1. In Quintum Novembris was written while Milton was an undergraduate at Christ’s College, Cambridge, and printed the 1645 collection of his Latin verse, Ioannis Miltoni Londinensis Poemata, quorum pleraque intra Annum aetatis Vigesimum Conscripsit, Nunc primum Edita (printed at London by R. R. Prostant in 1645); it also appeared in the 1673 expanded reprinting of that volume, Ioannis Miltoni Londinensis Poemata, quorum pleraque intra Annum aetatis Vigesimum Conscripsit, Nunc primum Edita (printed at London by W. R. in 1673). NOTE 1 In both editions the title is accompanied by the words anno aetatis 17, indicating that the poem was written when he was seventeen, in 1626.
2. The result was an epyllion of 226 lines. If the poem were to be read as a narrative epic, it would have to be regarded as thoroughly unsatisfactory: the poem is so heavily mythologized that the events of human history are glossed over rapidly, the name of Guy Fawkes is never mentioned, and the poem is virtually incomprehensible to a reader unfamiliar with the facts of the Gunpowder Plot. NOTE 2 But Milton’s poem deserves to be categorized as an Alexandrian epyllion, an idiosyncratic genre which has its own conventions, raises different reader expectations, and deserves to be judged by different yardsticks. NOTE 3 This kind of epyllion delights in verbal scene-painting and the development of individual details of a story, with the writer sliding hastily over the rest if he treats it at all. A careful student of in Quintum Novembris, Macon Cheek, NOTE 4 analyzed the poem into four principal “movements” consisting of Satan’s initial flight over England and thence to Rome, a description of Rome as the lair of the evil Pope, the consistory convened by the Pope on the following morning at which the Plot is hatched, and the scene in which Rumor’s tower is elaborately described and in which she published news of the Plot in time for it to be forestalled. This focusing on individual scenes, even at the expense of narrative flow or overall coherence, is the hallmark of the epyllion form.
3. Cheek went on to argue that Milton derived the elements for these four “movements” directly from Vergil’s Aeneid. The trouble with his relentless search for Vergilian elements was that it had the unfortunate effect of placing blinders on him. In the first place, this diverted his attention from the influence exerted by other classical writers. Thus, most memorably, he failed to acknowledge that Milton’s description of Fame and her tower is at least as much indebted to a passage in Ovid’s Metamorphoses as it is to the Aeneid. Indeed, the commentary notes given here record echoes of a number of classical poets: Catullus, Hesiod, Homer, Horace, Juvenal (?), Lucan, Lucretius, Martial (?), Ovid, Seneca, Statius, Tibullus, and the Appendix Vergiliana. Likewise, it is necessary to acknowledge that Milton ran up one at least one important debt to a near-contemporary, for Summanus’ disguise is appropriated from a literary portrait of St. Francis by the Scottish poet George Buchanan. In commentary notes I also suggest echoes of other seventeenth-century Anglo-Latin poetry, by William Alabaster, Thomas Campion, and just possibly (although doubtfully) Phineas Fletcher. Clearly, therefore, in writing this poem Milton’s literary debts are considerably more complex than has been been appreciated previously.
4. The number and variety of classical echoes, parenthetically, serves as an eloquent illustration of the principle that, to a goodly extent, even the best and most original Anglo-Latin poets of the Renaissance persisted in composing according to the method they had learned as schoolboys, by stringing together tags culled from the leading Roman poets. There is, evidently, no critical discussion of this method and the problems of individual creativity it possibly entails; elsewhere I have suggested that these possible problems appear somewhat similar to those possibly raised by formulaic composition in Homer. NOTE 5
