Sunday, June 28, 2009

Milton's Pindar

The Intellectual Development of John Milton by Harris Fletcher, 1961, in two volumes, is the most fascinating work on Milton that I've encountered so far. It contains extensive descriptions of the minute details which bring his experience to life, such as the long investigation as to the probable route of Milton from London to Cambridge as a student, and what the university town must have looked like to the arriving traveler. It outlines the general state of education in London in his day, including a survey of the available Greek grammars, and describes what we know in particular about his education. And it provides vivid accounts of daily and educational life at Cambridge in the seventeenth century.

Fletcher also describes Milton's copy of Pindar. He purchased it in 1629, and read it extensively during his vacation in 1630. In fact, it is the most heavily annotated of his books that we possess. It was the edition of Johannes Benedictus, King's Professor of Greek at Samur, published in 1620 as Pindari Olympia, Pythia, Nemea, Isthmia, a square quarto of 756 pages of text and 54 unnumbered pages of Index Rerum et Verborum. The book is now at Harvard.

The Greek is accompanied on the left by a Latin paraphrasis and a metaphrasis on the right. Milton left extensive notes on the blank sheets before the title page, and in the margins of the text. There is a description of the book in Library of Harvard University Bibliographical Contributions, n.6, edited by Justin Winsor, 1879, and in a subsequent edition many of his notes have been transcribed (but not all). His notes are often text critical, some attributed to other editors, while some seem to be his own emendations; there are also extensive quotations from other poets which he wished to compare or use to explain certain passages. There are attempts to date his notes, most substantially based on the evolution of his form of the epsilon. Fletcher's work contains a good introduction to the subject, which is just a beautiful wave in an ocean of learning about Milton's education and thought.