Professing * Reflecting

Friday, July 27, 2007

Poetry Friday, Milton

They ferry over this Lethean sound
Both to and fro, their sorrow to augment,
And wish and struggle, as they pass, to reach
The tempting stream, with one small drop to lose
In sweet forgetfulness all pain and woe,
All in one moment, and so near the brink;
But Fate withstands, and to oppose th’attempt
Medusa with Gorgonian terror guards
The Ford, and of itself the water flies
All taste of living wight, as once it fled
The lip of Tantalus. (Paradise Lost 2.604–14)

While doing some research this week, I stumbled across James Dougal Fleming's "Meanwhile, Medusa in Paradise Lost," a nifty little article about Medusa's cameo appearance in everyone's favorite seventeenth-century epic poem. What the hell is Medusa doing in Milton's Hell, especially as it's occupied at this point only by the fallen angels? Is she one of Milton's many many many mythological allusions? Clearly not. She's present, guarding the River Lethe from the fallen angels as each and every one tries to drink from it. For Fleming, Medusa ultimately represents semiotic instability within the poem. She is a sign that cannot be, but nevertheless is, shown. She is a "metanarrative sign" that works to interrupt narrative: "Medusa, placed in the story, severs story, like a hole in the road." Wicked cool, huh?

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