Milton and the Classics

David Hopkins

in John Milton

Published by British Academy

Published in print August 2010 | ISBN: 9780197264706
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734557 | DOI:

Series: British Academy Original Paperbacks

Milton and the Classics

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  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)


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This chapter discusses John Milton's acquaintance with classical literature, which began early and continued throughout his lifetime. Between 1615 and 1620, Milton entered St. Paul's, which was founded by John Colet, a friend and disciple of Erasmus. St. Paul's was heavily influenced by Erasmus's humanist principles, which centred on a thorough and actively practical engagement with classical literature and civilization. Prior to his education in St. Paul's, Milton was home tutored, which centred on the elements of classical learning. From 1625, Milton continued his studies at Christ's College, Cambridge. During these periods of educational quest, Milton honed his knowledge of classical literature and languages. He mastered Greek and Latin, and acquainted himself with the works of Latin and Greek poets. Even at the onset of his blindness, Milton maintained his acquaintance with the classical literature; he taught his daughter Greek and Latin so she could read to him in those languages. His convictions were centrally grounded in the classics; for instance, his republicanism was grounded in Roman precedent. Milton worked in Latin, and his English poems were steeped in classical forms such as imagery, rhetoric, and allusions. Three of his major works were written in mainstream classical genres: twelve-book epic, pastoral, and Aristotelian tragedy. Milton's poetic language was saturated at the local level of vocabulary, syntax, and metaphorical resonance with Greek and Latin languages.

Keywords: classical literature; classical learning; Greek and Latin; Greek poets; classical forms; twelve-book epic; pastoral; Aristotelian tragedy; poetic language

Chapter.  7433 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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