Despite its immense scope, Milton scholarship has rarely considered the influence of Senecan tragedy on Paradise Lost. This essay offers such a consideration by arguing for a specifically Senecan allusion in book 10, in which Milton describes “delusive” fruits that grow in hell and that deceive the fallen angels by turning to ash in their mouths. This episode has been the object of much critical discussion, and none of its identified sources, including the Bible, Lucan, and Spenser, provides a convincing model for Milton's depiction of the tantalizing food. I propose that Milton imitates the Tantalus scene from Seneca's Thyestes and that his engagement with Seneca constitutes what critics of intertextuality call a “systematic” or “critical” allusion. As such, this scene not only provides an intertext for the controversial fruit episode of book 10 but also reveals larger thematic parallels between Seneca's tragedy and Milton's epic. More than simply a story to which Milton alludes, Seneca's version of the Tantalus myth offers a model for understanding the important role played by allusion in historically belated literature.

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