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Paradise Lost by John Milton - Barron's Booknotes
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LINES 629-725. SIN AND DEATH

Meanwhile Satan is off to the gates of Hell, through which he must pass before he can break through-literally erupt-into Chaos and then the World. An epic simile tells us that as he travels, he looks like a sailing ship so far away that it seems to be hanging in the clouds.

He soon reaches the nine gates of Hell-three brass, three iron, and three of the hardest known rock, adamant. All three gates burn continually but are never destroyed. They are guarded by two horrible creatures, one on each side of the gates: one is a woman, Sin, who is a serpent below the waist; the other is a man, Death, with no shape but blackness. He carries a dagger and seems to be wearing a crown.



NOTE: ALLEGORY AND ALLEGORICAL FIGURES These figures have a different function in the poem than the characters we already know. Sin and Death are figures of allegory, which means that they represent in their appearance the parts they play in our lives. Sin is foul and misshapen, only half human, filthy with hybrid offspring who crawl in and out of her womb as they wish. She represents the unnatural confusion of sin, which distorts the proper order of things. Death is a black shadow, with a dagger to pierce his victims and a crown which symbolizes his rule over everyone. As we follow the interactions between Sin, Death, and Satan, you will be able to translate what they do into its meaning.

Death strides toward Satan, who stands his ground: he fears nothing in the universe except God and his Son. (When Satan looks Death in the eye, we are seeing allegory at work: Satan is immortal, and therefore he can defy Death.) He declares his intention to pass through the nine gates, but Death won't let him. As they stand ready to fight, Satan looks like a comet in the sky, and the threatening combatants look like the thunderclouds just before a storm. The fight never happens because Sin rushes between the two of them.

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