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M

Maggot see Worm

Mandrake The mandrake is a plant native to the Mediterranean, a member of the potato

family, with thick roots, often forked, and thought to resemble male or

female genitals, or the legs of a human being. The name comes from Latin

mandragora, from Greek mandragoras, of unknown origin; the English word

was misinterpeted to be a compound of ‘‘man’’ and ‘‘drake’’ (from Latin draco,

‘‘dragon’’).

Mandrakes (Hebrew duda’im) are mentioned twice in the Old Testament.

Rachel asks Leah for the mandrakes her son Reuben has gathered, presumably

as a fertility drug (Gen. 30.14--16). By extension it may have been used as an

aphrodisiac, and thus it appears in the Song of Solomon (7.13). The Greeks

also knew of it as a love philtre; mandragoritis was an epithet of Aphrodite.

The seducer Callimaco in Machiavellis play La Mandragola tells the gullible

husband of the woman he wants: ‘‘there is no more certain way to get a

woman pregnant than to give her an infusion of mandragora to drink’’ (Act 2).

When Donne demands the impossible, ‘‘Get with child a mandrake root,’’ he

is wittily reversing one of its functions (‘‘Go, and catch a falling star’’ 2). Some

ancient readers thought the ‘‘miserable drugs’’ by which Circe transformed

Odysseus men into swine were mandrakes (Odyssey 10.236).

The main effect of eating mandrakes is narcotic or soporific. Apuleius says

it produces a sleep very like death (Met. 10.11). It is sometimes mentioned with

the poppy, as in Shakespeares Othello: ‘‘not poppy, nor mandragora, / Nor all

the drowsy syrups of the world, / Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep /

Which thou owedst yesterday’’ (3.3.330--33) (see also AC 1.5.4). Marino calls it

the ‘‘stupid and heavy mandragora’’ (10.95).

Aelianus and other Latin writers report that the plant was extremely

dangerous to uproot: the approved ritual was to tie it, at night, to a black dog,

who would die in the process of pulling it up. It was also believed that the

mandrake shrieks terribly as it comes out. So Juliet imagines that in the

Capulet tomb she will hear ‘‘shrieks like mandrakes torn out of the earth, /

That living mortals, hearing them, run mad’’ (4.3.47--48).

See Poppy.

Manna see Bread

Marble see Bronze

Marigold Though the name of this hardy yellow or orange flower seems to mean

‘‘Marys gold,’’ its usual symbolic meaning has to do with its heliotropic or

sun-following character. It ‘‘opens and shuts with the sun,’’ according to Nashe

(Unfortunate Traveller 9). One name for it in modern Latin was solsequium,

‘‘sun-follower,’’ whence French souci. Shakespeare invokes it in a simile for the

transitory glory of courtiers dependent on the favor of the monarch: ‘‘Great

princes favourites their fair leaves spread / But as the marigold at the suns

eye’’ (Sonnets 25). Ronsard compares himself to a ‘‘Soucy’’ ‘‘who dies and hangs

her languishing head / when she is no longer enjoying the sun’’ but is reborn

at dawn, when the sun -- his beloveds eye -- shines on him (‘‘Fantaisie a sa

Dame’’ 39--50 in Premiиres Poйsies).

The marigolds heliotropism was inevitably figured as the love between the

female flower and the male sun. As Shakespeares Perdita passes out flowers

she includes ‘‘The marigold, that goes to bed wi th sun / And with him rises,

weeping’’ (WT 4.4.105--06), while Drayton names ‘‘marigold, Phoebus beloved

friend’’ (Endimion and Phoebe 63). Carew elaborates the conceit: ‘‘Mark how the

bashful morn, in vain / Courts the amorous Marigold, / With sighing blasts,

and weeping rain; / Yet she refuses to unfold. / But when the Planet of the

day, / Approacheth with his powerful ray, / Then she spreads, then she

receives / His warmer beams into her virgin leaves’’ (‘‘Boldness in Love’’). Keats

addresses ‘‘Ye ardent marigolds!’’ in ‘‘I stood tiptoe’’ (48). Though she is not a

marigold, Ovids description of Clytie after she becomes a plant lies behind

these modern passages (Met. 4.259--270).

Erasmus Darwin writes in canto 3 of The Loves of the Plants that marigolds

sometimes emit flashes of light at evening, as if returning the rays they have

received all day. Coleridge concludes his ‘‘Lines written at Shurton Bars’’ by

alluding to this phenomenon: ‘‘’Tis said, in Summers evening hour / Flashes

the golden-colord flower / A fair electric flame: / And so shall flash my lovechargd

eye / When all the hearts big ecstasy / Shoots rapid through the

frame!’’ (91--96). Gosse may be referring to the flash in his ‘‘Flower of the

Marigold’’: ‘‘And I have found the flower she loves, / Whose burning leaves

shut in the sun; / All day to watch his path it moves, / And dreams of him

when day is done’’ (13--16).

The Romance of the Rose describes Jealousy as wearing a chapel de soussie, a

‘‘garland of marigolds’’ (21741--42); Chaucer imitates this in Knight’s Tale

(1928--29). Yellow is a traditional color of jealousy, and this sense is seconded

by the pun on souci, ‘‘care’’ or ‘‘worry.’’ (See Yellow.)

Blake makes use of the well-known hardiness and regenerative powers of

the garden marigold when his amorous heroine Oothoon encounters one who

tells her, ‘‘pluck thou my flower Oothoon the mild / Another flower shall

spring’’ (Visions of the Daughters of Albion 8--9); she does so, and is thus fortified

against the rape she shortly suffers. She then becomes the emblem of

unjealous love.

