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 2/23/08
He doesn't go into detail in describing the "Frieze" (l. 716). Should he have? What might he have included on Hell's temple Frieze? That might be a good imaginative exercise for someone who wants so to internalize the text of PL that s/he truly goes beyond the mind of Milton. In any case, all he mentions is that the Frieze is "with bossy Sculptures grav'n" and "The Roof was fretted Gold" (716-17). "Fretted Gold," according to the OED is "Adorned with carving in elaborate patterns; carved or wrought into decorative patterns." Too bad he doesn't tell us all the intricacies of the patterns, but this is no "Book XVIII" of the Iliad, where the shield of Heracles is minutely described.
Milton uses the classic epic technique of comparison to tell us how great this temple was. Just as the speed of construction was compared favorably to the time it took to construct the pyramids, so the magnificence of the construction is next stressed. Neither Babylon nor "great Alcairo" (Cairo) had such magnificent temples. Then, he drops knowledge. The Cairo and Assyrian temples enshrined "Belus or Serapis their Gods" (720). We know of these divinities from ancient sources. But then we have a description of the marvelous temple:
"Th' ascending pile
Stood fixt her stately highth, and straight the doors
Op'ning thir brazen folds discover wide
Within, her ample spaces, o'er the smooth
And level pavement: from the arched roof
Pendant by subtle Magic many a row
of Starry Lamps and blazing Cressets fed
With Naphtha and Asphaltus yielded light
As from a sky" (722-30).
Our use of words in 2008 is so impoverished. When we look at the world "pile" in "ascending pile" (722), we only can think of an assemblage or assortment of something. But "pile" is "a stronghold, a castle" (OED, pile 3, def. 1). From 1609: "Arabia..a rich land,...replenished also with strong castles and piles.." The verb "discover" in l. 724 means "to afford a vew of, to show" (OED, s.v. def. 3b). The OED gives another Milton example of the use of "discover" in this way. "From those flames/ No light, but rather darkness visible/ Served only to discover sights of woe.." PL 1.62-64). For some reason, however, this picture doesn't "grab me" strongly. Maybe the lines are not as descriptive of the temple as his earlier ones are of Mammon, for example. In any case, the temple is built.
The Actual Architect
Though Mammon might have spurred them on to mine all the ore from the hill not far off, it was another spirit, Mulciber, who was the architect of this temple. Yet, before we get to him (line 740) we get the picture of the multitude of spirits entering the temple, some to praise the work and some to laud the architect. Then, for about seven lines, Milton introduces Mulciber without using his name. It is like the introduction one might receive on a grand occasion. "I now present to you a man known and loved by all, whose creativity over the course of 40 years has shaped the cinema, whose directorial skills and magnificent imagination has contributed vastly..etc.etc. etc." That is what is going on here. The hand of the architect was known in heaven because he had built many a "Tow'red structure high" (733). The "Scepter'd Angels" held their residence there and sat there as Princes to the Supreme King. I think that Milton is trying to describe sympathetically the heavenly work of Mulciber in order to evoke a certain amount of understanding or sadness for him. He had so much to lose, and he lost it, by supporting the errant and opposing spirits. But now he uses his skills in hell...
Then, in l. 740, we learn that the architect's name is Mulciber (Latin meaning is "smelter"). The OED doesn't have the word "Mulciber" in it, but it does have "mulciberian." It is defined as "of, relating to, or characteristic of Vulcan; resembling Vulcan." Vulcan is the god of fire and of metal-working, corresponding to the Greek Hephaestus. Milton indeed knew the name. From his Comus (1634) we have:
"Though he and his curst crew
Feirce signe of battail make, and menace high,
Or like the suns of Vulcan vomit smoak...."
After introducing Mulciber, Milton gives us 11 lines interpreting the life of this fallen spirit, with interesting results. He mimics his story on the [literal] "fall of Hephaestus" from Book I of the Iliad. In that work Hephaestus reveals how he became lame. At the climax of a domestic dispute between his mother Hera and Hera's husband Zeus (Zeus, however, wasn't Hephaestus' father), Hephaestus and Hera stood in defiance of Zeus. In a rage, Zeus grabbed Hephaestus by the foot and hurled him from the magic threshold of Mount Olympus to the earth far below. Here are the lines, spoken by Hephaestus:
"Once before when I was trying to help you, he caught me by the foot and flung me from the heavenly threshold. All day long from morn till eve, was I falling, till at sunset I came to ground in the island of Lemnos, and there I lay, with very little life left in me, till the Sintians came and tended me," Iliad I, 591-95.
With this story in mind, Milton writes about Mulciber. He tells it in the third person and talks about how he fell:
"From Heav'n, they fabl'd, thrown by angry Jove
Sheer o're the Chrystal Battlements: from Morn
To Noon he fell, from Noon to dewy Eve,
A Summers day; and with the setting Sun
Dropt from the Zenith like a falling Star,
On Lemnos th' Aegean Ile," (741-46).
But then, as interpreter par excellence (or kat'exochen), Milton decides to have some fun with the pagan story as told by Homer. He refers to it as the story "they relate" (746), and he says that by relating this they were "erring" (747). Why? Because:
"he with this rebellious rout
Fell long before" (747-48).
In other words, copying the device used by some of the early Christian interpreters of the pagan myths, he claims that the pagan story missed the timing by quite a while. Mulciber actually "fell" with Satan and the others long before there were humans on the earth. The Greek account, then, is a sort of shadow or imitation of the divine story--but the divine story, where Mulciber fell in "pre-creation" time, is the "right" one. But, then we return to our story. It helped Mulciber not a whit that he had built "in Heav'n high Towers" (749). To make matters worse, he wasn't able to call U-Haul and get all his "Engines" (i.e., an "artifice, contrivance, product of ingenuity"--his 'tools,' so to speak) out of Heaven before he was thrown headlong. He just has to start over with nothing in Hell (751).
I need one more essay to conclude my exposition of the text.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long