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At lines 450 to 469 of Comus, a masque first published in 1637 by John Milton, the Elder Brother of the piece is in the midst of a lively defense of his sister's "hidden strength" - chastity. She has been kidnapped by the lecherous sorcerer, Comus. In this predicament, her second brother expresses anxiety that she may not be able to resist his blandishments. The Elder Brother responds, and his disquisition appears below:
But rigid looks of chaste austerity,450
And noble grace that dashed brute violence
With sudden adoration and blank awe?
So dear to Heaven is saintly chastity
That, when a soul is found sincerely so,
A thousand liveried angels lackey her,
Driving far off each thing of sin and guilt,
And in clear dream and solemn vision
Tell her of things that no gross ear can hear;
Till oft converse with heavenly habitants
Begin to cast a beam on the outward shape,460
The unpolluted temple of the mind,
And turns it by degrees to the soul’s essence,
Till all be made immortal. But, when lust,
By unchaste looks, loose gestures, and foul talk,
But most by lewd and lavish act of sin,
Lets in defilement to the inward parts,
The soul grows clotted by contagion,
Imbodies, and imbrutes, till she quite loose
The divine property of her first being.
The analysis follows: line 450 looks back to the previous three lines where "the unconquered virgin" Minerva, with her "snaky headed Gorgon shield", turned her enemies into stone. In an analogous fashion chastity will confound (an obsolete meaning of the word "dashed") sexual violence and turn it into "adoration" and "awe". The Elder Brother continues: When a soul is truly chaste, she - Milton loved the feminine personification - is accompanied by a thousand angels in their distinctive 'uniform' of light who wait upon her. Milton writes "lackey her", a word which implies no servility. This band of angels defends the pure soul by "driving" off evil and in a kind of interior communication imparts spiritual knowledge "that no gross ear can hear". This frequent communion with "heavenly habitants (the angels of line 455), so the Elder Brother avers, has the effect of transforming the "temple of the mind", i.e., the body, into the likeness of the soul. In other words, by a life of purity, the body mirrors and partakes of the soul's immortality. In the lines leading up to 470, the Elder Brother discourses on the opposite effect: When the soul defiles itself by "lewd and lavish act of sin", it becomes "clotted" with materiality and sensuality ("imbodies and imbrutes") and is thus dragged down into and is doomed to exile in the visible world. In the use of the word "clotted", Milton is consciously referring to Plato's Phaedo where in a dialogue with Cebes, Socrates states: "And this corporeal element, my friend, is heavy and weighty and earthy, and is that element by which such a soul is depressed and dragged down again into the visible world, because she is afraid of the invisible and of the world below..."
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