Mask see Theatre

Matzah see Bread

Maze see Labyrinth

Melancholy Melancholy, from Greek melancholia, ‘‘black bile,’’ was once thought to be

caused by an excess of that fluid, produced by the liver. It was not at first

clearly distinguished from yellow bile (Greek chole), but in Hippocrates and

other ancient physiologists melancholy is taken as one of four ‘‘humors’’ or

fluids, alongside yellow bile, blood, and phlegm.

Its dominant constituent element is the earth, its qualities are cold and

dry, it is sympathetic to nighttime, to the color black, and to the slowest of

the planets, Saturn. Its Latin term, atra bilis, entered English as ‘‘atrabile’’ and

the adjective ‘‘atrabilious’’; it was also called ‘‘choler adust’’ (from Latin

adustus, ‘‘burnt, scorched,’’ hence ‘‘blackened’’). In German it has been called

Schwarzgalligkeit, ‘‘black-gallishness.’’

Its link with choler (bile) is shown in Chaucers Nun’s Priest’s Tale, where

Pertelote, who knows a lot about humors, advises Chauntecleer to purge

himself ‘‘bothe of colere and of malencolye’’ (2946). A letter from

Shakespeares verbose Armado supplies the appropriate epithets: ‘‘So it is,

besieged with sable-colored melancholy, I did commend the black-oppressing

humor to the most wholesome physic of thy health-giving air’’ (LLL 1.1.231--34).

It became associated with meditation, introspection, study, and the idle

imagination. Sidney connects the ‘‘fumes of melancholy’’ with ‘‘dull pensiveness’’

(Astrophel 23); Durers famous engraving, though mysterious in certain

details, connects it with intellectual contemplation. Spensers character

Phantastes is ‘‘full of melancholy,’’ with a dark complexion and mad or foolish

eyes, as if he were born under Saturn; in his chamber are flying swarms of

‘‘idle thoughtes and fantasies’’ (FQ 2.9.50--52). Hamlet, a student, seems to be in

its grip as well. Robert Burton, who suffered from the scholars version of it,

wrote an immense treatise on it, The Anatomy of Melancholy.

Love-melancholy is common: Romeo has it, and so does Duke Orsino in

Twelfth Night, whom the Clown commends to the protection of ‘‘the

melancholy god’’ (Saturn) (2.4.73); in that play Viola speaks of a girl whose love

is not requited and who pines ‘‘with a green and yellow melancholy’’ (2.4.113).

Melancholy gains prominence in eighteenth-century ‘‘sensibility’’ literature,

and then in Romanticism, where a poet typically visits a graveyard or a ruined

abbey and has ‘‘night thoughts.’’ Miltons Il Penseroso is a prime source for this

mode. Coleridge started a poem called ‘‘Melancholy’’ and completed one called

‘‘Dejection,’’ Mary Robinson wrote ‘‘The Progress of Melancholy,’’ Keats wrote

an ‘‘Ode on Melancholy’’; Schiller wrote ‘‘Melancholie,’’ Tieck ‘‘Melankolie’’;

Darıo wrote ‘‘Melancolia,’’ in which he blames poetry itself for his suffering.

Much of Byrons Childe Harold is composed of gloomy meditations among ruins

and the ‘‘blight and blackening’’ of the mind (4.211). Peacock was prompted by

it to write his novel Nightmare Abbey, about which he said, ‘‘I think it

necessary to make a stand against the encroachments of black bile’’ (letter

to Shelley 30 May 1818); it has a character based on Byron called Mr. Cypress.

Gerard de Nerval poses as a bereaved prince in a ruined tower, whose lute

bears ‘‘the black sun of Melancholy’’ (‘‘El Desdichado’’).

See Bile, Humor.

Merlin see Hawk

Metal The traditional hierarchy of metals -- gold, silver, bronze, iron, and perhaps

lead -- is ancient. One of the earliest recorded uses of the hierarchy is to

characterize the succession of races or ages of humankind. Thus Hesiod, in

Works and Days 109--201, describes five races, four of them assigned a metal.

The golden race ‘‘lived like gods, with carefree heart, / remote from toil and

misery,’’ taking what they wished from a plenteous earth. The silver race was

‘‘much inferior’’: they were witless and given to crime and impiety; Zeus

removed them. The bronze race was ‘‘terrible and fierce, occupied with the

woeful works of Ares.’’ The fourth race were the demigods (Greek hemitheoi), a

‘‘godly race of heroes’’ who fought at Thebes and Troy and destroyed themselves.

The race now on earth is the iron race, which ‘‘will never cease from

toil and misery by day or night.’’ Hesiod predicts it will behave worse and

worse until Zeus destroys it. (Translations from M. L. West.)

There are parallels in Zoroastrian myth for the correspondence of metals

to ages. In Daniel 2.31--45 there is Nebuchadnezzars dream of a huge statue

with golden head, silver breast and arms, bronze belly and thighs, iron legs,

and feet part clay and part iron. Daniel interprets it to refer to the succession

of kingdoms to follow Nebuchadnezzars (gold); it will culminate in a new

everlasting kingdom, which among later Christians was called the Fifth

Monarchy.

Ovid recasts the Hesiodic story in Metamorphoses 1.89--150. In the golden age

(not race) everyone did what was right, without laws; earth was bounteous

and spring was perpetual. This was the age of Saturn (corresponding to Greek

Kronos), who was banished by his son Jove (or Jupiter). The silver race came in

along with seasons and agriculture. Then followed the bronze or brazen race,

which was savage but not yet impious. Then the age of ‘‘hard iron’’ arrived

and all evil burst forth, including private property, war, plunder, murder,

and marital hatred; ‘‘Baneful iron came, and gold more baneful than iron’’

(141).

In his famous ‘‘Fourth Eclogue’’ Virgil names three ages, gold, heroic, and

iron, and announces they will repeat, an idea not found in Hesiod or Ovid.

The metallic hierarchy was applied to individuals as well as races or ages.

