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
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Ovid begins:

Haud procul Hennaeis lacus est a moenibus altae,nomine
Pergus, aquae; [. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ] perpetuum ver est. Quo dum Proserpina luco ludit et aut violas aut candida lilia carpit, dumque puellari studio calathosque sinumque inplet et aequales certat superare legendo, paene simul visa est dilectaque raptaque Diti.

(Metamorphoses V.385-95) 1

Milton's negative syntax, therefore, not only draws us away from Ovid's Enna but also propels us toward it, for Ovid too employs a negative construction: "Not far from Enna's walls [. . .]" (Met. V.385-6). Furthermore, Milton's progression from the active participle "gath'ring" to the passive "gather'd" mirrors Ovid's progression from "legendo" (gathering) to "rapta" (she has been taken). In addition, Milton directly prefaces the above passage with "th'Eternal Spring" (PL IV.268), much as Ovid tells us that "spring is eternal" (perpetuum ver est).

What resonates in Milton's description, however, are not the enumerated similarities between Eden and Enna but that which Milton leaves unmentioned—the striking comparison between Eve and Proserpina, between Satan's seduction of "our mother" and Dis's ravishment of Ovid's goddess. Milton does not explicitly compare Proserpina to Eve, yet the obvious parallel between these two innocent gardeners preyed upon by dark forces is a potent subtext. Indeed, upon completing his
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