Friday, December 29, 2006

More original borrowings...

Staunch defender of Milton's originality...
(Image from Wikipedia)

For your amusement, more musings on the literary muse...

The Spenserian scholar Donald Cheney, writing in his article "Spenser's Parody," Connotations 12.1 (2002/2003), pages 1-13, links Ariosto's line "Cosa non detta in prosa mai né in rima" not only to Milton but also to Spenser:

Edmund Spenser, the poet's poet, affords a likely site for such a search [investigating "sympathetic parody"], since by temperament and historical moment he consistently and conspicuously flags his relationship to prior texts. I propose, therefore, to look at a few passages in the 1590 Faerie Queene and ask how they might usefully be described as parodic.

The opening stanza of the poem illustrates the combination of imitation and variation that we find throughout Spenser's project. The first four lines are an apparently straightforward imitation of the opening of the Aeneid as it was known to the Renaissance: [page 2]

Lo I the man, whose Muse whylome did maske,
As time her taught, in lowly Shephards weeds,
Am now enforst a farre vnfitter taske,
For trumpets sterne to chaunge mine Oaten reeds [...]2

Spenser had indeed taken care to imitate this rota virgiliana by previously publishing a pastoral volume under the pseudonym of "new Poet" or "Immerito." In the fifth line, however -- which is the turning point of the nine-line Spenserian stanza as it was not, of course, for Virgil -- he announces a subject which is not Virgil's "arms and the man" but a version of Ariosto's parody of that subject: "And sing of Knights and Ladies gentle deeds," "Le donne, i cavalier, l'arme, gli amori / le cortesie, l'audaci imprese io canto."3

Here again, Spenser seems to be giving a straightforward version of the prior text: "gentle deeds" can be taken as the deeds natural to knights and ladies, namely courtesies and bold undertakings. The remaining four lines of the stanza provide an elaboration or gloss that will affirm or modify our reading of this as an Ariostan project:

Whose praises hauing slept in silence long,
Me, all too meane, the sacred Muse areeds
To blazon broade emongst her learned throng:
Fierce warres and faithfull loues shall moralize my song.

The verb "moralize" has leapt out at nineteenth-century readers of the poem, since the Orlando furioso seemed to them anything but moralistic. And if Spenser's sixth line, "Whose praises hauing slept in silence long," translates Ariosto's promise of "Cosa non detta in prosa mai né in rima [I.2]," this very claim to novelty is itself traditional, like Milton's similar version of Ariosto, "Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme."4 Furthermore, Spenser's mention of a "sacred" Muse at the outset of a book of "Holinesse" has led readers to question her identity, whether she is one of the classical nine, the muse of history or epic say, or a new, Judaeo-Christian one—another question that Milton will brood over when he appeals to his own heavenly muse.


2.Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, ed. A. C. Hamilton, rev. ed. with text ed. Hiroshi Yamashita and Toshiyuki Suzuki (London: Longman, 2001), I.proem.1.

3.Ludovico Ariosto, Orlando furioso, ed. Emilio Bigi (Milano: Rusconi, 1982), I.1.

4.See Ernst Robert Curtius, Latin Literature and the European Middle Ages, translated by Willard R. Trask (New York, NY: Pantheon, 1953) 85-86.
Forgive the lengthy quote, but I felt a need to provide the context. Like Alistair Fowler, who cited Curtius in noting that "The claim to novelty was a common opening topic," Cheney himself also cites Curtius in remarking that "this very claim to novelty is itself traditional," and all three were commenting upon Ariosto's apparently well-known line: "Cosa non detta in prosa mai né in rima."

I don't see the strong connection between Spenser's line "Whose praises hauing [having] slept in silence long" and Ariosto's line "Cosa non detta in prosa mai né in rima," except as an ironic, understated manner of saying that a theme has never been broached, but even so, it only parallels in the very general sense of claiming originality and doesn't seem to me to warrant Cheney's reference to Spenser's line as a "translation" of Ariosto's.

Milton, however, clearly does translate, and we find an interesting observation on this in chapter 21 of Norman Douglas's Old Calabria (Marlboro Travel), which can be found online:
It has been customary to speak of these literary appropriations [by Milton of various authors] as 'imitations'; but whoever compares them with the originals will find that many of them are more correctly termed translations. The case, from a literary-moral point of view, is different as regards ancient writers, and it is surely idle to accuse Milton, as has been done, of pilferings from Aeschylus or Ovid. There is no such thing as robbing the classics. They are our literary fathers, and what they have left behind them is our common heritage; we may adapt, borrow, or steal from them as much as will suit our purpose; to acknowledge such 'thefts' is sheer pedantry and ostentation. But Salandra and the rest of them [whom Milton borrowed from] were Milton's contemporaries. It is certainly an astonishing fact that no scholar of the stamp of Thyer was acquainted with the 'Adamo Caduto'; and it says much for the isolation of England that, at a period when poems on the subject of paradise lost were being scattered broadcast in Italy and elsewhere -- when, in short, all Europe was ringing with the doleful history of Adam and Eve -- Milton could have ventured to speak of his work as 'Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyma' -- an amazing verse which, by the way, is literally transcribed out of Ariosto ('Cosa, non detta in prosa mai, ne in rima'). But even now the acquaintance of the British public with the productions of continental writers is superficial and spasmodic, and such was the ignorance of English scholars of this earlier period, that Birch maintained that Milton's drafts, to be referred to presently, indicated his intention of writing an opera (!); while as late as 1776 the poet Mickle, notwithstanding Voltaire's authority, questioned the very existence of Andreini, who has written thirty different pieces.

