Paradise Lost Book 9: Line 634-665 - Summary

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AS WHEN A WANDERING FIRE....ROOT OF ALL WOE (LINES 634-665)

      Satan offers to guide Eve to the tree whose fruit has, according to him, brought about a wonderful transformation in him and the credulous Eve forgetting Adam’s warning accepts the offer of Satan. The iridescent, brilliantly, colored snake is compared by Milton to will o’ the wisp, or the light seen in marshy places at night and regarded by some as a supernatural phenomenon. Milton gives a scientific explanation and rightly says that the wandering fire is an aggregate of oily vapors and adds that these vapors are condensed by the cold night wind. It is some disturbance in the atmosphere which ignites these vapors and their blaze gives the night wanderer an impression of light and in an attempt to reach it, they get lost.

      The comparison is an epic simile interesting in itself but the real point is that the snake’s brilliance is as delusive and will mislead Eve just as the will o’ the wisp was believed to mislead night wanderers who foil into some quagmire, and were swallowed up or drowned in some pond or pool. Thus, Eve is led into fraud and crime just as the delusive wandering fire entices persons into danger. Eve is going to perish morally under the misguidance of the serpent.

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