Paradise Lost Book 2: Line 659-661 - Explanation

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Line. 659-661 Far less abhorred.........Trinacrian shore.

     Satan arriving at the gates of Hell saw two hideous monsters guarding it. One of them was Sin, and round about her waist were a number of hounds which got into her womb immediately they saw Satan. Milton describing them compares them with Scylla, who was less abhorred than they.

      Scylla was the daughter of Typhon, a giant She scorned the addresses of her fair lover, Glaucus, who applied to the enchantress, Circe, for some herbs to turn her heart to himself. But Circe failing in love with him, and growing jealous of Scylla, attempted to make Glaucus forget her. To punish her rival, Circe poured the juice of some poisonous herbs into the waters of the fountain where Scylla bathed, and no sooner had the nymph touched the place than she found every part of her body below the water changed into frightful monsters like dogs, which never ceased barking. The rest of her body assumed an equally hideous form. She found herself supported by twelve feet, and she had six different heads, each with three rows of teeth. This sudden metamorphosis so terrified her, that she threw herself into that part of the sea which separates the coast of Italy and Sicily, where she was changed into rocks, which continued to bear her name, and which were universally deemed by the ancients as very dangerous to sailors, as well as the whirlpool of Charybdis on the coast of Sicily. During a tempest the waves are described by modem navigators as roaring dreadfully when driven into the rough and uneven cavities of the rock.

      Milton compares the hell-hounds, the offspring of Sin which vexed her, with those which vexed Scylla when she was metamorphosed by Circe's poison, as she was bathing in her fountain. These Hell hounds of Sin were more horrible than those which afflicted Scylla.

      Milton represents Seylla as living in that part of the sea which between Calabria and the Trinacrian shore, which, according to legend, was the place where she threw herself into the sea and was drowned.

      Trinacria was the ancient name of Sicily, so called because it is three-cornered. Calabria is the modem name of the S.W. peninsula of Italy, opposite to Sicily, in ancient times, when Sicily was called Trinacria, Calabria was the name of the S.E. peninsula of Italy, facing the Adriatic. Thus this is a curious oversight on the part of Milton.

      The sounds heard on the Trinacrian shore are called 'hoaree' from the dreadful roading of the waves when they enter the rough and uneven cavities of that rockey shore.

      Milton's classical scholarship and his fondness for place names are revealed in these lines.

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