John Milton: Tweaking the Text of Paradise Lost
I'm not yet certain what to call Milton's technique of manipulating his epic poem by reliance on obscure clues to signal something going on in the story. Here's a well-known example from Paradise Lost 5.558-670:
Satan, so call him now, his former nameThe clause "Deep malice thence conceiving and disdain," which expresses Satan's adverse reaction to the revelation of the Son of God and the Son's coronation as Messiah, i.e., as "Christ," comes in line 666 and thereby hints at Satan's identity as "The Beast" of Revelation 13:18, often interpreted in Christian tradition as "The Antichrist" referred to in 1 John 18 and 22, which identifies "The Antichrist" as one who denies that Jesus is the Christ and denies the Father and the Son. There's no "Jesus" in Paradise Lost, but Satan does deny the Son as the Christ and, moreover, rejects the Son Himself. Milton thus uses something external to the story itself, a number recognizable only by one counting lines, to reinforce the story's meaning.
Is heard no more in Heav'n; he of the first,
If not the first Arch-Angel, great in Power,
In favour and præeminence, yet fraught
With envie against the Son of God, that day
Honourd by his great Father, and proclaimd
Messiah King anointed, could not beare
Through pride that sight, & thought himself impaird.
Deep malice thence conceiving and disdain,
Soon as midnight brought on the duskie houre
Friendliest to sleep and silence, he resolv'd
With all his Legions to dislodge, and leave
Unworshipt, unobey'd the Throne supream
There's also the infamous acrostic in Paradise Lost 9.510-514:
Scipio the highth of Rome. With tract obliqueThis acrostic "SATAN" -- taking the first letter of each line -- comes in a passage as the serpent approaches Eve to tempt her into eating of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. As with the previous example, this is an external hint to the reader, a reminder in this case that Satan is the one who possesses the serpent, though one hardly needs reminding since lines 494-495 have already noted this. Perhaps the point is therefore to remind the reader that the one approaching Eve is the "Adversary," which is what the word "Satan" literally means.
At first, as one who sought access, but feard
To interrupt, side-long he works his way.
As when a Ship by skilful Stearsman wrought
Nigh Rivers mouth or Foreland, where the Wind
Anyway, I wonder what this technique employed by Milton is called and if it was a Renaissance habit or if Milton was unusual.