Plato in his Republic divides citizens into three classes or castes according to

what innate metal they possess. God, he wrote, mingled gold in the composition

of the rulers, silver in that of the auxiliaries or helpers, and iron and

bronze in that of the farmers and the other craftsmen (3.415a). This use is

the origin of the English word ‘‘mettle,’’ meaning temperament or innate

character; it is simply a respelling of ‘‘metal.’’ ‘‘To try ones mettle’’ is to test

ones character or spirit; ‘‘mettlesome’’ means ‘‘spirited’’ or ‘‘brave.’’ The full

original sense is alive in Shakespeares line, ‘‘They have all been touched, and

found base metal’’ (Timon 3.3.6), the word ‘‘touched’’ meaning ‘‘tested by the

touchstone,’’ which reveals the nature of the metal. (If mineralogical terms are

used of social distinctions, the reverse is also true, for we still speak of ‘‘base’’

metals and ‘‘noble’’ gases.)

The process of refining or purifying precious metals has long lent itself to

metaphoric uses, as we find in the Hebrew prophets. Isaiah quotes the Lord as

saying, ‘‘I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross,

and take away all thy tin’’ (1.25). The New English Bible version reads: ‘‘Once

again I will act against you to refine away your base metal as with potash and

purge all your impurities.’’ Ezekiel has God say, ‘‘As they gather silver, and

brass, and iron, and lead, and tin, into the midst of the furnace, to blow the

fire upon it, to melt it; so I will gather you in mine anger and in my fury, and

I will leave you there, and melt you’’ (22.20). See also Jeremiah 6.27--30 and

Malachi 3.3.

Metal entries in this dictionary: Bronze, Gold, Iron, Lead, Silver.

Milk Milk, like snow, is a standard of whiteness: ‘‘white as milk’’ is a commonplace,

and ‘‘milkwhite’’ lambs and doves abound in older poetry. ‘‘Milkwhite’’ is

doubly appropriate for lambs and doves because milk, the drink of infants, is

also an emblem of innocence. In Popes translation of the Iliad there is a tribe

that ‘‘from Milk, innoxious, seek their simple Food’’ (13.12). A mothers breasts

are filled with ‘‘innocent milk’’ (Wordsworth, 1805 Prelude 5.272). It is thus

often associated with female tenderness and mercy. Lady Macbeth coins a

famous phrase to describe her husbands mild nature, ‘‘the milk of human

kindness’’ (1.5.17; the Folio has ‘‘humane kindness’’); she herself calls on spirits

to ‘‘Come to my womans breasts / And take my milk for gall’’ (1.5.47--48). If

Byrons Lambro were to lose his daughter it would ‘‘wean / His feelings from

all milk of human kindness’’ (Don Juan 3.454--55). Sin ‘‘turns Heavens milk of

mercy to revenge,’’ according to a character in Shelleys Charles I (1.65). One

in Tennysons Princess speaks of ‘‘The soft and milky rabble of womankind’’

(6.290).

‘‘Milk,’’ of course, might be metaphorical for any beneficent drink. ‘‘Wine,’’

says Jonson, ‘‘it is the milk of Venus’’ (‘‘Over the Door’’ 12). The poet in

Coleridges ‘‘Kubla Khan’’ has drunk ‘‘the milk of Paradise’’ (54).

The Promised Land is ‘‘a land flowing with milk and honey’’ (Exod. 3.8) -- a

formula that recurs many times in the Old Testament. In the final days ‘‘the

mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk’’ (Joel

3.18). When Dionysus appears, according to Euripides, the earth flows with

milk, wine, and honey (Bacchae 142--43). During the golden age, Ovid tells us,

‘‘streams of milk and springs of nectar flowed / And yellow honey dripped

from boughs of green’’ (Met. 1.111--12, trans. Melville).

Milks whiteness, innocence, and maternal and paradisal associations make

it all the more terrible that what the Jews in the death camp drink, in Celans

words, is ‘‘black milk’’: ‘‘black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfall / we

drink it at noon and the morning we drink it at night / we drink it and drink

it’’ (‘‘Death-Fugue’’).

Mirror The symbolism of mirrors depends not only on what things cause the

reflection -- nature, God, a book, drama -- but also on what one sees in them --

oneself, the truth, the ideal, illusion.

As early as Roman times real mirrors were instruments of vanity or

‘‘narcissism’’ and soon came to stand for it. The myth of Narcissus, indeed, is

the first great mirror tale, told in full by Ovid (Met. 3.339--510). In the Amores

Ovid reminds a vain girl that she has ruined her hair by constantly curling it

with irons; now ‘‘you lay aside the mirror with sorrowful hand’’ (1.14.36).

Petrarch calls Lauras mirror ‘‘my adversary’’ because it has driven him away,

and he warns her to remember Narcissus and his fate (Rime 45); in the next

sonnet he blames his miserable state on ‘‘those murderous mirrors / which

you have tired out by gazing fondly at yourself’’ (46). Spensers proud Lucifera

‘‘held a mirrhour bright, / Wherein her face she often vewed fayne, / And in

her selfe-lovd semblance took delight’’ (FQ 1.4.10).

But we might profit from watching others as potential mirrors. A character

in Terence tells a friend ‘‘to look at other mens lives as in a mirror’’ (Adelphoe

415--16). Certain people are models or ideals and serve as mirrors for everyone.

‘‘Mirror of X’’ had become a common phrase by Chaucers time. In Chaucer

ones lover is the ‘‘mirour of goodlihed’’ (Troilus 2.842); Shakespeare has

‘‘mirror of all Christian kings’’ (H5 2 Prologue 6), ‘‘mirror of all martial men’’

(1H6 1.4.74), ‘‘mirror of all courtesy’’ (H8 2.1.53), while Ophelia calls Hamlet

‘‘The glass of fashion and the mould of form’’ (3.1.153); Waller calls Ben Jonson

the ‘‘Mirrour of Poets’’ (‘‘Upon Ben Jonson’’).

