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Dante's Influence on Milton

Author(s): Oscar Kuhns


Source: Modern Language Notes, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Jan., 1898), pp. 1-6
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2917074
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MODERN LANGUAGE NOTES.
Baltimiiore, January, 1898. ever, were cheered by a knowledge of his
glory as a poet; Dante died in obscurity and
his greatest work was known only after his
DANTE'S INFLUENCE ON MILTON.
death. Even in the order of their compositions
MR. MASSON in his life of Milton expresses we may flnd some resemblance between Dante
himself in no sparing terms concerning the and Milton. The earliest work of each was lyr-
efforts which have been made to prove that ical, and the Canzoniere may be compared to
Milton borrowed largely from his predeces- i? Penseroso and L'Allegro, and the Vita
sors. It certainly is not my purpose here to Nuzova to Comus; wlhile the De Monarchia
cast the slightest doubt on Milton's originality(in which are discussed the relations between
in the conception and carrying out of the Churchi and State) may be compared to The
Paradise Lost, but that the poem shows Reason of Church Government and other po-
many traces of the influence of other great litical and religious tractates of Milton. The
poets, at least in language, metaphors and resemblance between the Divina Coinmedia
certain ideas, cannot be disputed. Mr. Mas- and Paradise Lost will be discussed at length
son himself admits this and says: later.
" Original as the poem is, original in its entire We may assume onl a priori grounds that
conception, anid in every portion and passage, Milton would be attracted to the study of
it is full of fiakes,-we can express it noother- Dante. That he did know his works thoroughly
wise,-full of flakes from all that is greatest
in preceding literature, ancient or modern."' is proved by a variety of evidence, such as
definiite meention, translations of certain passa-
The subject of Milton's indebtedness to
ges, and more or less direct references. In
Dante has not as yet been treated, as far as I
the Reforination in England he translates the
am aware, anid this fact may be my excuse
lines in the Inferno2 on the gift of Constan-
for discussing the subject somewhat ih- detail.
There is no question as to Mlilton's acquaint- tine to.Sylvester:-
ance with Dante. He began the study of Ah Constantine, of how much ill was cause
Not thy conversion, but those rich domains
Italian in I632 and is said by his biographers
That the first wealthy pope received of thee,
to have been saturated with Dante, Petrarch,
Tasso and Ariosto. In I638 he went to Italy, and in the sonnet to Mr. H. Lawes, "on the
and spent the months of Atigust and Septem- publishinlg hiis airs," the last three lines contain
ber in Florence, the birth-place of the Divine a reference to that beautiful scene in Purga-
Poet. tory,3 where the poet's friend Casella sings
There is a certain interest,-if no particular one of Dante's owIn songs;-
value,-in noting the general points of resem- " Dante shall give Fame leave to set thee higher
blance between the two great religious poets Than his Casella, whom he woo'd to sing,
Met in the milder shades of Purgatory."
of Italy and England, in life, character and
literary activity. Both were scholars, versed So too in Lycidas the indignation of St.
deeply in all the learning of their day; both Peter,-
were profoundly religious, stern and severe in " The pilot of the Galilean lake,"-

their condemniation of sin, and indignant at in general tone seems to have been suggested
the corruption of the Church. Both were in- by Paradiso xxvii, 22-27, and 40 ff. In both
tensely patriotic and gave themselves up with- the English and the Italian we find reference
out reserve to serve what they considered the to the keys of St. Peter and to the "grim
best interests of their country. Both passed wolf with privy paw " who
the latter half of life in hardship and suffer-
2 Ahi Constantin, di quanto mal fu matre,
ing, the one an exile and a beggar, the other Non la tua conversion, ma quella dote
blind. The declining years of Milton, how- Che date prese il primo ricco patre,
Xix, II5-II7.
Milton's Poetical Works, edited by David Masson, vol.
ii, p. 55. 3 Purg. ii, xo6 ff.

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3 January, I898. MODERN LANGUAGE NOTES. Vol. xiii, No. i.

