Paradise Lost Book 2: Line 591-594 - Explanation

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Line. 591-594: all else.....whole have sunk.

      The bad angels bent on exploring the regions of Hell during the absence of their chief arrived at Lethe, on its extreme boundary. A little distant from this was a region frozen all through the year, 'beat with perpetual storms of whirlwind and dire hail,' the ice gathering in great heaps on firms land but everywhere else lying deep and proving treacherous to passers by. The treachery of the quicksands of ice and snow of region is compared with diat of Lake Serbonis in lower Egypt, which lies between Damiata (modem Pelusium, the strategic outpost of Egypt) and Mount Casius, a sandy hill to the East. The sands of this hill blown by the winds into the lake, so thicken the water, as not to be distinguished by the eye from the adjacent firm land. Hence armies marching in the neighbourhood of the lake have fallen into the mire and drowned. This is the account that ancient geographers and historians have given of the spot. Part of the armies of the Persian king, Darius Ochus, for example, have thus been known to be drowned in the lake, when he invaded Egypt.

      The point of comparison in the simile is between the looseness of those ice-bound regions in hell and the quick-sands of Lake Serbonis.

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