Introduction. Milton probably composed this pastoral elegy for his best friend, Charles Diodati, in the fall of 1639, several months after returning from his extended tour of Europe, and about fourteen months after Diodati was buried on August 27, 1638. The pastoral tone and theme evoked the poetry of Theocritus, Bion, Moschus and Virgil, especially Eclogue 7, from which Milton borrowed the pastoral name Thyrsis and adapted his refrain.

Charles Diodati and John Milton had been intimate friends since they were schoolboys at St. Paul's in London. Several letters they wrote to each other, Charles in Greek and Milton in Latin, survive and can be found in the Yale Complete Prose Works, volume 1. Elegies 1 and 6 and Sonnet 4, from 1645 Poems, were also addressed to Diodati.

The translation follows that of Walter MacKellar with a few changes based on consulting The Columbia Milton and Merritt Y. Hughes.

Thyrsis. The name Milton chooses for his persona is also that of the pastoral singer in Theocritus's Idyll 1, who sings a lament for Daphnis. (Search Dartmouth Library Catalogue.) In Idyll 1, Thyrsis is acclaimed as having "brought to perfection the bucolic art." Thyrsis is also the persona taken by the Attendant Spirit in Comus.

Himera. A river in Sicily. By calling on the Himerides, nymphs of Himera, as his muses, Milton signals that this poem belongs to the Theocritean tradition of pastoral lament. We are asked to imagine a setting on a Sicilian hillside, the speaker and his beloved Damon as fellow shepherds sharing pastoral songs with one another.

Hylas. In Theocritus's Idyll 13, "Hylas the Beautiful" is drowned by amorous water nymphs. (Search Dartmouth Library Catalogue.) See Milton's Elegy 7.24.

Bion. Bion, who wrote the Lament for Adonis, is the subject of Moschus's Lament for Bion, the locus classicus of the pastoral elegy mourning the death of another poet. (Search Dartmouth Library Catalogue.) Diodati was not a poet by vocation, but he and Milton used to correspond in Latin and Greek verse.

Sicilian song. Theocritus, the father of the written pastoral tradition, was probably Sicilian. See Lycidas 133 and the opening of Virgil's Eclogues 4.

Twice. The wheat has ripened and been harvested twice since Charles Diodati (Damon) died. This may mean that two years have past, or, more likely, since Diodati was buried on August 27, 1638, and Milton probably composed this poem in the fall of 1639, only about fourteen months had passed, though there had been two ripenings and two harvests of wheat.

Tuscan city. Florence. Milton had spent roughly two months there toward the end of his European travels from 1638-39.

Go home unfed, my lambs, your troubled master is not free to tend you. Theocritus's Thyrsis also punctuatates his lament in Idyll 1 with a persistent refrain, as do Bion and Moschus in the Lament for Adonis and the Lament for Bion respectively. Milton's refrain is often supposed to echo Virgil's Eclogues 7, in which the Virgilian Thyrsis speaks the line, "Ite domum pasti, si quis pudor, ite iuvenci" (44): "Go home, my cattle, from your grazing go!" This eclogue is a singing contest between Thyrsis and Corydon, giving the allusion resonance when Milton's Thyrsis later describes the singing contest he joined in Florence.

him. Hermes as Psychopomp, conductor of the souls of the dead to Hades. Hermes, the son of Zeus, was also messenger of the gods. See Virgil's Aeneid 4.346.

silent. The "silent" souls in Hades remained silent forever. Thyrsis's fear is that Damon will be rendered silent in death. The whole poem might be seen as an attempt to engage Damon in conversation. Milton and Diodati valued greatly in their friendship the fact that they provided each other a "mind fit to converse with," as Diodati puts it in a 1626 letter to Milton. (French 105).

wolf. Superstition held that anyone seen by a wolf before seeing it first would be struck dumb. See Virgil, Eclogues 9.72 in which Moeris loses his voice because "The wolves eyed Moeris first."

Daphnis. Again, Thyrsis's concern seems to be preventing Damon's "silence." This passage echoes Menalcas's promise to the departed Daphnis in Virgil's Eclogues 5.97-99:

Long as the wild boar
Shall love the mountain-heights, and fish the streams,
While bees on thyme and crickets feed on dew,
Thy name, thy praise, thine honour, shall endure.

Pales. The goddess of shepherds and cattle; protectress of flocks.

Faunus. An ancient Italian god of woodlands and fields. Faunus is often identified with Pan, the amorous god of shepherds.

Palladian arts. The Latin is Palladiásque artes, or "and Palladian arts," the arts of Athena as goddess of learning and wisdom. Diodati had studied at Oxford and Geneva. Milton's friendship with him had begun when they were childhood schoolmates and was based to a great extent on mutual intellectual esteem.

elms. Horace's Epode 13 sets up a similar juxtaposition between the storm outside and warmth and company inside. (Search Dartmouth Library Catalogue.) Horace's solution, however, is wine, whereas Milton's is "pleasant conversation."