"Daily devours apaco and nothing sed; 4 reasoni to believe that his determination to do
wliile both end witli a prophecy of coming somiiethlinlg miore wortlhy of his geniius than he
punishment,- hlad hiitherto 'done may have been still further
But that two-handed engine at the door strengthened by his knowledge of a similar
Stands ready to smite once and smite no more; determination on the part of Dante after the
and deatlh of Beatrice. ln the Introduction to
Ma l'alta provvidenza, che con Scipio
Book iii of the Reason of Church Govern-
Difese a Roma la gloria del mnondo, inent, he promises to unldertake a,poem far in
Soccorr4 tosto, si com'io concipio.S advanice of anything he had yet written, and
The lines, proclaims his purpose, with the help of the
TIhe hungry sheep.look up and are not fed, Eternal Spirit " who can enriclh with.,all utter-
But, swoln with wind and the rank mist they draw, anice and knowledge," to prepare himself for
Rot inwardly. his great task by
are a free translation of the lines in Paradiso " industrious and select reading, steady. ob-
xxix, 106-IO7,- servationi, inisiglht into all seemnly and gener-
SI che le pecorelle, che. non sanno, ous arts and affairs; till wlhich in some ineas-
Tornan, dal pasco,pasciute di vento. ure be compassed, at mine own peril and
cost, I refuse not to sustain this expectation
The chief evidence of Dante's influence on from such as are not loth to lhazard so much
Miltoni naturally shows itself in the Paradise credulity upon the best pledges that I can
Lost. That Milton deliberately souglht a give them."
model uipon which to build the poem he had In in general temper there seems to be a remark-
minld is proved by the passage in 7'he Reason able similarity lhere with the closing lines of
of Chuerch Governmnent in which lie describes Dante's Vita ANtova:
his doubts as to whether he should imitate the
appresso a questo sonetto apparve a me una
epic form exemplified by Homer, Virgil, imiirabil visionie, nella quale vidi cose, che mi
Tasso and Job, or the dranma of Sophocles fecero proporre di non dir pia di questa be-
and Euripides, or the pastoral drama as in the nedetta, inifino a tanto che io non potessi pifi
Song of Solomon, or the Apoctlypse of-Saint
(legnamente trattare di lei. E di venire a ci6
io studio quanto posso, si com' ella sa verace-
John. As Mr. Masson says, this passage is the mente, sicch6, se piacere sarA di Colui, per
record of Milton's meditations and hesitations cui tutte le cose vivotlo, che la mia viLa per al-
witlh himself over his great project.6 In view quanti anni perseveri,spero di dire di lei quello
of this frank confession concerning a model che mai non fu detto d'alctina. E poi piaccia
a Colui, cli' 6 sire della cortesia, che la mia
to imitate, we may take it for granted that anima se ne possa gire a vedere la gloria della
the Divina Commnedia had not occurred to sua donna, cio6 di quella benedetta Beatrice
Milton as imitable. Otherwise there would che gloriosamente mira nella faccia di Colui,
qu2i estper omnnia sacula benedictus.
lieve been some mention of it in the above
list. It must ever be remiembered in discussions of
Indeed Dante's poem is not such a one as this sort that mere resemblances cannot al-
could be well imitated in general plan, ut- ways be taken as indications of imitation or
terly unlike, as it is, the regular conventiorial reference. Much must be attributed to the
epic of Homer, Vergil, and Tasso. Hence general stock of ideas and to what I have ven-
the omission of it in the above list does not tured to call elsewhere the mnateriafpoetica of
prove that Mtilton was unacquainted with it the
at time.7 To such I attribute the general
the time. On the contrary there seems to be similarity between the universe of Dante and
Milton, both based on thle Ptolemaic system.8
4 Cf. In vesta di pastor lupi rapaci
Si veggion di quassb per tutti i paschi
7 The malicious accusations of Lauder and the exaggera-
Par. xxvii, 55-56.
ted importance attributed to slight coincidences between
5 Par. xxvii, 6I-63. Milton and other poets by Todd and Edmundson and others,
6 Later he jotted down a list of one hundred and eight should warn us to be cautious in such matters. See Masson,
subjects as suitable for dramatic treatment, of which sixty " Introduction to Paradise Lost," section iv.
are from the Scriptures and thirty-three from British history.
8 To be more precise, Dante follows the older Ptolemaic
Here also no mention is made of Dante. System,-Milton adopts the Alphonsine.

