Monday, December 14, 2009


Two Phrases in Paradise Lost

Primo Levi, The Voice of Memory: Interviews, 1961-1987, tr. Robert Gordon (New York: The New Press, 2001), p. 146 (on his favorite writers):
I must confess my guilt: I prefer to stick to the tried and tested, to make a hole and then nibble away at it, perhaps for an entire lifetime, like woodworms when they find a piece of wood to their taste.
If I may compare the small (me) to the great (Levi), I've been nibbling away at Milton's Paradise Lost for many years, and I'm rereading it now. Two phrases recently attracted my notice: 3.730 (countenance triform) and 4.266 (universal Pan). In what follows, I only point out what is common knowledge.

In the first phrase (countenance triform, referring to the moon), Milton probably alludes to the diva triformis of (e.g.) Horace, Odes 3.22.4. See Nisbet and Rudd ad loc.:
In her capacity as a goddess of witchcraft and magic, Hecate was associated with the moon (RE 7.277 f.); on earth she haunted junctions where three roads met (Soph. TrGF 535, Burkert 171); and she was also a goddess of the underworld. So a triple form was assigned to her at least as early as the fifth century (Pease on Virg. Aen 4.511, Bömer on Ov. fast. 1.141), and she is often represented thus in Greek art (Roscher 1.1903 ff., LIMC 6.1.1014 ff., 6.2.661 ff.). Since Artemis/Diana was, for different reasons, a moon goddess (LIMC 2.1.689 f., 2.2.512 ff., Pease on Cic. Nat. deor. 2.68, she also, by a typical process of syncretism, became associated with Hecate as a goddess of crossroads and of the underworld (Roscher 1.1896 f., RE 7.2770 f., LIMC 2.1.686 ff.). Hence triformis came to refer to Diana's power in heaven, earth, and the underworld; cf. a coin of 43 BC illustrated by Beard-North-Price 2.15, and the three statues portrayed on a wall-painting in the 'House of Livia' on the Palatine (Simon 57 with pl. 69).
In the second phrase (universal Pan), Milton refers to the supposed connection between the name Pan and the Greek adjective πᾶς (all), which can be traced as far back as Homeric Hymn 19.47: They called him Pan because he delighted the hearts of all (Πᾶνα δέ μιν καλέεσκον, ὅτι φρένα πᾶσιν ἔτερψε).

Related post: Pagan Myth in Milton.

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