5. In my Milton article I have already written at length (and so shall not here) about another kind of literary indebtedness, that goes a long way towards explaining Milton’s intentions in writing In Quintum Novembris. He was working in what was by now a well-established tradition of Anglo-Latin historical epic with its own set of conventions and narrative moves. Many of which, to be sure, derived ultimately from Vergil, but also from Book IV of Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalamme Liberata (as translated into Latin by Scipio Gentili in a London-published version of 1584, and then into English by Richard Carew in his partial 1594 translation and Edward Fairfax in his 1600 complete one). Tasso had invented a new kind of hybrid Pluto - Satan, very different from Dante’s inarticulate and mechanical one in being Machiavellian and rhetorical. At the beginning of Book IV Tasso has him delivering a lengthy complaining speech to a convened assembly of denizens of the Underworld. Beginning with the anonymous Pareus printed at Oxford in 1585 (in all probability by George Peele), NOTE 6 this new kind of Renaissance Satan, and his council, became a standard feature of a series of Anglo-Latin propagandistic mini-epics written on various contemporary historical subjects with an outspoken anti-Papist slant. All of these works have virtually the same plot: Satan, aggrieved that the Catholic cause is failing in England, convenes such a council, at which he sets in motion some scheme for destroying English Protestantism. Often operating through the agency of other Hellish beings, including the Catholic Church, he enlists human agents to carry out his plan, which is in the end baffled, often by divine intervention. Further poems that more or less adhere to the Pareus model are William Alabaster’s Elisais (ca. 1590), NOTE 7 and Thomas Campion’s Ad Thamesin (1595). And then there are several Gunpowder Plot poems cut to this same pattern, that memorialize what could be called the Stuart dynastic myth. These all accept and promulgate the official government position as set forth in two “white papers” (just as Pareus repeats the facts and interpretations of a similar state document). These were A true and perfect relation of the proceedings at the severall arraignments of the late most barbarous Traitors and A Discourse on the maner of the discouery of this late Intended Treason. The latter’s status as virtually a state document was emphasized by the fact that it was printed in the same volume with King James’ 1605 address from the throne (His majesties speach in this last session of Parliament etc.). And both publications closely repeated the exposition of Attorney General Edward Coke’s prosecution speeches as the trials of the surviving Plotters. The works in question are Michael Wallace’s In Serenissimi Regis Iacobi Britanniae Magnae, Galliarum, Hiberniae etc. Monarchae ab Immanissima Papanae Factionis Hominum Coniuratione Liberationem Faelicissimam Carmen Epichartikon (1606), NOTE 8 Francis Herring’s Pietas Pontifica (1606), NOTE 9 Thomas Campion’s De Pulverea Coniuratione (undated), NOTE 10 and Phineas Fletcher’s Locustae (printed version 1627). NOTE 11 The Scotsman Alexander Yule’s Descriptio horrendi parricidii et nefariae perduellionis a Papane religionis assertoribus designatae in Iacobum Magnae Britanniae, Galliae et Hiberniae regem serenissimum, in ipsius reginam, regiam sobolem, regnique ordines, et optimates, 5. Novembris 1605 also deserves to be mentioned. This same narrative pattern, incidentally, was subsequently used by the Presbyterian poet William Forbes in an epyllion celebrating the 1639 Dutch defeat of a Spanish fleet in the Battle of the Downs, in his epyllion Apophoreta Papae.
6. On the basis of these works, some interesting conclusions are possible. First, Milton was working in what was by his time a well-established traditio of Anglo-Latin historical epic with its own set of specialized conventions and narrative moves. The conclusion seems inevitable that he was consciously operating within this tradition, observing its conventions, and satisfying its reader expectations. Like the discovery that In Quintum Novembris is to be read and judged as an Alexandrian epyllion, the discovery that it belongs to this traditio serves to render many of its features explicable.
7. Second, the dictum of the eighteenth century scholar and poet Thomas Warton is frequently quoted, NOTE 12 “this little poem, as containing a council, conspiracy, and expedition of Satan, may be considered as an early and promising prolusion of Milton’s genius to the Paradise Lost.Cheek (180 - 84) spent considerable effort in pointing out that in several important aspects the Summanus of In Quintum Novembris foreshadows in embryonic form our poet’s subsequent conception of Satan. As he put it (184f.):

