Milton's Masque of Comus: a Precedent in Lorenzo Costa's painting of Comus

Comus was the classical god of festivity, revels, and night-time sexuality. He was the son of the god Bacchus, and his presence implied chaos and excess, as seen in Milton's characterization of the attempt by Comus to debauch the virginal Lady. As in several incarnations in the painting, Comus wore a wreath of flowers on his head and often bore an inverted torch about to die. This image, probably developed for the court of Isabella d'Este, illustrates the Renaissance context of Milton's use of this classical figure in his masque, which follows in the tradition of Shakespeare's classical Masque of Ceres in The Tempest and that of Ben Jonson's Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue.

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