ABSTRACT

Milton's lifelong preoccupation with the Circe myth has not previously been given comprehensive analysis and, where noted, has been misjudged through exclusive reference to the allegorized Circe of Renaissance mythographers, an allegorical approach to brutishness Milton uniquely associates with political and psychological tyranny in his prose and continues to employ similarly in his last three major works. But the Renaissance literary tradition of Ariosto, Tasso, and Spenser went directly to the Homeric source, which depicted not merely the archetypal, swinish metamorphosis but two additional and progressively less embruting temptations, the second temptation of effeminating sex and the third of enervating idleness. Milton's primary use of Circe follows this tradition in distinguishing the three Homeric temptations and focusing upon the higher appeals, which his successive treatments reformulate in increasingly elevated moral terms. Elegy I defines the second, sexual temptation, its rural setting reappearing in L'Allegro, Lycidas, Paradise Lost (Satan's reaction to Eve), and Paradise Regained; the third temptation is defined as festivity and mirthful art in Elegy VI and as ignorant happiness in Prolusion VII. In Comus, these temptations are reformulated to include marriage and a devotional enjoyment of worldly good. Comus' temptation approximates Adam's Unfällen condition in Paradise Lost, and uxoriousness now constitutes the Circean temptation to needed patience. Finally, in Samson Agonistes, the regained patience which redeemed Adam becomes the ultimate temptation of Circe, a figure who has primarily embodied, for Milton, the temptation to renounce higher obligations for the simpler fulfillment of ordinary humanity.

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