Thursday, January 06, 2011

Gordon Campbell on Milton's Grecism: "And knew not eating death"

Sederi Yearbook for 1993

I've previously noted Gordon Campbell's views on Milton's Grecism, but that was from an unpublished conference paper. Yesterday, however, I located a published paper by Campbell, "Milton and the Languages of the Renaissance" (Sederi 4, 1993, edited by Teresa Guerra Bosch, pages 11-21), that has some words on the same issue:
[An] effect of [Milton's] multilingualism that I should like to consider is the case of words and phrases in one language that can only be understood by reference to another. One of the most fertile examples of such phrases occurs in Book IX of Paradise Lost (792), at the moment when Eve eats the apple:
Greedily she engorged without constraint (sic.)
And knew not eating death.
Milton is imitating a Greek construction in which the verb "to know" is followed by a nominative participle without repitition of the subject. At one level, then, the line means "not knowing that she was eating death". The purpose of the Hellenism is of course to introduce a Latinism, mors edax, death that devours. The same thing happens in Samson Agonistes (840): "knowing, as needs I must, by thee betrayed", which means both "knowing that I was betrayed by thee" and "knowing myself to be betrayed". (Campbell, "Milton and the Languages," page 19)
I might have to email Professor Campbell to obtain clarification on the point about Samson Agonistes, for I don't quite catch his meaning, and I'd like to understand this since two apparent instances of the same type of Grecism would strengthen the likelihood that Milton really was borrowing from Greek grammar. Readers more perspicacious than I can also offer clarification.

As for the "mors edax, death that devours," I've previously looked into much this very same morbid issue.

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