How is classical mythology used in John Milton's ode "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity"?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Classical mythology and other classical allusions are used in a variety of ways in John Milton’s ode “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity.” Some these ways include the following:

  • In line 15, the speaker invokes the “heavenly Muse,” a Christian counterpart to the kinds of classical muses invoked in poems written by ancient Greek and Roman authors.
  • In line 19, the speaker alludes to the classical myth of Apollo (the sun) driving his chariot across the skies.
  • In lines 55-58, the speaker alludes to classical instruments of warfare, including chariots, spears, and shields.
  • In line 74, when referring to “Lucifer,” the speaker actually alludes to the planet named after the classical goddess Venus.
  • Chariots are again alluded to in line 84.
  • In line 89, Christ is likened to the ancient Greek god Pan, whose name meant “all.”
  • In line 103, the moon is referred to by the classical name “Cynthia.”
  • In line 135, the speaker alludes to the classical golden age.
  • In line 173, the speaker implies that the coming of Christ silences the classical oracles.
  • In lines 176-80, the speaker specifically mentions the passing of the classical Gods, as when he says,

Apollo from his shrine

Can now no more divine,

With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leavening. (176-78)

  • Further signs that the age of the pagan gods and other mythological figures has now ended are announced in lines 181-96. The coming of Christ means the triumph of the true God over all earlier figments of the human imagination. These include the mostly non-classical pagan figures described in lines 197-220.
  • In lines 226-28 the infant Jesus is likened to the infant Hercules in his power to defeat evil.
  • A final allusion to a chariot occurs in line 240.

Milton repeatedly suggests, then, that the advent of Jesus Christ means the replacement of mythology with truth. Milton thus shows his thorough familiarity with classical myth while also showing his commitment to Christian triumphalism.