By extension a book can be a mirror. Jean de Meun says his Romance of the

Rose might be called a Mirror of Lovers, ‘‘since they will see great benefits in it

for them’’ (10620--22). Hundreds of books, in fact, were titled Mirror of X or

Mirror for Y, beginning with Augustines Speculum; there have been mirrors of

the world, of faith, of astronomy, of alchemy, of sin, of fools, of drunkenness,

and for magistrates, all calculated to instruct and admonish.

The ancient idea that the arts imitate nature or the world led sometimes to

an analogy with a mirror, as in Plato, Republic 596d--e. Donatus attributed to

Cicero the opinion that comedy is a ‘‘mirror of custom’’ (Commentum Terenti

1.22). Skelton refers to his own play Magnyfycence: ‘‘A myrrour incleryd [made

clear] is this interlude, / This lyfe inconstant for to beholde and se’’ (2524--25).

Marlowe invites his audience to ‘‘View but his picture in this tragic glass’’ (1

Tamburlaine Prologue 7). Hamlets speech on acting is justly famous: the end of

playing is ‘‘to hold as twere the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her

feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form

and pressure’’ (3.2.21--24). Shortly after Don Quixote likens a play to a mirror

(2.12), he encounters the Knight of the Mirrors, sent by his friends to defeat

him and bring him home (2.15). The mirror became a common analogue in

neoclassic aesthetic theory, according to which art imitates reality, but even

after the Romantic analogue lamp or fountain took hold, the mirror could

still be invoked (with a difference); so Shelley: ‘‘A story of particular facts is as

a mirror which obscures and distorts that which should be beautiful: poetry is

a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted’’ (Defence of Poetry).

With the advent of realism the mirror again assumed a central role; so

Stendhal: ‘‘a novel is a mirror being carried down a highway. Sometimes it

reflects the azure heavens to your view; sometimes, the slime in the puddles

along the road’’ (The Red and the Black 2.19, trans. Parks).

Many romances and fairy tales have magic mirrors. Spensers Merlin has a

‘‘looking glasse, right wondrously aguizd [fashioned],’’ which could show

everything in the world (FQ 3.2.18); Britomarts adventure begins when she

sees Artegall in ‘‘Venus looking glas’’ (3.1.8). The mirror of Snow Whites

stepmother is both a means of magic and a mundane tool of vanity. Lewis

Carrolls Alice begins a tale by stepping Through the Looking-Glass. Wildes Picture

of Dorian Gray is about a portrait as ‘‘the most magical of mirrors’’ (chap. 8): it

reveals the inner degradation of its subject.

Mist see Cloud

Mistletoe The Icelandic Poetic Edda alludes to the death of Balder the son of Odin by

mistletoe (‘‘Voluspa’’ st. 31). Snorri Sturluson tells how the mistletoe, which

had been overlooked when all things on earth took an oath not to harm him,

was thrown at Balder by an enemy. (See also Matthew Arnolds ‘‘Balder Dead’’

6.) Pliny records that the Druids of Gaul venerated the mistletoe, which grew

on sacred oaks from which they cut it down with a golden sickle and used as

a potion for fertility (Natural History 16.95).

The Greeks and Romans noted the affinity of the mistletoe for the oak -- a

fragment of Sophocles has the phrase ‘‘mistletoe-bearing oaks’’ (frag. 403) -- but

seem not to have regarded it with much awe. Propagated through birddroppings,

especially by the missel-thrush, mistletoe grows green in winter

while the host tree itself (not necessarily an oak) seems dead or dormant.

These facts underlie the famous simile in Virgils Aeneid (6.205--09) for the

‘‘golden bough,’’ which Aeneas is led to by birds; the bough looks like

mistletoe, but it is a dead thing growing on a live tree, whereas mistletoe is

apparently the opposite; the bough lets the living Aeneas enter the realm of

the dead, where no birds may fly.

Mistletoe was also used to make birdlime to capture birds. Marcus

Argentarius warns a blackbird away from an oak, for ‘‘the oak bears mistletoe,

the foe of birds’’ (Greek Anthology 9.87). Since it is spread by birds in the first

place, it seems poetically just that it should catch them.

Sidney wishes that a wedded couple may live ‘‘Like Oke and Mistletoe. / Her

strength from him, his praise from her do growe’’ (Third Eclogues 63.51--52). It

was widely thought to be poisonous, as Shakespeare seems to note when he

calls it ‘‘baleful mistletoe’’ (Titus 2.3.95), unless he is alluding to old Germanic

legends. Keats imagines it as an ingredient of a deadly potion (Endymion 3.514).

Since at least the seventeenth century mistletoe has been a feature of

Christmas customs, perhaps because, as an evergreen, it represents life in the

season of death.

Mold see Clay

Mole The mole is an emblem of blindness. Virgil says moles are ‘‘robbed of sight’’

(Georgics 1.183). Sidney, withdrawn from his beloveds light, likens himself ‘‘to

the Mowle with want of guiding sight, / Deepe plunged in earth, deprived of

the skie’’ (Certain Sonnets 21). It is contrasted with the lynx: Coleridge addresses

a penetrating man as ‘‘Lynx amid moles!’’ (‘‘No more twixt conscience’’ 5) (see

more under Lynx); and to the eagle: ‘‘Does the Eagle know what is in the pit?’’

Blake asks, ‘‘O wilt thou go ask the Mole’’ (‘‘Thels Motto’’), while Yeats wonders

about ‘‘toils of measurement / Beyond eagle or mole / Beyond hearing or

seeing’’ (‘‘A womans beauty’’ 9--11). He may have good ears, however, as Yeatss

line may imply; Shakespeares Caliban thinks so: ‘‘Pray you, tread softly, that

the blind mole may not hear a foot fall’’ (Tempest 4.1.194--95).