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5 January, I898. MODERN LANGUAGE NOTES. Vol. xiii, No. I. 6

To such also may perhaps be attributed the One of the most striking points of resem-
resemblance between the Earthly Paradise of blance between the Divina Cominedia and
Dante and the Garden of Eden of Milton. the Paradise Lost is the discussion of ques-
Here, lhowever, I am inclined to believe that tions of theology, philosophy and science,
the memory of Dante's divinely lovely land- wlhich is to a certain extent a characteristic of
scape had no little inflience on Milton's long- both. Thus in Book viii of Paradise Lost,
er and more modern description. Both are Adam inquires concerning the celestial motions
on the top of a high plateau, steep and and is answered in detail by Raphael. Even
inaccessible. While,ofcourse,the use of groves the phenomenon of the " spots on the moon,"
and meadows, clear streams, enamelled flow- which occupies so large a space in the ii.Canto
ers and singing birds, form the natural mate- of Paradiso, is also explained by the Angel.
rial for such descriptions, yet a closer exami- The concluding words of the latter to the
nation of the details of both passages, reveals effect that man should be " lowly wise " and
a number of interesting resemblances. IIshould Th' not be too eager to know of heavenly
eternal sprinig " of Millton in the " primavera things which are "too high" for him "to
sempre" of Dante. "The Graces and the know what passes there," since it is not essen-
Hours in dance " find a parallel in the tial for the performance of man's duty to know
" Ninfe che si givan sole ;" the exact truth of all these theories of celes-
so Milton's lines tial motions,-
" Not that fair field Solicit not thy thoughts with matters hid,
Of Enna, where Proserpin. gathering flow'rs Leave them to God above, him serve and fear,-
Herself a fairer flower, by gloomy Dis
remind us of the similar warning by Beatrice
Was gather'd, which cost Ceres all that pain
To seek her througih the world " against subtilizing theorists, especially preach-
P. L. iV, 268 ff. ers, who neglect the plain and simple lessons
make use of the same fable to illustrate a of the Gospel, in order to gain applause by
similar description as DLante's discussing topics far above their power to
" Tu mi fai rimembrar, dove e qual era
comprehend.
Proserpinia nel tempo che perdette Voi non andate gii per un sentiero
La madre lei ed ella primavera." Filosofando; tanto vi trasporta
Pufrg XXViil, 49. L'amor dell' apparenza e il suo pensiero
Compare further,-
Per apparer ciascun s'ingegna, e face
"The birds their quire apply"
Sue invenzioni, e quelle son trascorse
with
Dai predicanti, e ii vangelio si tace, etc.
Tanto che gli augelletti per le cime
Par. xxix, 85 ff.
Lasciasser d'operare ogxi lor arts,

anid, to come down to single words or expres- The general form of these discussions in the
sions,-compare the " gentle gales," and the Paradise Lost is like that of the Divina Com-
" attune the trembling leaves," of Milton media. The questions asked by Adam, the
witlh Dante's " soave dolce, "aura dolce," satisfaction felt at the information given, the
" le fronde tremolando;" new doubts that arise,and the thirst for knowl-
and edge never satisfied, ever desiring more and
"le foglie more, remind us involuntarily of Dante in his
Che tenevan bordone alle sue rime."
conversations with Vergil and Beatrice. It is
The important point to remember here is that not necessary to give more than a few exam-
all these parallels occur in the space of a few ples lhere. Thus compare the following passa-
lines and in the description of the same place. ges.
No one, moreover, who has felt the beauty of Led on, yet sinless, with desire to know,-
Dante's landscape will think it unreasonlable
as one whose drought
to suppose that Milton had his mind charged
Yet scarce allay'd still eyes the current stream,
with the details thereof, or that reminiscences Whose liquid murmur heard new thirst excites;
thereof should be in his mind while writing P. L. vii, 6I ff.
his own poem. What thanks sufficient, or what recompense

