Paradise Lost Book 2: Line 1019-1020 - Explanation

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Line. 1019-1020: Or when Ulysses....whirlpool steered.

      When Satan learnt his way to the new world from Chaos, he sprang forward like a pyramid of fire, and combated his way through the contending elements. His passage through them was more dangerous than the passage of Ulysses, as described by Homer, through the Straits of Messina.

      Ulysses was the king of Ithaca who fought on the side of the Greeks in the Trojan war. At the end of the war, he sailed homewards, but a fierce storm blowing his ships were scattered and he lost his way. A number of adventures then beiail him, one of which was his having to sail through the Straits of Messina. Homer says that these straits were bounded on either side by two fierce figtree; to the larboard, or to the left side of the ship, beneath a mighty figtree, on the Sicilian coast, was Charybdis, who 'sucks down her black water, for thrice a day she spouts it forth, and thrice a day she sucks it down in terrible wise.' Homer is only describing poetically the dangerous whirlpool called after her name. To the star-board was a dangerous rock called Scylla, after that monster's name, and here she dwelt snatching with each of her six heads the sailors who passed her way. Ulysses was advised to avoid the fierce eddy, the Charybdis, and to risk losing six of his men by sailing closer to Scylla, on the mainland of Italy. Milton calls Scylla also a whirlpool (he speaks of it as 'the other whirlpool'), following Virgil, who in the Aeneid, speaks of her thus "But Scylla from her den, with open jaws. The sinking vessel in her eddy draws, Then dashes on the rocks."

      The Charybdis and Scylla denote two dangerous troubles from which it is difficult to extricate oneself. The troubles Satan had to undergo were worse than these which Ulysses had to face.

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