Pan takes his sleep. Pan sleeps at noon in Theocritus's Idyl 1.16. In Paradise Lost 5.230-231, Adam is also resting in the noonday shade when Raphael descends to engage him in a conversation that lasts for three books. Because Adam can have "no satiety" (Paradise Lost 8.216) from Raphael's words, he keeps the conversation going until they, too, lull the day to rest with talk.

Cecropian wit. In the Latin, Cecropios, or Cecropian (from Cecrops, first king of Athens) wit; famously incisive.

unwedded. "Wedding" vines to trees is the work of Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost 5.215-216 and of the Roman citizen awaiting Augustus's return in Horace's Odes 4.5.30.

turn their faces to their master. Thyrsis's neglect of his farm, and especially of his sheep, of which he reminds us with every iteration of the refrain, is a gross transgression of pastoral values. Here he claims that the grief that inspires it is shared by his sheep. The sheep may be sad for lack of food, but they may also be mourning Damon, as do herds of cattle for Daphnis in Theocritus's Idyl 1. See "Lycidas" 125.

Alphesiboeus. These mourners for Damon are conventional pastoral characters, appearing in various idylls by Theocritus. (Search Dartmouth Library Catalogue.)

Mopsus. Mopsus appears in Virgil's Eclogues 5, but this allusion may be to Mopso, who, in Torquato Tasso's Aminta, understands the language of birds. (Search Dartmouth Library Catalogue.)

Saturn's star. The planet Saturn was traditionally believed to cause sickness.

Idumanian river. The Chelmer River in Essex. Ptolemy in his Geography calls it Idumanius. It is not clear why Chloris is said to be its neighbor. Hughes speculates that it is because Chloris is meant to refer to an actual woman.

blandishments. None of the pastoral figures who speak to Thyrsis are successful at engaging him in dialogue. He never answers them, only continues his monologue to Damon.

Proteus. Proteus is "Shepheard of the seas" according to Spenser's Faerie Queene 3.8.30.1.

everlasting wound. That is humans, particularly men, who, according to Milton's reading of Genesis 2:18, were created lonely. In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle differentiates human friendship from connections among animals by claiming that human friendship depends upon "sharing in discussion and thought; for this is what living together would seem to mean in the case of man, and not, as in the case of cattle, feeding in the same place" (See Nicomachean Ethics 1170b). Aristotle sees "living together" as essential to human happiness, since, through conversation with a friend, that is, with "another self" (See Nicomacheon Ethics 1166a), a person attains the ultimately desirable end of perceiving his own existence. See Adam's complaint to God for a conversation partner in Paradise Lost 8.379-397.

buried Rome. Tityrus goes to Rome in Virgil's Eclogues 1.

Lucca. As Milton's headnote indicates, the Diodati family originally came from Lucca, the capital city of Tuscany before the rise of Florence.

Arno. The river running through Florence.

contest. Milton gave poetry readings at the Gaddian Academy in Florence, but these were not true poetic contests. Milton's Thyrsis, however, necessarily sees himself in a contest with other poets. Virgil's Thyrsis, during his singing contest with Corydon in Eclogues 7, claims himself to be "the coming bard," a claim which Milton's persona seems to share as he later describes his preparations for epic works.

gifts. In return for the poems Milton recited for them, Milton's Italian hosts gave him books and manuscripts of their own. The gifts Thyrsis describes--baskets, bowls, and pipes are traditional pastoral gifts.

Dati and Francini. Carlo Dati and Antonio Francini were Florentine friends of Milton. Both wrote dedicatory poems which appeared in Milton's 1645 collection of Latin poems.

Lydian blood. Lydian Greeks were thought to be the original settlers in Tuscany. See Virgil's Aeneid 8.626.

beeches. The opening of Virgil's Eclogues 1 similarly personifies trees as auditors of poetry, as the "woods resound" with the name of "Fair Amaryllis."

Colne. A river in England.

Cassivellanus. Cassivellaunus, an ancient British chieftain whose territory included part of the Colne.

physician's art. Diodati was a medical student at Oxford at the time of his death.

new pipes. In the passage following, Milton's Thyrsis describes ideas for an epic poem he wishes to write. He has tried to play these themes on his shepherd's pipes (the traditional pastoral medium), but they seemingly cannot handle the grand sound of the new song.

forests. Toward the end of his Eclogues 10.64-65 the last eclogue, Virgil exclaims, "ye woods, away with you!" after announcing his own departure from the pastoral mode:

I will depart, re-tune the songs I framed
In verse Chalcidian to the oaten reed
Of the Sicilian swain.

Dardanian ships. The imagined epic would be an account of British history, beginning with the arrival of Brutus the Trojan, the legendary founder of Britain, to the straits of Dover. [Map of England.] Rutupiae is the name in Camden's Britannia, for the port of Richborough in Kent. Milton also hints at plans for a British epic in Mansus 89-96.