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7 January, I898. MODERN LANGUAGE NOTES. Vol. xiii, No. I. 8

Equal have I to render thee, divinie been something more than mere coincidence
Historian ? Who thus largely hast allay'd
in the use by Milton of
The thirst I had of knowledge,
" perpetual storms
P. L. viii, s ff.
Of whirlwind and dire hail,"-

and the wretched souls who


Something yet of doubt remains,
Which oinly thy solution can resolve " starve in ice
lb. 13-14. Their soft ethereal warmth and there to pine
Immovable, infixt and frozen round."
Ed io cui nova sete ancor frugava
Purg. xviii, 4. So, too, Dante may have colored, if not sug-
Maestro, il mio veder s'avviva gested, the references to the " harpy-footed
Si nel tuo lume, ch'io discerno chiaro furies, "
Quanto la ttia ragion porti o descriva, "Medusa with Gorgonian terror guards
lb. XO-Is The ford"

"Io son d'esser contents pi tl digiuno and the line


Diss'io, che se mi fossi pria taciuto,
" Rocks, caves, lakes, fens, bogs, dens, and shades of death"
E pihl di dubbio nella mente aduno,"
Purg. xv, 58-6o. sums up many of the fearful aspects of the
Milton's idea,-(referring to the freedom Iniferno. Of course, many of these details
of the will) were due to Vergil anid the Classical autliors,
"if I foreknew but I believe that the Divina Coinmedia was
Foreknowledge had no influence on their fault,"- to some extent in Milton's mind as he wrote
P. L. iii, x17. his description of Hell.
pressed more pictturesquely by Dante as Other points of resemblance are the uncon-
lows:- querable defiance of Satan and Capaneus.
Tutta e dipinta del cospetto eterno. Cf.
Necessitt perb quindi non prende,
That glory never shall his wrath or might
Se non come dal viso, in che si specchia,
Extort from me (Par. Lost, i, ixo);
Nave che per corrente gih discende,
Par. xvii, 39-42. and

The discussion of the beneficent influence of So Giove stanchi il suo fabbro,-

the obliquity of the ecliptic in producing the E me saetti dl tutta sua forza,
periodicity of the seasons is found in both Non ne potrebbe aver vendetta allegra-
Dante and Milton:- Ixf. xiv, Sa-6o.
Some say he bid the angels turn askance Looking down from sky upon the earth far
The poles of earth
below:-
Else had the spring
From hence no cloud, or, to obstruct his sight,
Perpetual smil'd on earth with verdant flow'rs
Star interpos'd, however small he sees,
Equal in days and nights, except to those
Not unconform to other shining globes,
Beyond the polar circles.
Earth, and the garden of God, etc.
P. L. x, 668 ff.
Par. Lost, V, 257.
Vedi come da indi si dirama
Si ch'io vedea di lU da Gade il varco
L'obbliquo certhio
Folle d'Ulisse, e di qua presso il lito
Nel qual si fece Europa dolce carco.
E se la strada lor non fosse torta, E piu mi fmra discoverto il sito
Mqlta virtti nel ciel sarebbe in vano, Di questa aiuola; ma il sol procedes
E quasi ogni potenza quaggith morta. Sotto i miei piedi.
Par. x, 13 ff Par. xxvii, 82.

The differences between Milton's Hell and Also,-


L'aiuola
Dante's Inferno are great,-the former being
oni a larger scale, vaguely described and im- Tutta m'apparve da'colli alle foci
pressive in the use of vast distances; the lat- Par. xxii, xs5.
ter being definitely outlined, minutely de- The foul monster Sin in Paradise Lost ii, 76I,-
scribed and almost geometrical in its details. especially her beauty to those to whom " fa-
Still it seems to me as if there must have miliar grown " she

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9 January, I898. MODERN LANGUAGE NOTES. Vol. xiii, N.. i.

