Palin and Lalia
Theological Terms I
Theological Terms II
Theol. Terms III
Noso and Noce/Nocu
Milton, Book I (PL)
Oo and Ovi
Labors of Hercules I
Oblectation et al.
Dissimulare et al.
Acroama et al.
Tetrous et al.
Commeate et al.
Obsolete et al.
Subtle et al. I
Hesitate et al. (Ovid)
Excoriate et al. I
Excoriate et al. II
Bill Long 4/6/08
From Paradise Lost, Book I
Memorizing Milton's Paradise Lost is like hiking across the continent and stopping each few feet to understand the new and strange sights that you see. If you fly, you can get from San Francisco to New York in a matter of hours; if you drive, you can make it in four days; if you ride a bike, it can take you 40-50 days. But only if you walk will you discover many things that you can't really see in the other modes of travel. So it is with Milton. His language in PL is so dense and rich that unless you pause, take it in, and learn it by heart you are in danger of missing what he is saying. But just as hiking is not for everyone, so memorizing Milton is only for the most intrepid. But as I am memorizing Book I of PL, I came across some additional words which merit patient consideration. When put them together with these and these essays, you begin to see the value of going slowly in your study/reading. Five words to savor this morning are rout, dubious, career, Paynim, and Soldan. When we add these to frequent, discover, pandemonium and tons of others discussed in the other essays, we see that we not only don't really know our native tongue, but that we ought to get to work on it right away.
Milton's use of this word is most like the meaning in use today. He talks about the battle between Satan and God in these terms:
"His utmost power with adverse power oppos'd
In dubious Battle on the Plains of Heav'n
And shook his throne. What though the field be lost?"
Satan is, as it were, "overinterpreting" the threat he posed to God. In fact, the divine throne was not really shaken by him and his peers. Later Satan will say that God doubted the security of His throne from "the terror of this Arm" (I.113), but that is also false. Satan is trying to tell himself a story about his strength, a story not supported by what actually happened in the battle. In any case, we would not really speak of a "dubious" battle today. We talk about a "dubious explanation" (i.e., not likely), whereas the original meaning of the term was "objectively doubtful; uncertain; undetermined." The Latin word dubiosus means "doubtful." Thus, Satan characterizes the battle with God in heaven as something with uncertain results. This is consistent with an earlier usage--from 1548: "To abide the fortune of battayle, which is ever dubious and uncertayne." The results of battle are "dubious"--uncertain.
In the last section of Book I, we have the preparations for the conclave at Pandemonium, the demonic capitol in Hell. Just before that meeting, however, Milton describes the fall of Mulciber, who had fashioned all kinds of nice "Towers" in heaven before he, too, revolted with Satan. He was thrown through the heavens and earth, landing on Lemnos in the Aegean. Milton says that the pagan version of this story (in Homer) is wrong, but it hints at the truth:
"Thus they relate
Erring; for he with this rebellious rout
Fell long before...." (I.746-48).
I knew the word "rout" as a verb, to mean "defeat" or "subdue," and the noun would therefore mean a defeat, but "rout" is seemingly used differently here. I was almost overwhelmed to see that the OED had 10 different entries for "rout" as a noun and 10 for "rout" as a verb. This does not simply refer to different shades of meaning within the same signification, but different significations altogether. I don't have time or interest to go into them, but I learned that def. 1 of "rout 1" as a noun is "A company, assemblage, band, or troop of persons." I didn't realize that a "rout" in common law was "an assemblage of three or more persons proceeding to commit an unlawful act." In defending Nonconformity in religion, a 1682 writer could say: "Punish not Religious Assemblies of peaceable Men, under the odious names of Routs and Riots." With this background in mind, Milton's use of "rout" is crystalline. Satan and his band were a "rebellious rout" or band of fighters against God.
Career, Paynim, Soldan
I was in higher education for nearly two decades; I suppose almost no word was used more than "career" in those halls. A "career," as everyone knows, is "A person's course or progress through life" or, more specifically, "A course of professional life or employment." Thus, why go any further in checking out the word? Until we come to Milton, and here we find:
"(Though like a cover'd field, where Champions bold
Wont ride in arm'd, and at the Soldan's chair
Defi'd the best of Paynim chivalry
To mortal combat or career with Lance)," I.763-66.
We actually have our last three words for the day in these four lines but, as with most things in life, once you understand them thoroughly, things are easy. First, these words appear in a parenthesis, a rhetorical device called a "trope" by the ancient grammarians to denote an independent thought inserted into a narrative or poem. Then, looking at "career," we see that its origin is from the French carriere meaning "racecourse." The Latin word carrus means "wagon." Thus, a "career" was, in the first instance, "the ground on which a race is run, a racecourse; also the space within the barrier at a tournament." But its fourth meaning is a figurative one: "Rapid and continuous 'course of action, uninterrupted procedure.'" The verb is also illuminating. It means, figuratively, "to gallop, run or move at full speed" or "to charge (at a tournament)." Aha, now we have Milton's usage. The demons were assembling at Pandemonium, and their packed presence in the courtyards and halls of hell was reminiscent of another covered field--the field of combat. In these enclosed fields one is called "to mortal combat or career [i.e., "charging at full speed"] with Lance." Shakespeare used the word as a noun in a similar way: "Shall quips and sentences..awe a man from the careere [i.e., "course"] of his humour?" Much Ado, II.iii.250.
The words Paynim and Soldan are derived from "paganism." Paynim is called by the OED an "archaic" or "historical" term that simply means "pagan" or "heathen." We don't speak much more about pagans or heathens, but in the 17th century the word was very common. From 1637: "The Goths...burnt as many books of the ancient Paynims as they could find." Or, from 1713, in poetic speech: "Where..one Champion's Arms..Slay Paynims vile, that force the Fair.."
A Soldan is nothing other than the "Sultan," the historical term for the supreme ruler of one or other of the great Muslim powers or countries in the Middle Ages. The OED says that this was especially the case with the Sultan of Egypt, though I think a case could also be made for its reference to the Sultan of Turkey. In any case, the word could be spelled about seven different ways in English history (soudan, soudon, sowdon, sowdan, sowdayne, soudane, etc.) Now you know why there were no such thing as spelling bees in the early Modern period in England...
As with most learning in life, this essay was designed to push you a few steps further in your knowledge. Patient accumulation of knowledge will lead you to have a more precise and insightful mind--though you may have to trust me for years on that one...
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long