Imogen. Spenser's Faerie Queene 2.10.13.5 tells of "Inogene of Italy," wife of "Brute." But according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, she was from Greece, daughter of Pandracos. Shakespeare also imagines Imogen as a Roman/British princess in Cymbeline.

Brennus and Arviragus, and old Belinus. Spenser's Faerie Queene 2.10.40.9 reports that Brennus and Belinus, "kings of Britany," ransacked Rome and Greece and subjected France and Germany. Spenser also credits Arviragus, who fought against the legions of Claudius, as being "dred of Romanes" (See Faerie Queene 2.10.52.1-2).

Armorica. Armorica was the Latin name for contemporary Brittany, the northwestern extremity of France. In History of Britain 3 (C.E.10.118), Milton tells of a former British colony there.

fatal fraud. According to Malory in Le Morte d'Arthur, King Arthur was begotton by Uther Pendragon, who by virtue of Merlin's magic disguised himself as Igraine's husband, Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall.

my pipe. Milton's Thyrsis predicts that he will leave behind his pipe, traditionally the shepherd's instrument, metaphorically the pastoral mode, as he moves on to write his epic. In Virgil's Eclogues 7, Corydon prefaces his singing contest with Thyrsis with a promise that "my tuneful pipe/ Here on this sacred pine shall silent hang" if it proves inadequate for his poetic ambitions.

Ouse. The Ouse, a river in England. Here begins a list of rivers in England. See Spenser's extensive treatment of these and other rivers in Faerie Queene 4.11. [Map of England.]

Tamar. This river between Cornwall and Devonshire is famous for the mines along its valley.

Orkneys. A group of remote islands off the Northern extreme of Scotland. Britannica Online

bark of the laurel. The bark is Thyrsis's writing surface. Mopsus in Virgil's Eclogues 5 uses the same technique, composing his poem "On a green beech-tree's rind." The locus of the imagined epic has thus far remained within the palette of pastoral tools.

cups. Winners of pastoral singing contests often received an inscribed goblet as a prize. Most likely, imitating what they took to be ancient pastoral custom, Manso and other Italian poets gave the visiting Milton cups as prizes for the poems he recited for them.

his native city. Naples. The Latin is Chalcidicæ. The Chalcidian Greeks had colonized the Bay of Naples.

Manso. Giovanni Battista Manso, an Neopolitan poet whom Milton met during his Italian journey, and for whom he wrote the poem Mansus.

carving. The carving on the prize cups. The goatherd in Theocritus's Idyll 1 describes at length the carving on the bowl he has promised Thyrsis in return for his song.

Red Sea. In Exodus 4:21-30, the Hebrews crossed the Red Sea on their way to the land of Canaan.

phoenix. The phoenix is a legendary bird existing only one-at-a-time. It dies every five hundred years by self-immolation, then is recreated out of its own ashes. The phoenix is a powerful symbol of rebirth through death in both Christian and pagan traditions.

Aurora. The Roman goddess of dawn.

Olympus. Olympus, the home of the gods.

Lethean Orcus. The Latin here is Lethæo ... orco, Lethean Orcus. The Lethe is a river in Hades, from which the souls of the dead were compelled to drink and thereby forget their former lives. Orcus was the Roman god of infernal regions.

pure. Damon seems to be transmuted into pure spirit; In Paradise Lost 8.180-181 Adam calls Raphael "pure/ Intelligence of heaven."

befriend me. That is, look down at me, your old friend. Thyrsis seems to be seeking a new kind of friendship with Damon following his apotheosis. Perhaps he now hopes his friend, as pure spirit, will be "free" to converse with him in the "murmuring shade" by the Colne, as does Raphael in the shade with Adam.

name. "Gods were invoked by 'whatever name you wished to be called'" (Orgel and Goldberg).

Diodatus. The name means "given by God," as if Deo-dati. See "Deodatus" in Milto "Argumentum" above.

virgin's honours. Virgin's honours. In Revelation 14:1-4, the one hundred forty-four thousand (male) virgins on Mount Zion are the only ones who can learn the "new song" they sing to the Lamb. Milton also emphasizes this passage from Revelation while arguing the importance of chastity in An Apology for a Pamphlet.

palm. Revelation 7:9 depicts the heavenly host standing before the throne with palms in hand.

nuptials. Revelation 19:6-8 depicts the "marriage of the Lamb." See "Lycidas" 172-181.

thyrsis. The Latin is lyra mista. The last line also suggests Orgia Thyrso, or thyrsus, a staff wreathed with ivy, carried by Dionysus and his followers in Bacchic revels. The presence of this symbol of baccanalian debauchery at the height of Milton's ostensibly Christian vision of Zion has provoked divergent interpretations. This, combined with many other juxtapositions of pagan and Christian imagery throughout the poem's last movement, leaves ambiguous whether or not one system of symbols is being surbordinated to the other.