The mole is a miner or burrower in the ground. When the ghost keeps

moving underground, Hamlet cries, ‘‘Well said, old mole. Canst work i th

earth so fast? / A worthy pioner! [miner]’’ (1.5.162--63). Nature tells man,

according to Pope, ‘‘Learn of the mole to plow’’ (Essay on Man 3.176). Cowper,

however, takes the mole as a symbol of destructive greed: noting the hillocks

‘‘Raised by the mole, the miner of the soil,’’ he comments, ‘‘He, not unlike the

great ones of mankind, / Disfigures earth; and, plotting in the dark, / Toils

much to earn a monumental pile, / That may record the mischiefs he has

done’’ (Task 1.273--77).

As for the hillocks, a character in Sidney is so depressed ‘‘that molehilles

seem high mountaines’’ (Fourth Eclogues 71.23), and Shakespeares Coriolanus

compares ‘‘Olympus to a molehill’’ (5.3.30).

A toast by a Scotsman in Scotts Waverley ‘‘to the little gentleman in black

velvet who did such a service in 1702’’ almost leads to bloodshed, for the little

gentleman was the mole whose hill caused the horse of William III to stumble

and kill him (chap. 11).

Monkey see Ape

Monster see Beast

Moon The moon is one of the ‘‘two great lights’’ that God made on the fourth day,

according to Genesis 1.16, ‘‘the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser

light to rule the night’’ (AV). Now known to be the only natural satellite of

planet Earth, under the Ptolemaic cosmology it was thought to be the nearest

or lowest of the seven planets that revolve around the earth on their

transparent spheres: Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. In

Latin and the Romance languages the seven days of the week are named after

these planets, but in English and the other Germanic languages only the two

great lights (and Saturn in English) have given their names to days. Monday,

or Moon-day, corresponds to Latin dies lunae, ‘‘day of the moon,’’ whence

French lundi, Italian lunedi, and so on.

Because it reflects the suns light from constantly varying angles to the

earth, the moon passes through phases, one complete cycle taking one

‘‘moon’’ or ‘‘month’’ of about 29112

days. Five distinct phases have names: new

(when the moon is invisible or just the first sliver is visible), crescent, half,

gibbous (from Latin gibbus, ‘‘hump’’), and full. When the first thin crescent is

visible, some call the dark remainder the old moon, which may appear ‘‘with

swimming phantom light oerspread’’ (Coleridge, ‘‘Dejection’’). The crescent

and gibbous phases are said to be waxing before the full moon and waning

after it. The crescent phase is often called ‘‘horned’’: its ‘‘temples were marked

with a small horn’’ (Claudian, Rape of Proserpine 2.54); it is likened sometimes

to a boat, sometimes to an archers bow. The nearer the apparent positions of

sun and moon in the sky the less the moon is lit. Thus the full moon is

always opposite the sun in the sky, rising when the sun sets and vice versa;

only a full moon can be eclipsed by the shadow of the earth, and only a new

moon can eclipse the sun. If the moon is at its meridian or high point at

midnight, it must be full.

In Latin usage, the day when the moon is near the sun and thus invisible is

the day of the ‘‘silent moon’’ (silentis lunae) or the ‘‘interlunar’’ day (interlunii)

(Pliny, Natural History 16.190). When the Greeks return by stealth to Troy,

according to Virgil, they come tacitae per amica silentia lunae, ‘‘by the friendly

silence of the quiet moon’’ (Aeneid 2.255); that might mean they come in utter

darkness. (Yeats borrows ‘‘Per Amica Silentia Lunae’’ as the title of an

important essay.) Miltons phrase, ‘‘silent as the moon, / When she deserts the

night / Hid in her vacant interlunar cave’’ (Samson Agonistes 87--89), is echoed

by Wordsworth: ‘‘All light is mute amid the gloom, / The interlunar cavern of

the tomb’’ (Evening Walk 267--68); and by Shelley: ‘‘the silent Moon / In her

interlunar swoon’’ (‘‘With a Guitar. To Jane’’ 23--24). Shelley also combines this

terminology with the boat and with Coleridges phantom light when he

describes the earliest new phase: ‘‘I see a chariot like that thinnest boat / In

which the Mother of the Months is borne / By ebbing light into her western

cave / When she upsprings from interlunar dreams, / Oer which is curved an

orblike canopy / Of gentle darkness’’ (PU 4.206--11). The synaesthesia lying

behind this Latin usage is found also in Dantes description of hell as a place

where ‘‘all light is mute’’ (Inferno 5.28).

Its regular phases make the moon a measurer of time. The word ‘‘moon’’

derives from an Indo-European root me-, meaning ‘‘measure,’’ which also

appears in Latin mensis, ‘‘month,’’ and menstruus, ‘‘monthly’’ (whence English

‘‘menstruate’’), as well as in mensura, ‘‘measuring’’ (whence English ‘‘immense,’’

‘‘dimension,’’ and ‘‘measure’’ itself).

In both Greek and Latin new terms for ‘‘moon’’ replaced forms based on the

me- root: Greek selene (‘‘blaze’’ or ‘‘flame’’) and Latin luna (‘‘light’’), both with

feminine endings, as opposed to the masculine gender of the original words.

(Homer twice uses a feminine form, mene, for ‘‘moon,’’ which is based on

masculine men, the usual word for ‘‘month.’’ Old English mona was masculine,

as is modern German Mond.) In the classical tradition, then, the moon is

invariably feminine, and since Homer and Hesiod it has been associated with

Greek and then Roman goddesses. Greek Artemis, protectress of virgins as

well as mothers in childbirth, guardian of young animals and of the hunt

(with bow and arrow), became a moon goddess; Roman Diana was identified

with Artemis; both acquired the epithet ‘‘Cynthian’’ from Mt. Cynthus on

Delos, where Artemis (and her brother Apollo) were born, and Cynthia became

a name in its own right. Another epithet, ‘‘Phoebe,’’ meaning ‘‘bright’’ in

Greek, also became a name, like its masculine form ‘‘Phoebus’’ (Apollo).