if one were asked to name the three concepts most basic to the character of Satan as he is finally portrayed in Paradise Lost, he could perhaps find none more fundamental than the three following: first, the exile from heaven, the fallen archangel, that is, and, since fallen into a state “where peace and rest can never dwell,” the forever restless one, the eternal wanderer; second, the eternal envier and willful destroyer, hating all who possess that state of peace and rest which he once knew but can never know again, and inasmuch as he can never hope to regain it determined that all others shall lose it; and third, the wily plotter, “the artificer of fraud,” who works through deceit to conspiracy and then executes his conspiracy of destruction “under the fair pretense of friendly ends.” And though but briefly sketched here, and with a few lines only for each, these are essentially the three chief qualities of character which Milton gives this early Satan of the “In Quintum Novembris,” two of the three indeed being couched in phrases which in slightly modified form were to carry over into Paradise Lost.

Cheek then supported these generalizations with a series of detailed observations that may better be relegated to commentary notes here. We may add that, to the extent that Milton drew on previous works in the Anglo-Latin tradition initiated by Peele, the representations of Satan and the satanic Pluto in the works enumerated here constitute an important part of Satan’s pedigree, and that the origin of this line is to be located in Tasso.
8. Ever since Grosart broached the idea, NOTE 13 it has frequently been written that Milton’s primary source of inspiration was Fletcher’s Locustae and perhaps his accompanying The Apollyonists. At first sight this idea seems no more than fatuous, inasmuch as Fletcher’s volume was not printed until 1627. NOTE 14 but Locustae exists in several earlier manuscript incarnations, and plenty of Elizabethan and Jacobean literature circulated in manuscript, sometimes exerting a surprising amount of influence in that form. One may mention works that were never printed such as Thomas Legge’s trilogy Richardus Tertius of 1579, which is reflected in Shakespeare, Gager and and Burton, or Richard Eedes’ satirical travelogue Iter Boreale of 1583, which was read by Sir John Harington, William Camden, and Anthony à Wood, and one line is even quoted by Daniel Defoe. Then too, some items that eventually saw print (Sidney’s works, for example, and Fulke Greville’s biography of Sidney) first got abroad in manuscript. Hence the possibility that Milton read this Cambridge work cannot be excluded on a priori grounds.
9. But there are more substantial reasons for doubting Grosart’s theory. It is striking that, with one possible exception (see the commentary note on 223) there are no visible borrowings or verbal echoes. On the other hand (as the its editor appreciated) there seem plenty of reasons for thinking that Milton was familiar with another unpublished work that circulated in manuscript (no less than five of which survive), William Alabaster’s Elisaeis. In their edition of Milton’s poetry Carey and Fowler point out the indebtedness of Milton’s description of the hideous place to which the Pope summons his agent (139ff.) to Vergil’s description of Hell gate surrounded by personified abstractions (Aeneid VI.273ff.), imitated by Spenser at Faerie Queene II.vii.21ff. Alabaster imitates the same model, with some quite similar details, in his description of Papacy’s home at Elisaeis 153ff. Other seeming echoes of Alabaster’s poem will be noted in individual commentary notes.
10. Milton likewise seems to have known Campion’s Gunpowder Plot epic (which survives in a manuscript of Cambridge provenance). Hope’s bedside speech to Catesby at De Pulverea Coniuratione I.152ff. bears a strong resemblance to Summanus’ similar speech to the Pope at In Quintum Novembris 92ff., considerably more so than the beginning of speech at Alabaster’s Elisaeis 346ff. And Summanus in his monkish disguise at in Quintum Novembris 79ff. is strikingly similar to the nameless hooded fiend of De Pulverea Coniuratione I.75ff. It also seems possible that Milton had read Campion’s Ad Thamesin. This is suggested in the first place by the evident echo of ad Thamesin 7, deus aetherea qui fulminat arce, at 167. Likewise, Milton’s description of the tower of Rumor at 170ff. is rather in the style of Campion’s Spenserian emblematic creations, the House of Dis, the House of Avarice, and the Fountain of Envy.
11. It would probably be unproductive to search more closely for detailed appropriations from specific works. The overriding conclusion is clear enough: Milton was the final inheritor of a specialized epic tradition that had by now flourished for a generation. Peele forged the first link in the chain, and Milton the final one.
12. The text of in Quintum Novembris is if course to be found in all of the many editions of Milton’s complete poetry; one may mention W. P. Trent and Thomas Ollive Mabbot in Volume I.i of the Columbia edition of The Works of John Milton (1931), with a facing translation by Charles Knapp. More recent editions with accompanying translations are to be found in Douglas Bush’s The Complete Poetical Works of John Milton (1965), and in John Carey and Alistair Fowler, The Poems of John Milton (1968).
13. The present text is based on the 1645 editio princeps. It is generally thought that Milton, now blind, did not personally supervise or correct the 1673 edition. But Carey and Fowler (pp. 4f.) argued the contrary based on the fact that the 1673 list of errata calls for a comma after exulat at line 150 of in Quintum Novembris, in which the 1645 edition had printed exulant. It is exceedingly dangerous to base such an important conclusion on this one detail. Exulat may be a typographical error and the inserted comma someone’s attempt to rescue the text by reinterpreting its syntax. It is also hard to attach much value to the alteration of one punctuation mark when the very bad pointing of the 1645 edition remains generally untouched. I cite a couple of illustrative examples, taken from this one poem. In both versions lines 44f. are printed:

