Milton: ". . . / The first art wont his great authentic will /. . ."

Phaedrus

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Greetings,

This is a thread strictly for those members who enjoy mind-bending exercises in grammar. It is recommended only for native speakers, since the grammar of the sentence I wish to parse is archaic in certain essential respects, both grammatical and orthographical. It may be worthwhile to note that I have studied grammar intensively for a long time and consider the featured sentence the hardest sentence I have ever tried to parse.

I should like to try to diagram the sentence below, written in blank verse by John Milton (Paradise Lost, 1667, Book III, lines 655-667), using the Reed-Kellogg diagramming method. I am mainly interested in the first part of the sentence, the part preceding the second semicolon. I am including the latter part of the sentence because I believe that the second word in the first part, "for," must be understood in relation to it. Satan says:

"Uriel, for thou of those seav'n Spirits that stand
In sight of Gods high Throne, gloriously bright,
The first art wont his great authentic will
Interpreter through highest Heav'n to bring,
Where all his Sons thy Embassie attend;
And here art likeliest by supream decree
Like honour to obtain, and as his Eye
To visit oft this new Creation round;
Unspeakable desire to see, and know
All these his wondrous works, but chiefly Man,
His chief delight and favour, him for whom
All these his works so wondrous he ordaind,
Hath brought me from the Quires of Cherubim
Alone thus wandring.
"

After banging my head against this sentence for hours, over a couple of days, and considering various possibilities for subject and verb in the first part of the sentence, I ultimately decided that "The first art" was not a noun phrase. My present analysis of the sentence is that "for" is the FANBOYS "for," introducing an independent clause whose subject is "thou" and whose verb is "art," an Early Modern English form of the copula "be."

That may have been progress, but the knottiness needs more untying yet. My current problem, which prevents me from diagramming the sentence, is with the ten words following what I believe to be the adjective "wont" (meaning "accustomed"), the head of the subject-complement phrase following "art." It appears to me to be complemented by an infinitival clause with a fronted direct object, something else, and a prepositional phrase:

For thou (of those seven spirits that . . . the first) art wont his great authentic will interpreter through highest heaven to bring.
--> For thou (the first of those seven spirits that . . .) art wont to bring his great authentic will interpreter through highest heaven.
My question: How should the noun "interpreter" be syntactically interpreted? I can't diagram the sentence without knowing.

Thank you.
 
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jutfrank

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Yes, I completely agree that this is a FANBOYS for,and art is a copula to the subject thou.

At the moment, I'm seeing this:

For thou ... (as) Interpreter ... art wont to bring ...

I wonder if having a look at translations into other languages might shed some light.
 

Phaedrus

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At the moment, I'm seeing this:

For thou ... (as) Interpreter ... art wont to bring ...

Thanks, Jutfrank! I had been thinking of that very same paraphrase with "as." The convenient alternative—linking "interpreter" with the noun "will" so that "his great authentic will interpreter" would be one large noun phrase—does not seem to accord with the meaning.

I believe it was Milton's intention to represent the archangel Uriel as the interpreter of God's will rather than as one who transports ("brings") some unnamed interpreter through the heavens. For that analysis, "interpreter" must be syntactically distinct from the preceding noun phrase.

Assuming we are right that "as" could rightly be inserted before "interpreter," I wonder whether Milton's apparently successful omission of "as" is to be attributed to some kind of poetic triumph over grammar, or whether it is possible to make the same omission in analogous sentences.

(1a) He carries the letters as (a) mailman.
(1b) He carries the letter as (a) mailman through the forest.

(2a) He carries the letters (a) mailman.
(2b) He carries the letters (a) mailman through the forest.

Do (2a) and (2b) work? If so, it would appear that a noun phrase can function as a kind of subject complement even after a transitive verb with a direct object. I'm not sure I have ever encountered that before, in grammar books or in literature. With intransitive verbs, it is different: "He died a mailman."
 

jutfrank

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First of all, I'm confident we have the correct interpretation.

Secondly, regarding the syntax, my feeling is that this is, as you suggest, some kind of diabolical triumph over grammar. I believe that Milton wants to show Satan's great charm and eloquence in this passage as a measure of his trickery. He's laying it on particularly thick, such that even a soul as astute as Uriel may be fooled.
 

Phaedrus

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First of all, I'm confident we have the correct interpretation.

Secondly, regarding the syntax, my feeling is that this is, as you suggest, some kind of diabolical triumph over grammar. I believe that Milton wants to show Satan's great charm and eloquence in this passage as a measure of his trickery. He's laying it on particularly thick, such that even a soul as astute as Uriel may be fooled.
Thanks again, Jutfrank. Satan is definitely, as you say, laying it on thick in this passage. :)

I was talking with a friend of mine this evening about the sentence, and he proposed an alternate possibility:

Thou art wont to bring (for) his great authentic will interpreter./Thou art wont to bring interpreter for his great authentic will.

On this interpretation, "his great authentic will" is an indirect object. In the infinitival clause, the order is [indirect object]-[direct object]-to-[verb].

Compare: You are accustomed God's will interpreter to bring. --> You are accustomed to bring God's will interpreter.

I find this interpretation compelling. Though I am not entirely sold on it, I like it because it doesn't require any hocus-pocus.

It also may accord with the meaning of the passage. God's "Sons" attend Uriel's "embassy" where Uriel is "honored" as God's "Eye."
 

jutfrank

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Hmm, interesting. I'm not sold on it, either, but I'll think on it some more.

This passage is as tricky as the Devil himself!
 

Phaedrus

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This passage is as tricky as the Devil himself!

I couldn't agree more. It is, well, a devil of a sentence, and I have just come up with yet another analysis of the part of the sentence in question!

Perhaps "art wont" could be understood as an adjectival passive (cf. "are fashioned") taking an infinitival-clause-with-subject complement.

Thou art wont (for) his great authentic will to bring __ interpreter through highest heaven.

On this interpretation, the finite-clause subject is the underlying object of "bring" in the infinitival clause, allowing for the following passive:

Thou art won't to be brought interpreter through highest heaven by his great authentic will.

In other words, God has accustomed/wonted Uriel such that His great authentic will brings Uriel as (His) interpreter through the highest heaven.
 
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