Horace calls Diana the diva triformis: her three forms are Luna in heaven,

Diana on earth, and Hecate in the lower world (Shakespeare calls her ‘‘triple

Hecate’’ at MND 5.1.370). All the Latin names enter English poetry singly or in

combination as names of the moon or moon-goddess. She drives a chariot as

the sun does, as we see as early as the Homeric Hymn to Selene and Pindars

third Olympian ode; for an English example see Spensers Cynthia in

Mutabilitie Canto 6.

Virginity or chastity is frequently attributed to the moon, partly through its

connection with virgin goddesses and partly because its light is cold.

Shakespeare calls it the ‘‘cold fruitless moon’’ (MND 1.1.73).

The moons continually changing phases led to its association with

mutability, metamorphosis, inconstancy, or fickleness. The ‘‘sublunary’’ realm,

everything beneath the sphere of the moon, is governed mainly by change,

chance, or fortune, as opposed to the divinely ordered spheres above it.

It has long been known to cause the tides; hence it is called ‘‘watery’’ or

‘‘liquid’’ and associated with water or the sea. Shelley called the sea ‘‘Slave to

the mother of the months’’ (Revolt of Islam 1420). Dew was thought to come

from the moon; in one version of her story, Herse (Dew) is the daughter of

Zeus and Selene.

From its silvery light, alchemists associated the moon with silver, whereas

gold belonged to the sun. In Spenser, Cynthia steeps things in silver dew (FQ

1.1.39); ‘‘silver moon’’ has been a formula in English poetry for centuries.

Moonlight was thought to cause madness or ‘‘lunacy’’; lunatics have

‘‘moon-struck madness’’ (Milton, PL 11.486). A ‘‘lune’’ is a fit of lunacy: we

must beware ‘‘These dangerous, unsafe lunes i th king’’ (Shakespeare, WT

2.2.28).

As the sun is the eye of day, the moon is the eye of night (e.g., Aeschylus,

Seven 390; Euripides, Phoenician Women 543; Ronsard, Odes 3.25.51), or it has an

eye (Pindar, Olymp. 3.19--20; Shakespeare, AYLI 3.2.3). Like the sun as well, the

moon drives a chariot and team (Ovid, Fasti 5.16; Statius, Thebaid 8.160).

In Christian iconography, the Virgin Mary is sometimes shown with the

moon under her feet (from Rev. 12.1). The church has been represented by the

moon, shining benignly with the reflected light of Christ the sun. The date of

Easter is set as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal

equinox.

Morning star see Star

Moth see Butterfly

Mould see Clay

Mountain Most cultures have considered mountains awesome, sacred, or dreadful. In the

western tradition they are often the homes of gods, being near to heaven and

dangerous to mortals. Jehovah dwells on Sinai or Horeb, the Greek gods hold

Olympus, Apollo and the Muses live on Parnassus or Helicon, Dionysus and

Artemis occupy Cithaeron, and so on. In the Tannhauser legend Venus has a

mountain, and there are demonic mountains, such as the Brocken, the resort

of witches, where Goethe sets his ‘‘Walpurgis Night’’ scene in Faust I.

In the Bible mountains are the sites of revelation both natural and

supernatural. Christ gives a ‘‘Sermon on the Mount,’’ which is the counterpart

or ‘‘antitype’’ of Moses bringing down the tablets from Mt. Sinai; revelation

comes from on high. Christs temptation in the wilderness takes place on ‘‘an

exceeding high mountain’’ (Matt. 4.8).

From the top of Mt. Pisgah the Lord shows Moses the Promised Land; ‘‘I

have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither’’

(Deut. 34.4). ‘‘Pisgah’’ as a site for revelation is found in radical Protestant

rhetoric from at least the seventeenth century. Browning appropriates it in a

pair of poems called ‘‘Pisgah-Sights’’ -- ‘‘and I see all of it, / Only, Im dying!’’

Stephen Dedalus playfully titles one of his parables A Pisgah Sight of Palestine

(Joyce, Ulysses, ‘‘Aeolus’’). It reached its greatest expression in the sermons and

speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.: ‘‘Ive been to the mountain top . . . Ive seen

the promised land. I may not get there with you’’ (sermon of 3 April 1968).

God brings Ezekiel to the top of ‘‘a very high mountain’’ and shows him a

vision of the Temple (40.2). Milton alludes to this verse when he has Michael

lead Adam up the highest hill of Paradise from which the hemisphere of

earth lay ‘‘to the amplest reach of prospect’’ (PL 11.380). Coleridge echoes the

double sense of ‘‘prospect’’ when, after prophesying disaster if Britain

continues in her ways, he climbs a hill and has ‘‘a burst of prospect’’ into the

natural world, which softens his heart (‘‘Fears in Solitude’’ 215).

Indeed a characteristic motif of Romantic literature, at least since Schillers

‘‘Der Spaziergang,’’ is the philosophical wanderer who feels moments of

exaltation and profound insight on mountains. Byrons Manfred may be the

archetype in English literature, perhaps Nietzsches Zarathustra in German;

Chateaubriands Rene climbs mountains, as does Lamartine in ‘‘LIsolement.’’

The two most sublime ‘‘spots of time’’ or epiphanies in Wordsworths Prelude

come as he crosses the Alps (6.494--572) and as he climbs Mt. Snowdon

(13.10--119, 1805 version). Thomas Mann fully exploits the philosophical

mountain-view tradition in The Magic Mountain.

