Tuesday, April 10, 2012

John Milton risks his security to call on Urania . . .

The Muses: Urania and Calliope (Detail)
Simon Vouet (ca. 1634)

This post says nothing original, but despite my obtuseness, I finally understood a minor point in Milton's 'prayer' to the muse Urania in Paradise Lost 7.23-39, in which Milton describes himself as having returned to earth from his visionary, muse-inspired, enraptured heavenly journey, wherein he had described through the angel Raphael the dreadful war in heaven between the rebel angels and those angels remaining loyal to God, which safely past leaves Milton more safe again on earth . . . except that he's not entirely safe:
Standing on Earth, not rapt above the Pole,
More safe I Sing with mortal voice, unchang'd
To hoarce or mute, though fall'n on evil dayes, [ 25 ]
On evil dayes though fall'n, and evil tongues;
In darkness, and with dangers compast round,
And solitude; yet not alone, while thou
Visit'st my slumbers Nightly, or when Morn
Purples the East: still govern thou my Song, [ 30 ]
Urania, and fit audience find, though few.
But drive farr off the barbarous dissonance
Of Bacchus and his Revellers, the Race
Of that wilde Rout that tore the Thracian Bard
In Rhodope, where Woods and Rocks had Eares [ 35 ]
To rapture, till the savage clamor dround
Both Harp and Voice; nor could the Muse defend
Her Son. So fail not thou, who thee implores:
For thou art Heav'nlie, shee an empty dreame.

Thomas H. Luxon, ed. The Milton Reading Room, April 2012.

Milton is composing these lines -- or in his conceit, receiving them directly from the muse Urania herself! -- during "evil dayes" that have "fall'n on" him, by which he means the loss of political security with the fall of the Puritan Republic and the return of royalty and their supporters, whom Milton compares to those revellers drunk on the wine of Bacchus who mob-like tore Orpheus asunder in their drunken enthusiasm, because Milton fears for his own life at the hands of the royal revellers, though he also expects better protection from 'Urania' -- as he here calls the Holy Spirit -- than the mythical Orpheus received from his illusory muse.

Despite his spoken fears, Milton is rather bold to speak them here in a poem that he surely knows will be scoured for a political message and subject to prying, hostile eyes -- he must know that some one or other of those revellers will not be so blind as not to see his political point.

Or not?

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At 5:50 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

still govern thou my Song, Urania, and fit audience find, though few

:-) A couple of years ago I used to cite these very verses under my avatar in a sci-fi blog, since "Urania" is the name of the sci-fi monthly series in which the novels I translate are published.

Anyway, Milton's words have probably been partly inspired by Dante's prayer - or rather St Bernard's prayer for Dante - to Virgin Mary at the end of the poet's heavenly journey, Paradiso 33:

"Thou Virgin Mother, daughter of thy Son
Still farther do I pray thee, Queen, who canst
Whate'er thou wilt, that sound thou mayst preserve
After so great a vision his affections.
Let thy protection conquer human movements

that are basically the only verses of Dante's Paradiso known by the average Italian.

In this prayer, the risks the poet will run in the society because of the bold things he wrote are not clearly mentioned, but he had already dealt with this subject in Paradiso 17, the whole Canto.

At 6:40 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Dario. I need to re-read Dante. I wish I knew Italian . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:45 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

the classic English translation I usually copy-paste from the Web is very well made, anyway

At 5:32 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

But not the same . . .

There is a site at one of the Ivy League schools that provides a translation and hyperlinks to the Italian, if I recall, along with notes.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:38 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Ivy League

Ivy was never fastened by its barbs
Unto a tree so ...


At 5:43 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You'll need to 'splain that one to me . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:46 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

simply a quote from Dante, Inferno 25, which sounds like a 'splanation of the phrase "Ivy League" :-D

At 6:41 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Ah . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:20 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...


I published (I think) two stories in either Urania or Millemondi. Can you see if you can locate them? Trasnlated into Italian by Guissppe Lippi, I believe. The titles of the stories are "Pins and Needles" and "The Wind Haunted by it's Own Ghost." Mondadori gave me a contract, I gave them my stories, and then never heard anything. Around 1991.

At 3:02 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Carter, this is a discovery! Giuseppe Lippi is - still nowadays - the editor for both series, as well as a friend of mine... or I should say, a former friend, since it is some year we don't keep directly in touch now, but I met him many times when I lived and worked in Milan. I will contact the staff and forward your request.

At 3:18 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

... and I did more than that: I published a post in the website Uraniamania, the meeting point of the collectors. They can trace back practically any data.


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