Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Captain or Colonel, or Knight in Arms

Sonnet VIII
by John Milton


Captain or Colonel, or Knight in Arms,
Whose chance on these defenceless dores may sease,
If ever deed of honour did thee please,
Guard them, and him within protect from harms,

He can requite thee, for he knows the charms
That call Fame on such gentle acts as these,
And he can spred thy Name o're Lands and Seas,
What ever clime the Suns bright circle warms.

Lift not thy spear against the Muses' Bowre,
The great Emathian Conqueror bid spare
The house of Pindarus, when Temple and Towre

Went to the ground: and the repeated air
Of sad Electra's Poet had the power
To save th' Athenian Walls from ruine bare.

The Emathian Conqueror is Alexander the Great. Plutarch briefly notes the event here referred to, in his life of Alexander:

The Thebans indeed defended themselves with a zeal and courage beyond their strength, being much outnumbered by their enemies. But when the Macedonian garrison sallied out upon them from the citadel, they were so hemmed in on all sides that the greater part of them fell in the battle; the city itself being taken by storm, was sacked and razed. Alexander's hope being that so severe an example might terrify the rest of Greece into obedience, and also in order to gratify the hostility of his confederates, the Phocians and Plataeans. So that, except the priests, and some few who had heretofore been the friends and connections of the Macedonians, the family of the poet Pindar, and those who were known to have opposed the public vote for the war, all the rest, to the number of thirty thousand, were publicly sold for slaves; and it is computed that upwards of six thousand were put to the sword.

The reference to Electra's poet (Euripides) occurred after the Spartan conquest of Athens, and is also explained by Plutarch, in his life of Lysander:

Afterwards, however, when the leaders were gathered at a banquet, and a certain Phocian sang the first chorus in the ‘Electra’ of Euripides, which begins with:

O thou daughter of Agamemnon,
I am come, Electra, to thy rustic court,

all were moved to compassion, and felt it to be a cruel deed to abolish and destroy a city which was so famous, and produced such poets.

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