Non feret hoc impune diu, non ibit inulta,
Hactenus; et piceis liquido natat aere pennis;

The facing translation in the Columbia edition is:

…this race shall not long act thus with impunity, it shall not long so unscathed.” So far [he spake], and then with his pitch-black wings swims in the limpid air.

Knapp rightly appreciated that the heavy stop ought to go after inulta rather than hactenus. Again, this is the original version of 122 - 4:

Protinus ipse initur quoscunque habet Anglia fidos
Propositi, factique mone, quisquamne tuorum
Audebit summi non iussa facessere Papae.

And the Columbia translation:

Forthwith, therefore, advise of the plan proposed and of the deed whatsoever of the faithful England still contains: will any one of your sons venture not to carry out the orders of the sovereign Pope?

Knapp saw that a stop heavier than a comma ought to stand after mone — he might well have put a period here — that what comes after mone is virtually a new sentence, and that it should be punctuated as a question. NOTE 15 Other examples of flagrantly bad pointing can be cited: inappropriate full stops at 35 and 177 leave similes dangling as independent but verbless sentences, and speeches end with a comma after inulta (44) and a colon after Iacobo (203). When cast in the balance against such features, the evidence of a single altered comma is unimpressive.
14. More significant are wrong textual readings. A mistaken seu at line 20 was allowed to persist in the 1673 edition, NOTE 16 and other textual problems remain unaltered. Besides Warton’s substitution of ceu for seu, I have introduced three further new readings into the text, for reasons discussed in commentary notes: vult for volet at 169, and Arestoride for Aristoride at 185, and authoresque addit for authoresque additit at 215. In sum, the 1673 text scarcely seems superior to its predecessor: at least regarding this poem, the longest and most important in the collection, it appears to stand in the same relation to the 1645 one as an apograph manuscript does to its exemplar, which is to say it lacks any independent evidentiary value. And of course the mechanical repetition of Nunc primum Edita on the 1673 title page seems to torpedo any idea that this is an edition of any independent merit save for the new material it contains.
15. Of the several annotated editions of Milton’s poetry I have seen, that of Carey and Fowler has proven most useful for my purposes; the reader will see that I have drawn on it liberally. But I must take this opportunity to challenge one remark in another edition commonly used as a textbook in many universities, including my own. In introducing the present poem, Merritt Y. Hughes wrote “In the universities [November 5] was celebrated with epic poems like Milton’s and the longer and even more bitterly anti-papal Locustae and Apollyonists of Phineas Fletcher (1627).” NOTE 17 While there does exist some Latin poetry written for recitation at collegiate bun-fights, I am unaware of any evidence (in the form, for example, of college account-books) that In Quintum Novembris was written in connection with such academic celebrations, for example as a recitation piece, as Hughes’ words might seem to imply.
spacer16. Subsequente to the appearance of this edition, in 2013, Professor Karl Maurer has been kind enough to supply me with some notes on the text of the poem, and I it is with gratitude that I have made a few alterations based on his observations.



NOTE 1 Reproduced in John Milton’s Complete Poetical Works Reproduced in Photographic Facsimile (ed. Fletcher Harris Francis, Urbana, 1943).

NOTE 2 See further the complaints of R. W. Condee, “The Latin Poetry of John Milton,” in J. W. Binns (ed.), The Latin Poetry of English Poets. (London - Boston. 1974) 63f., and E. M. Tillyard, Milton (Cambridge, 1930) 30.

NOTE 3 Dana F. Sutton, “Milton’s in Quintum Novembris, Anno Aetatis 17 (1626): Choices and Intentions,” in Gareth L. Schmeling (ed.) Qui Miscuit Utile Dulci (Festschrift for Paul Lachlan MacKendrick on his 85th birthday, Chicago, 1997) 349 - 375.

