Coelum non animum muto? Milton's Neo-Latin Poetry and Catholic Italy

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Milton’s Elegiarum Liber, the first half of his Poemata published in Poems of Mr John Milton Both English and Latin (1645), concludes with a series of eight Latin epigrams: five bitterly anti-Catholic pieces on the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605, followed by three encomiastic poems hymning the praises of an Italian soprano, Leonora Baroni, singing in Catholic Rome. The disparity in terms of subject matter and tone is self-evident yet surprising in an epigrammatic series that runs sequentially. Whereas the gunpowder epigrams denigrate Rome, the Leonora epigrams present the city as a cultured hub of inclusivity, the welcome host of a Neapolitan soprano. In providing the setting for a human song that both enthrals its audience and attests to the presence of a divine power, Rome now epitomizes something other than brute idolatry, clerical habit or doctrine. And for the poet this facilitates an interrogation of theological (especially Catholic) doctrines. Coelum non animum muto, dum trans mare curro wrote the homeward-bound Milton in the autograph book of Camillo Cardoini at Geneva on 10 June 1639. But that this was an animus that could indeed acclimatize to religious and cultural difference is suggested by the Latin poems which Milton “patch [ed] up” in the course of his Italian journey. Central to that acclimatisation, as this chapter argues, is Milton’s quasi-Catholic self-fashioning. Thus Mansus offers a poetic autobiography of sorts, a self-inscribed vita coloured by intertextually kaleidoscopic links with two Catholic poets of Renaissance Italy and their patron; Ad Leonoram 1 both invokes and interrogates Catholic doctrine before a Catholic audience only to view the whole through the lens of a neo-Platonic hermeticism that may refreshingly transcend religious difference. Finally, Epitaphium Damonis, composed upon Milton’s return home, seems to highlight the potential interconnectedness of Protestant England and Catholic Italy, through the Anglo-Italian identity of its deceased subject, and through a pseudo-monasticism suggested by the poem’s possible engagement with the hagiography of a Catholic Saint. Perhaps continental travel and the physical encounter with the symbols, personages and institutions of the other have engendered in the Milton of the Italian journey a tolerance or, more accurately, the manipulation of a seeming tolerance to serve poetic and cultural ends.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMilton and Catholicism
EditorsThomas Corns, Ronald Corthell
PublisherThe University of Notre Dame Press
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

First anonymous reviewer:
Haan: a fine piece by the senior neo-Latinist in Milton studies.

Second anonymous reviewer:
Haan: Chapter 7 is ... a high-spot of the collection. Its argument that in his Latin poetry Milton’s is a ‘quasi-Catholic self-fashioning’ stressing ‘the potential interconnectedness of Protestant England and Catholic Italy’ is striking and is advanced with learning, clarity and insight. Its sensitive exploration of the paradox of Milton’s coupling of humanistically complimentary and tolerant address to Roman Catholic friends with fiercely Protestant partisanship demonstrates that there is much greater complexity to his poetic persona than the self-construction and self-presentation of the later works would suggest. The essay is always adroit and sure-footed, often critically acute and illuminating (as, for example, in its discussion of the adjective and adverb mollis and molliter in Mansus, or in the identification in n. 99 of hitherto unnoticed Virgilian echoes). It has the added merits of being very well written, precise and apt in its citation of evidence, and absolutely central to the concerns of the volume.


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