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Milton and Homer

"Written to Aftertimes"

by Gregory Machacek

Publication Year: 2011

This is the first full-length study of the relation between Milton and Homer, arguably Milton’s most important precursor. It is also the first study of a major interpoetic relationship that is responsive to the historicist critical enterprise, which has been dominant within literary study for the past 30 years, and engages the work of theorists of canon formation such as Barbara Herrnstein Smith and John Guillory. Most studies of the relation between one poet and another are wholly diachronic, examining the way in which brief, verbal recollections of the earlier poet—allusions—enhance or qualify the significance of passages in the later, alluding poet’s work. But this study goes beyond that, considering its focal poets within a synchronic framework that allows us to respond to the Homer of mid-seventeenth century England specifically rather than to some transhistorically unvarying Homer, thus revealing that Homer is important not only to the significance but also to the canonical status of Paradise Lost. Machacek not only examines the ways in which Homer enriches our understanding of Paradise Lost, but also argues that Milton was guided by the ways that Homeric epics were being reproduced in his time to “leave something so written to aftertimes as they should not willingly let it die.” The Homeric poems influenced Milton in his own ambition of composing an enduring work of literature, as Machacek details in chapters on the war in heaven as moral exemplum; on Milton’s negotiation of the contradictions inherent in the genre of Christian epic; on the relation of Paradise Lost to the emerging critical categories of originality and the sublime; and on the institution of the school, to which Milton entrusted the perpetuation of his epic. Milton’s approach to (and success at) securing canonical status for Paradise Lost provides important insights not only into his own artistry, but into the dynamics of literary canon formation in general. Milton and Homer will appeal to Miltonists, classicists, scholars of early modern literature, and those interested in the debate over the formation of the literary canon.

Published by: Duquesne University Press


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p. ix

I thank Mary Ann Radzinowicz and Piero Pucci for early guidance on this project. I am thankful to Al Labriola, John Mulryan, Susanne Woods, Christine Perkell, John King, and John Leonard for providing forums in which I could develop the ideas in the book. ...

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pp. 1-12

This book examines how the Homeric epics figured in the composition of Paradise Lost. Miltonists in the late twentieth century tended to see the influence of Homer on Milton’s epic as minimal, at least by comparison with that of Virgil. Davis P. Harding established the contemporary orthodoxy, claiming, “it must be clear to ...

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One “By Allusion Called”: Diachronic and Synchronic Intertextuality

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pp. 13-54

At the end of Paradise Regained, we are told three times within 20 lines that Satan fell from the tower where he tempted the Son: “Satan smitten with amazement fell” (4.562), “So . . . the Tempter . . . Fell” (4.569–71), “So Satan fell” (4.581). Because the word fell is repeated three times, and perhaps also because ...

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Two “Dire Example”: The War in Heaven as Admonitory Exemplum

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pp. 55-73

The most explicitly Homeric portion of Paradise Lost is surely the war in heaven, narrated in books 5 and 6 of Milton’s epic. It is no surprise, then, that allusions to Homer’s epics, especially the Iliad, are frequent within these books and that the episode can therefore illustrate in a particularly comprehensive way Milton’s ...

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Three “A Fabric Wonderful”: The Marvelous and Verisimilar in Milton’s Christian Epic

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pp. 75-92

In the previous chapter, I studied Milton’s relation to Homer by considering a single episode within Paradise Lost: the war in heaven. I now move to a dimension of this interpoetic relationship that manifests itself throughout the entirety of Milton’s epic. The discursive mechanism of canonization on which I focus is the phrase “Christian epic.” As Thomas Greene says, “from ...

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Four “From the First”: Conceptions of Origins and Their Consequences

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pp. 93-120

One of the primary discursive mechanisms by which Paradise Lost was established and has been maintained in the literary canon is the notion of originality. At least as early as 1704, in John Dennis’s Grounds of Criticism in Poetry, Paradise Lost was being canonized on the basis of its being “an Original Poem; that is to ...

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Five “Above th’Aonian Mount”: The Longinian Sublime in Paradise Lost

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pp. 121-135

Perhaps the primary discursive mechanism by which Paradise Lost came to be canonized was the term sublime. In the year of Milton’s death, Boileau published his translation of Longinus’s treatise Peri Hupsous along with his own Art of Poetry; together the two treatises are credited with initiating a critical vogue in ...

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Six “Instruct Me”: Institutional Considerations in Milton’s Evolving Literary Ambitions

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pp. 137-153

In 1642, in The Reason of Church Government, Milton introduces an extended digression in which he shares with his reader his literary ambitions. He indicates his desire to “leave something so written to aftertimes, as they should not willingly let it die” and offers a consideration of the genres in which he might compose ...

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pp. 155-164

Near the end of her comprehensive consideration of the dynamics of canon formation, Barbara Herrnstein Smith summarizes, in very broad strokes, her treatment of the factors that determine a work’s canonical fortunes: “Any object or artifact that performs certain desired/able functions particularly well at a given time for some community of subjects . . . will have an immediate ...

Appendix Milton’s Homer

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pp. 165-170


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pp. 171-188


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pp. 189-194

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705774
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820704470

Page Count: 204
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 794700794
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Milton and Homer

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Subject Headings

  • Milton, John, 1608-1674. Paradise lost.
  • Milton, John, 1608-1674 -- Sources.
  • Homer -- Influence.
  • English poetry -- Greek influences.
  • Intertextuality.
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