Douglas is implicitly accusing Milton of plagiarism. Horrors! Gypsy Scholar should be aghast, dismayed, and indignant at Milton's dishonesty. If Milton were doing this today, of course, he'd face legal challenges, for laws have become rather strict about intellectual property rights, but Milton's day was different. Moreover, Milton doubtless expected his 'plagiarism' to be uncovered and probably didn't imagine that any later reader would accuse him of cheating. Rather, he probably expected to be congratulated upon his broad erudition and ability to surpass everyone, both the classical writers and his contemporaries.

Incidentally, note Douglas's misremembered quote from Milton (assuming that it's not a transription error by whoever put this online):

"Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyma"
Douglas has let his Ariosto influence Milton even more than Milton himself did, slipping in the final "a" of "rima" from Orlando Furioso:
"Cosa, non detta in prosa mai, ne in rima"
Milton's line, as we already know, reads:
"Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime"
That final "e" of "Rhime" erases the final "a" of Ariosto's "rima" and substitutes its silence instead ... an excision necessary for Milton's pentameter.

Richard Bentley, in his 1732 edition of Paradise Lost, attempts to defend Milton's borrowing:
V. 16. In Prose or Rime] The Author gave it,

Things unattempted yet in Prose or SONG.

But the 13th Verse being once chang'd into Adventurous SONG, that Word could not be here repeated; and so for Song was substituted RIME. It may be said, He took Rime from Ariosto, Cant. I.

Cosa, non detta in PROSA mai, ne in RIMA.

But Ariosto's Poem is in Rime, Milton's neither in Rime nor Prose: So that this Argument is even yet unattempted in either of them.

Bentley's defense of Milton is pettifogging pendantry. It's also absurd. Milton was writing unrhymed poetry, so of course what he accomplished could have been accomplished "neither in Rime nor Prose" because then they wouldn't be rhyme or prose. If one wants to be so 'strict' as Bentley, then one would make equal sense to say that Milton failed to achieve "Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime" because he wrote "neither in Rime nor Prose."

Which is no sense at all.

UPDATE: I see now that I have misread Bentley:

V. 13. To my adventurous Song, &c.] Some Acquaintance of our Poet's, entrusted with his Copy, took strange Liberties with it, unknown to the blind Author, as will farther appear hereafter. 'Tis very odd, that Milton should put Rime here as equivalent to Verse, who had just before declar'd against Rime, as no true Ornament to good Verse, but the Invention of a barbarous Age, to set off wretched Matter and lame Meter. I am persuaded, this Passage was given thus:

Invoke thy aid to my adventurous WING,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th' Aonian Mount; while I PURSUE
Things unattempted yet in Prose or SONG.

Bentley's argument is more interesting now that I've looked at the context. He's arguing that a later redactor altered Milton's "SONG" to "RIME," and that this anonymous redactor borrowed from Ariosto.

Bentley's analysis has not been accepted by mainstream scholars.


At 11:08 AM, Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

Sometimes "translates" means "paraphrases," but, even so, it would be a rather poor choice on Cheney's part in light of the term’s more usual meaning for the same context.

I would translate literally the Italian of cosa non detta in prosa mai né in rima as "something not said in prose ever or in rhyme." Milton's "unattempted" for detto instead of the more literal "said" is a nice touch, but it still falls in the realm of "translation" where Spenser's use of the topos more clearly does not.

At 11:16 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Stephen, thanks for the literal translation.

On the issue of "unattempted," one of the Milton Listservers who wishes to remain anonymous has helped out:

In treating the many topics typical in the Exordium, Curtius** first treats the topos "I bring things never said before," which "appears even in ancient Greece." Curtius cites Choerilus. He then cites passages in: Virgil, Horace, Manilus, the poet of the Aetne, Statius. And Dante, who could "rightly" say that "in his _Monarchia_ he wished to present truths which others had not yet attempted ("intemptatas ab aliis ostendere veritates": I, 1, 3)." And in the _Paradiso_ (II, 7): "L'acqua ch'io prendo già mai non si corse."

So, Jeffery, Fowler's ref. to Curtius page 85, mentioned in your gypsy text, helps with "things unattempted yet."

**European Lit. and the Latin Middle Ages

Looks to me as though Milton might have altered Ariosto by way of Dante.

Jeffery Hodges

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