Before the eighteenth century few people seem to have found mountains

attractive or sublime. Petrarchs climb to the top of Mt. Ventoux (in about

1336) just to see what he could see was probably unusual; to write about it

was unprecedented (‘‘The Ascent of Mt. Ventoux’’). Mountains were thought of

as dangerous obstacles and excrescences on the fair face of the earth, and

early comments on the Alps were anything but favorable. Thomas Gray was

one of the first poets to appreciate them: in a Latin ode he addresses the

‘‘Holy Spirit of this stern place,’’ and claims ‘‘we behold God nearer to us, a

living presence, amid pathless steeps, wild mountainous ridges and

precipitous cliffs, and among roaring torrents’’ (‘‘Grande Chartreuse among

the Mountains of Dauphine,’’ trans. Starr and Hendrickson). Soon the Alps

attracted tourists, and Mont Blanc in particular, the highest peak of Europe,

‘‘the monarch of mountains,’’ inspired pious emotions in many of them. A

short poem in German by Friederika Brun, called ‘‘Chamouny at Sunrise,’’ asks

the mountain several questions, such as ‘‘Who piled high into the ethers

vault / Mighty and bold thy radiant face?’’ and answers, ‘‘Jehovah! Jehovah!’’

Coleridge more or less plagiarized this poem with his ‘‘Hymn before Sunrise,

in the Vale of Chamouni’’: ‘‘Who bade the sun / Clothe you with rainbows?

Who, with living flowers / Of loveliest blue, spread garlands at your feet? -- /

god! let the torrents, like a shout of nations / Answer! and let the ice-plains

echo, god!’’ Tom Moore visited Mont Blanc (unlike Coleridge) and wrote several

poems about the experience: ‘‘Alps on Alps in clusters swelling, / Mighty, and

pure, and fit to make / The ramparts of a Godheads dwelling!’’ (Rhymes on the

Road I). With such poems as these in mind William Hazlitt wrote, ‘‘The

Crossing of the Alps has, I believe, given some of our fashionables a

shivering-fit of morality; as the sight of Mont Blanc convinced [Moore] of the

Being of God’’ (‘‘On Jealousy and Spleen of Party’’). Holderlin calls the Alps

‘‘the fortress of the heavenly ones / . . . from where / in secret much is firmly /

Handed down to men’’ (‘‘The Rhine’’ 6--9). Victor Hugo exclaimed, ‘‘How trifling

the monuments of man seem beside these marvelous edifices which a mighty

hand raised on the surface of the earth, and in which there is for the soul

almost a new revelation of God!’’ ( ‘‘Fragment of a Journey to the Alps’’). The

atheist Shelley, however, probably goaded by Coleridges poem, wrote the

greatest of Mont Blanc poems, in which the mountain is the home of ‘‘Power’’

rather than the product of the Creator, and has a voice ‘‘to repeal / large codes

of fraud and woe’’ rather than to hand them down (‘‘Mont Blanc’’ 80--81).

Emersons Monadnoc has a similar silent power: ‘‘We fool and prate; Thou art

silent and sedate’’; ‘‘Mute orator! well skilled to plead, / And send conviction

without phrase, / Thou dost succor and remede / The shortness of our days’’

(‘‘Monadnoc’’).

Because of their impassable homeland, mountain people have preserved

their independence more effectively than people of the valleys or plains, or so

it has seemed; the example of the redoubtable Swiss stood as a beacon and a

reproach to those who yearned for liberty in the kingdoms of Europe. Miltons

phrase, ‘‘The Mountain Nymph, sweet Liberty’’ (‘‘LAllegro’’ 36), has had many

successors. Writing of Corsica, Barbauld claims ‘‘Liberty, / The mountain

Goddess, loves to range at large / Amid such scenes’’ (‘‘Corsica’’ 67--69). Of his

Welsh hero, Southey tells that ‘‘Among the hills of Gwyneth and its wilds /

And mountain glens, perforce he cherished still / The hope of mountain

liberty’’ (‘‘Madoc in Wales’’ 12.51--53). Growing up in the Lake District,

Wordsworth acquired a ‘‘mountain liberty’’ (1805 Prelude 9.242); during the

revolt of the Tyrol against Napoleon, Wordsworth begins a sonnet, ‘‘Advance --

come forth from thy Tyrolean ground, / Dear Liberty! stern Nymph of soul

untamed; / Sweet Nymph, O rightly of the mountains named!’’ Byrons

Manfred, on the Jungfrau, feels ‘‘the liberal air’’ (Manfred 1.2.50). Musset has a

character cry, ‘‘Elle est la sur les monts, la liberte sacree!’’ (La Coupe et les lиvres,

‘‘Invocation’’ 48).

Yet nineteenth-century tourists to the Alps were often struck by the

imbecility of those who lived there, and when Emerson went to Mt.

Monadnoc, expecting ‘‘to find the patriots / In whom the stock of freedom

roots; / To myself I oft recount / Tales of many a famous mount, -- / Wales,

Scotland, Uri, Hungarys dells: / Bards, Roys, Scanderbegs and Tells,’’ he found

a dull, hard-working stock instead (‘‘Monadnoc’’). More caustically he asks

‘‘Who dare praise the freedom-loving mountaineer? / I found by thee, O

rushing Contoocook! / And in thy valleys, Agiochook! / The jackals of the

negro-holder’’ (‘‘Ode to Channing’’). As if to endorse this deflation of the myth,

T. S. Eliot has a rootless and timid countess claim, ‘‘In the mountains, there

you feel free,’’ but ‘‘I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter’’ (The

Waste Land 17--18).

Music of the

spheres

The Pythagoreans believed (according to Aristotle, De Caelo 290b12) that the

stars make sounds as they move, and since their speeds are in the same ratios

as musical concordances, the entire sound they produce is a harmony. We

cannot hear it, for it is a constant background sound in our ears from birth.

