Paradise Lost Book 9: Line 503-510 - Summary

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      In these lines, Milton describes through allusions to famous snakes in myth and legend, the appearance of the serpent in whose body Satan had entered. Before the Fall, before the snake had been cursed it did not crawl in creeping waves on his belly but moved erect on his curled tail. His folds surged like a maze one above the other and his head was held high, his eyes shone like carbuncles (diamond) and his shining neck was greenish golden.

      He had pleasing shape and appearance lovelier than the snakes we hear of in legends.

      Milton then refers to famous serpents known in classical legends. Cadmus, king of Thebes and his wife Harmonia were changed into beautiful serpents by a dragon-snake which Cadmus had killed. Another comparison is to Aesculapius the god of healing, who was at Epidauras, on the eastern coast of the Peloponnesus in Greece, where a temple had been raised for him. When, from there, he went to Rome to rid the city of some pestilence (Epidemic), he took the form of a divine serpent.

      Yet another reference is to Jove who assumed the form of a serpent twice. When great Jove, the king of Heaven, who was worshipped in Libya as the Ammonian Jove, visited Olympias who then conceived Alexander the Great, he took the form of a beautiful serpent. Similarly, the same Jove called the Capitoline Jove because there is a temple of Jove on the Capital hill in Rome, appeared to the mother of Scipio (also named Africanus, because of his great victory over Carthage in Africa) again in the form of a serpent.

      But none of these serpents were as beautiful as the serpent in whom Satan entered.

      Noteworthy is the ease with which Milton uses a string of proper names to contribute to the music of the verse.

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