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Essay on The Rape of Proserpina and Eve's Fall in Milton's Paradise Lost

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The Rape of Proserpina and Eve's Fall in Milton's Paradise Lost


"She pluck'd, she eat" (PL IX.781). With these four monosyllables, Milton succinctly announces the Fall of Eve in Paradise Lost. Eve's Fall, however, is far more complex than a simple act of eating, for her disobedience represents a much greater loss of chastity. Indeed, Milton implies that the Fall is a violation not only of God's sole commandment but also of Eve herself, for Milton implicitly equates Dis's ravishment of Proserpina with Satan's seduction of Eve. Milton weaves the Proserpina myth, as told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses, throughout Paradise Lost as a trope for rape and Eve's loss of virginity, and this culminates in a metaphorical construction of the Fall as a rape of Eve by Satan. Milton's depiction of Eve's ravishment, moreover, is ambivalently misogynistic, for Milton casts Eve as a seductress who has largely engendered her own rape.

Early in Book IV of Paradise Lost Milton compares Eden to beautiful landscapes of classical mythology, while insisting that his Christian Garden is "not" like such pagan settings. Milton's negative syntax implies the ineffability of Eden—this unfallen paradise cannot be described by a fallen poet to fallen readers and certainly cannot be evoked by pagan similes. Yet Milton's lush catalogue of classical landscapes forces an analogy, and as we amble through the myths, we conjure an image of Eden based on its classical precursors. Particularly salient is the first classical allusion, which compares Eden to Enna:

Not that fair field
Of Enna, where Proserpin gath'ring flow'rs
Herself a fairer Flow'r by gloomy Dis
Was gather'd, which cost Ceres all that pain
To seek her through the world

(PL IV.268-72) ...


... middle of paper ...


...ks to be the "greater Man." Later in his letter to Diodati, Milton quips: "You ask what I am thinking of? So may the good Deity help me, of immortality!" (Patterson 27). With his chaste epic ambition, Milton seeks to place himself in the role of savior, using his poetic brilliance to undo the Death engendered by the Fall.

Works Cited

Hughes, Merritt Y., ed. John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose . New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1957.

Milton, John, and Barbara Kiefer Lewalski. Paradise Lost. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2007. Print.

- - -, Samson Agonistes. In John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose. Ed. Merritt Y. Hughes. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1957. 550-93.

Ovid, Metamorphoses. Trans. and ed. D. E. Hill. Wiltshire: Aris & Phillips Ltd., 1992.

Patterson, Frank Allen, ed. The Works of John Milton, Volume XII. New York: Columbia UP, 1936.


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