Plato presented a vision of eight cosmic ‘‘whorls’’ (Greek sphondulos), hollow

and nested one inside the other; on each stood a Siren singing one note, and

from all eight there came a single harmony (Republic 616d--17b). Plotinus

(Enneads 2.3.9) and Cicero (Dream of Scipio 18), among others, elaborated this

vision; in Cicero the spheres are those of the seven planets and the fixed stars,

and we learn that the uppermost stars give out the highest pitch, the moon

the lowest; on earth we are deaf to the music, but when raised into the

heavens we will hear it. (There are some discrepancies in the texts as to the

number of different notes.)

Another source of this idea is a passage from Job: ‘‘the morning stars sang

together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy’’ (38.7).

Chaucers Troilus, transported to heaven after his betrayal in love, saw ‘‘The

erratik sterres [planets], herkenyng armonye / With sownes ful of hevenyssh

melodie’’ (TC 5.1812--13) (see also PF 59--63). Shakespeares Lorenzo tells Jessica,

‘‘Theres not the smallest orb which thou beholdst / But in his motion like an

angel sings, / Still quiring to the young-eyd cherubins; / Such harmony is in

immortal souls, / But whilst this muddy vesture of decay / Doth grossly close

it in, we cannot hear it’’ (MV 5.1.60--65). Sir John Daviess poem about the

cosmic dance, Orchestra, tells how ‘‘The turning vault of heaven formed was, /

Whose starry wheels he [Love] hath so made to pass, / As that their movings

do a music frame, / And they themselves still dance unto the same’’ (130--33).

Milton calls on ‘‘ye Crystal spheres’’ to ring out ‘‘with your ninefold

harmony’’ and accompany the angels singing in honor of Christ (‘‘Nativity’’

125--32) (see also ‘‘At a Solemn Music’’). The opening lines of the ‘‘Prologue in

Heaven’’ of Goethes Faust allude to this music -- ‘‘The sun intones as it has of

old / in rival song with brother spheres’’ (243--44).

In the traditional scheme the earth, being motionless, made no sound, but

Shelley transforms the tradition to suit the Copernican model. Panthea and

Ione hear ‘‘the deep music of the rolling world,’’ which is made of ‘‘Ten

thousand orbs involving and involved’’ that ‘‘whirl / Over each other with a

thousand motions,’’ solemnly ‘‘Kindling with mingled sounds, and many

tones, / Intelligible words and music wild’’ (PU 4.186, 241--51).

Myrrh see Frankincense and myrrh

Myrtle The myrtle plant was sacred to Aphrodite and to her Roman counterpart

Venus, as it was to the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar; hence it became the

plant of love. There is little in Greek literature before Plutarch (Marcellus 22.4)

connecting myrtle with Aphrodite, but apparently there were temples to

Aphrodite where a sacred myrtle was cultivated. Aristophanes uses ‘‘myrtle’’ as

a euphemism for the female genitalia (Lysistrata 1004).

According to Ovid, Venus crouched behind a myrtle bush to hide from the

satyrs (Fasti 4.141--3, 869); another story has her emerge from the sea at birth

covered with myrtle, which often grows by the shore. Venus son Aeneas

shades his temples with ‘‘maternal myrtle’’ (materna myrto) before the games

(Aeneid 5.72), and later in the Underworld he sees a myrtle grove where those

who died of love wander disconsolate (6.443). It soon became a common icon

of Venus; e.g., Du Bellays poem ‘‘To Venus’’ dedicates flowers to her and

promises her myrtle if he is successful in love. Marlowes description of

Leanders ‘‘amorous habit [dress]’’ includes ‘‘Cupids myrtle’’ (Hero and Leander

588--89).

Myrtle is an evergreen and thus suggestive of lifes power against death; in

Draytons words, ‘‘bay and myrtle, which is ever new, / In spight of winter

flourishing and green’’ (Pastoral Eclogues 6). Perhaps for this reason it was

frequently used in garlands and crowns at festivals and to deck tombs. Early

Greek lyric poets spoke of twining roses with myrtle. Horace praises the

‘‘simple myrtle’’ without embellishments: ‘‘myrtle suits you pouring, and me

drinking’’ (1.38.5--7). Pliny reports that a Roman commander was crowned with

the myrtle of Venus Victrix for a victory in which none was slain (Natural

History 15.38).

Both its connection with festivals and its association with love, a common

subject of song, may account for its use as a crown for poets, along with

laurel, ivy, or oak, though each has distinctive connotations. Dante introduces

the poet Statius as crowned with myrtle (Purgatorio 21.90). Garnier asks that

the laurel grow green at Ronsards tomb ‘‘with the ivy / and the amorous

myrtle’’ (‘‘Elegy on the Death of Ronsard’’). Thomson imagines Sidney ‘‘with

early Laurels crownd, / The Lovers Myrtle, and the Poets Bay’’ (‘‘Summer’’

1512--13).

A famous drinking song collected by Athenaeus tells of the two liberators of

Athens: ‘‘In a myrtle bough will I carry the sword / Like Harmodius and

Aristogiton / When they killed the tyrant / and brought equality to Athens’’

(Deipnosophistae 15.695). It is hard to see how myrtle branches could have

concealed swords, but myrtle doubtless adorned the festival where the tyrant

was killed (they actually killed Hipparchus, brother of the tyrant Hippias, in

514 bc), and the poetic point may lie in the contrast between the festive and

friendly connotations of myrtle and the contrary sense of sword. Shelley, in

any case, brilliantly recreates the image as he imagines earth and heaven

united by beams ‘‘Like swords of azure fire, or golden spears / With

tyrant-quelling myrtle overtwined,’’ as if it is the myrtle of love that defeats

tyranny and not the sword (PU 4.271--72).

See Ivy, Laurel, Oak.