NOTE 4 Macon Cheek, “Milton’s ’In Quintum Novembris’: An Epic Foreshadowing,” Studies in Philology 54 (1957) 175f. 

NOTE 5 In the General Introduction to Gager's plays.

NOTE 6 The attribution of Pareus to Peele was originally proposed by C. F. Tucker Brooke, “A Latin Poem by George Peele (?),” Huntington Library Quarterly 3 (1939 - 40) 48f., and was endorsed by Leicester Bradner, Musae Anglicanae: A History of Anglo-Latin Poetry 1500 - 1925 (New York, 1940, reprinted New York, 1965), 65.

NOTE 7 Edited by Michael O’Connor, “The ‘Elisaeis’ of William Alabaster,” Studies in Philology monograph 76 (1979); in his introduction, O’Connor noted that Milton’s poem contains echoes of the Elisaeis, but did not elaborate on the subject.

NOTE 8 Edited by Estelle Haan, “Milton’s In Quintum Novembris and the Anglo-Latin Gunpowder Epic, Part II,”Humanistica Lovaniensia 42 (1993) 368 - 401.

NOTE 9 Edited by Estelle Haan, “Milton’s In Quintum Novembris and the Anglo-Latin Gunpowder Epic” Humanistica Lovaniensia 41 (1992) 221 - 95. Pietas Pontificia was reprinted in an expanded version under the title Venatio Catholica, in 1609, and also received the compliment of a pirate printing two years later. In addition, it was twice translated into English verse, by “A. P.” in 1610 and, in a “very much dilated” version, by John Vicars in 1617. This latter translation was reprinted as late as 1641.

NOTE 10 First edited by David Lindley and Robin Sowerby. 1987. Thomas Campion: de Pulverea Coniuratione (Leeds, 1987).

NOTE 11 First edited in Vol. II of Frederick S. Boas, The Poetical Works of Giles Fletcher and Phineas Fletcher. (Cambridge, 1909); see also Estelle Haan, Phineas Fletcher. Locustae vel Pietas Iesuitica. With Introduction, Translation and Commentary (Supplementa Humanistica Lovaniensia 9, 1996).

NOTE 12 Thomas Warton, Poems upon Several Occasions, English, Italian, and Latin, with Translations, by John Milton (2nd ed., London, 1791) 497.

NOTE 13 The Rev. Alexander B. Grosart, The Poems of Phineas Fletcher, B.D. (in four vols., The Fuller Worthies’ Library, 1869) I.cccxviii. This is made in the course of a long essay largely devoted to arguing that Milton reflected Fletcher’s works in Paradise Lost, a claim that need not be considered here. Milton may of course have read Locustae and The Apollyonists after they had appeared in print.

NOTE 14 Grosart tried to anticipate this objection by alleging that “Fletcher’s poems were published in 1626- 27…and in truth the coincidence of date goes far to shew that the young poet had instantly possessed himself of the volume.” But Fletcher’s volume is unambiguously dated to 1627, i. e. not prior to March 25, 1627, because the old style calendar was still in force, whereas Milton celebrated his eighteenth birthday on December 9, 1626. By the minimum reckoning possible, therefore, Milton must have completed his poem no less than three months before Locustae appeared in print. 

NOTE 15 These comparisons raise the question (not limited to this single edition, but almost traditional in the editing of Anglo-Latin literary documents): if the wrongness of the received punctuation was appreciated, why was it allowed to remain in the printed text? Is there any scholarly value in retaining such pointing, always at the cost of reader comprehension?

NOTE 16 This mistake was noticed and corrrected at least as early as the edition of Thomas Warton, although plenty of subsequent editors have cheerfully retained seu (it is a peculiarity of Milton’s Latin texts that errors corrected by editors do not stay fixed in subsequent editions, and the way this error is handled is a good litmus test for assessing the prowess of any given editor as a Latinist). Admittedly, in Milton’s day the Latin c was given a soft pronunciation so that ceu and seu were homophones, but it is difficult to believe that a Latinist of the young Milton’s caliber would be persistently negligent in distinguishing these words.

NOTE 17 Merrit Y. Hughes, John Milton, Complete Poems and Major Prose (New York, 1957) 15.