θεων εριδι ξυνεηκε μαχεσθαι; tive : from each three consequences re
Λητους και Διος υιος, ο γαρ βασιλής χολωθεις
Νουσον ανα στρατον ωρσε κακην, ολεκοντο δε sulted; to man, death, all the woes of
λαοι. . life, and loss of Eden; to the Greeks,
Milton dates man's disobedience in these woes unnumbered, the premature death of
words. “What time," (i.e. after the time many a valiant hero, and the devouring of their bodies by dogs and birds of prey;
that.) Thus does Homer date the wrath
of Achilles by the wordsthis latter involving loss of the rights of sepulture, which for a time deprived
Εξ ου δη τα πρωτα διαστητην ερισαντε. spirits of Elysium; for the spirits of the Homer says that it was all the will of unburied dead were supposed to wander God, Διος δ' ετελειετο βουλη. Milton up and down on the confines of the says the same, (212,) that “the will and other world for a long period of time, high permission of all-ruling Heaven left without any place of rest. (I think with him (Satan) at large to his own dark the old Commentators, that in apocaye designs.” is included the idea of premature death,
4. “ With loss of Eden.” But Eden and it gives an additional picture of mis was not lost; and the last we read of our fortune. “ Cadat ante diem mediaque first parents is, that they were still in inhumatus arena," was the direst curse Eden--" Through Eden took their soli
tary way."-B. xii. Loss of Eden is,
and slow, Through Eden took their solitary way.” Their solitary way, to what place? The poet plainly shows it was to the outer world, or part of the earth outside Eden, to which they were proceeding by the shortest route, as Paradise was in the eastern part of Eden, and they proceeded eastward :+ The world was all before them where to choose Their place of rest,and Providence their guide."
6, 7. "Secret top of Oreb.” Dr. Bentley says Milton dictated " sacred top,” because, Exod. ii. 5, Horeb is said to be holy, and, 1 Kings xix. 8, it is called the Mountain of God, and the top could be seen several leagues off, and therefore could not be called secret; besides, sacred hill is common among poets in several languages. But it is successfully answered by Pearce and Newton, that Horeb and Sinai are two summits of one mountain ; Sinai being the highest, which, says Josephus, in his Jewish Antiquities, ji.5, “ cannot be seen without straining the eyes;" hence it may be called secret; that it is said in Exod. xix.and Ecclus. xlv. and other places, when God gave the law of Moses on the top of Sinai, it was covered with dark clouds and thick smoke, and the people were not to come near it till after a given signal, and even then they were only to come to a certain boundary, but not to ascend it on pain of death; besides, secret may be classically
used in the sense of secretus, set apari, or separate, (secretosque pios. - Æn. viii. 670.) Furthermore, by the rules of good poetry, a particular epithet, as descriptive of a peculiar circumstance, is to be preferred to a general one. Milton, xii. 227, in reference evidently to the clouds and smoke, says, “Sinai, whose gray top shall tremble.” So that secret is evidently the correct reading, in whatever sense it is to be taken. As Horeb and Sinai are used for one another in Scripture, (see Exod. iii. 1; Acts vii. 30,) the poet does not determine on which of them the inspiration was given though he seems to incline to the latter), therefore he mentions both.
8. " That shepherd," &c. Moses, who, after his flight from Egypt, married the daughter of Jethro, a prince of Arabia, and tended his flocks, before he led the Jews from Egypt, and wrote Genesis; perhaps he uses the epithet figuratively, (Psalm lxxvii. 20,)
“ Thou leddest thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron."
10. “ Fast by," &c. Close to. So b. iii. 354.
11. “ Siloa's brook," &c. Siloa vas a rivulet that flowed near the temple of Jerusalem, (Isa. viii. 6.) So Milton invokes the muse that inspired David and the prophets on Mount Sion, on which stood the royal palace and the ark, and at Jerusalem, as well as Moses. The temple is called the oracle of God, as the high priest occasionally received there the gift of inspiration; particularly when for public purposes he consulted the Divine will by Urim and Thummim.
13, 14, 15. It is not unusual with poets to boast of the novelty and boldness of their poetic flights. So Lucretius, i. 925.“Avia Pieridum peragro loca, nullius ante
Trita solo," &c.
juvat ire jugis, quâ nulla priorum
Biformis per liquidum Æthera vates.' Virgil, Georg. ii. 11.
" Aonio rediens deducam vertice Musas."
Aonia, the ancient name of Bæo contained Parnassus, Helicon, and other places, supposed to be the haunt of the Muses. Milton means here, that his flight will be far above that of the ancient