" pleased and with attractive graces won Th' infernal doors, and on their hinges grat
The most averse. "- Harsh thunder.
P. L. ii, 879.
reminds uis of the siren (symbol of avarice,
E quando fMr ne' cardini disterti
gluttony and licentiousness) in Purg. xix,
"Io la mirava, Non ruggib sl, ne si mostrb si acra
E lo smarrito volto Tarpeia
Come amor vuol, cosi le colorava,- Purg. ix, 133.
lines IO ff.
Hell trembl'd at the hideous name, and sigh'd
E qual meco si ausa From all her cares.
Rado sen parte, si tutto l'appago- P. L. ii, 788.
lines 23-24.9
La terra lagrimosa diede vento.
In the change of the fallen angels to snakes I'f i, @33
in Book x, of course, Milton found the first Things unattempted yet in prose or rime.
suggestion in Ovid, but the language used P. L. i, I6,

seems to point to some influence on the part L'acqua che io prendo giammai non si corse.
Par. ii, 4.
of Dante also.
Cf. Also Vita Nuova,-
He would have spoke Spero di dire di lei quello che
But hiss for hiss return'd with forked tongue Mai non fu detto d'alcuna.
To. forked tongue. dxliii.
P. L. x, s27; With radiant light, as glowing iron with fire,
E la lingua, che avea unita e presta If metal, part seem'd gold, part silver clear.
Prima a parlar, si fende Non altrimenti ferro disfavilla
Che bolle.
Si luggi sufolando per la valle. Par. xxviii, 89.
Inf. xxt, 033. Qual ferro che bogliente esce del fuoco.
Scorpion and Asp, and Amphisbaena dire, 1id, i, 60.
Cerastes horned, Hydros and Ellops drear, accesi
And Dipsas.
Che ferro pit non chiede verun' arte.
Chelidri, jaculi e faree IXf. iX, 120&
Produce, e cencri con amfesibena
Pareva argente 11 d'oro distinto-
Ixf. xxiv, 86. Par. xviii, 96.
Compare further the golden stairs to Heaven Satan's spear,-
(P. L. iii, 501 ff), with the " scala celeste " in to equal which the tallest pine
Paradiso xxi, 23 ff. and the grove Hewn on Norwegian hills, etc.
"laden with fruit like that P. L. i, 292.
Which grew in Paradise,"- La faccia sua mi parea lunge e grossa

Whereon the lost souls gazing are Come la pina di San Pietro a Roma,
lnf. xxix, 58.#
"parcht with scalding thirst and hunger fierce," Thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks
In Vallombrosa.
with the mystic trees in Purgatory, at the
P. L. i, 302.
sight of which the spirit who here expiates
Come d'autunno si levan 1e foglie.'0
the sin of gluttony,- Inf. iii, us2.
In fame e in sets si rifk santa.
Blossoms and fruits
Purg. xxiii, 66.
with gay enamell'd colours mixt.
In regard to resemblances in diction, meta- P. L. iv, 248.

phor and ideas, the list is large. Some are Oro ed argento fino e cocco e biacct
doubtless due to mere coincidence; others,
Fresco smeraldo, etc.
however, to my mind are more or less con- Purg. vii, 73.
scious imitations on the part of Milton. The
Levell'd his evening rays
following may serve as examples. P. L. iv, 543.
on a sudden op'n fly
Contra i reggi serotini.
With impetuous recoil and jarring sound Purg. xv, 141.

9 Cf. further lines, 31 ff. -lo Cf. Vergil, .Xeid vi, 3o9-3x2.

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II jZanu{ary, I898. MODERN LANGUAGE NOTES. Vol. xiii, No. I. 12

and twilight gray which, arrived at Arezzo, and disgusted at


Had in her sober livery all things clad. their cturrish character,-
P. L. iv, 598.
"a lor, disdegnosa, torce il muso."
Fosse orizzonte fatto d'un aspetto .-I
Purg. xiv, 48.
Purg. xxvii, 7I.
In P. L. x, 89I, Eve is called "this fair
Now glowed the firmnament
With living sapphire. defect of Nature;" so too an ugly body in
P. L. iv, 6o4. the Convilo iii, 4,-is said to be due to a
battlements adom'd peccato del/a natnra. Venus in P. L. xi,
Of living sapphire.
589 is "Love's harbiinger, "-while in Purg. i,
il, 1049
i9,-we find it spoklen of as
Dolce color d'orlental zaffiro.
Lo bel piaiieta che ad amar conforta.
Purg. i, I3.
While thus he spake, th'angelic squadron bright The dlescriptioni of storm and flood in P. L.
Turn'd fiery red. xi, 737, 6. seems to show reminiscetntial or
P. L. iv, 977.
coincidenital resemblances to Dante's famlous
Di quel color, che per lo sole avverso
description in Pirg. v, iog ff.
Nube dipinge da sera e da mane,
In conclusion, I miiay say that in writinig this
Vid'io allera (that is, at words of St. Peter) tutto il
ciel co perso. article nmy purpose lhas niot been to prove in
Par. xxvii, 28. every case cited that Milton directly or in-
A wilderness of sweets. directly borrowed fromIi Dante, but simply to
P. L. V, 294. bring together wlhat seemed to me more or
Ma di soavitl di mille odori,
less striking resemblanices between the two
Vi faceva un incognito indistinto,
poets. That Milton was influenced by Dante
Purg. vii, 80.
can, I thlinlk, admiiit of no doubt. The extent
And what surmounts the reach
Of human sense, I shall delineate so, of this influence will be a matter of opinion
By lik'ning spiritual to corporal forms. on the part of those who examitie the evidence
P. L. v, 57I. in the case. My function has been to supply,
Cosi parlar conviensi al vostro ingegno as well as I knew how, the materials which
may serve as a basis for suchl opinions.12
e piedi e mano
OSCAR KUHNS.
Attribuisce a Dio, ed altro intende.
Par. iv, 40. Wesleyan University.
Therefore eternal silence be their doom.
P. L. vi, 384.
ARISTOTLE AND MODERN
Non ragioniam di lor ma guarda e passa.
17f. iii, 5I. TRAGEDY.
So steers the prudent crane
THE fact that Aristotle was a scientist who
Her annual voyage, borne on winds.
P. L. vii, 430. took the whole field of knowledge for hiis
E conme i gru van cantando lor lai province has become trite with repetition, so
Facendo in aer di sa luaga riga. thiat it falls upon our ears as a meaniiigless
Inf. v, 46.
phrase. Yet it is a truth whichl we must con-
What seem'd fair in all the world seem'd now
Mean, or in her sunim'd up.
stantly bear in minid if we wislh really to un-
P. L. viii, 472. derstand the meaning and the permanent value
Ella e quanto di ben pub far natura; of his Poetics. For, in this little book, which
Per esempio di lei belta si prova. preserves to us nearly all that we know of his
La Vita Nuova, 0 xix. aesthetic theory, Aristotle has the same pre-
The personification of the sun, turning sud-
12 Lowell in a letter written at Whitby, points out what
denly his course, at the " tasted fruit" of he considers a strong influence of Dante on Milton's versifi-
Adam and Eve, "as from Thyestean banquet cation, which he says he is conviiuced, was mainly modeled

(P. L. 688) " is like that of the river Arno, on the Italian and especially on the Divina (Contmedia.
" Many, if not most of his odd constructions are to be
II. Cf. also,- sought there, rather than in the Ancients." Letters of
7ames Russell Lowell, vol. ii, p. 386. This seems to me to
Night's hemisphere had veil'd the horizon round.
P. L. ix, 52. be an exaggerated statement of the facts.

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