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To understand lines 447 – 449 of John Milton’s mask Comus, one must first put these lines into context. At this point in the mask, the two brothers are discussing their lost sister, the Lady. She is alone in the forest and the younger brother worries for her safety. Addressing his elder brother, the younger states, “But O that hapless virgin our lost sister, / Where may she wander now, wither betake her / From the chill dew” (ll. 350-352). The elder brother soothes his young companion and asks him to stay at peace and attempt a calm demeanor. The elder suggests that their sister is not so unprincipled as to get into trouble: “I do not think my sister so to seek, / Or so unprincipled in virtue’s book” (ll. 366-367). He argues that, although they have left her vulnerable in the dark forest, the Lady’s virginity and chastity will see her through the night. The brothers do not know that their sister has already fallen into the hands of Comus, who has disguised himself as a simple villager.
In lines 447-449, the elder brother speaks to the younger on the power of chastity. He relates, “What was that snaky-headed Gorgon shield / That wise Minerva wore, unconquered virgin, / wherewith she freezed her foes to congealed stone.” Here, the elder brother compares the Lady to Minerva and suggests that the Lady’s chastity acts in a similar manner as Minerva’s shield. Minerva’s shield is adorned with the head of Medusa, who has the power to turn all enemies to stone with a single glance. Similarly, the Lady’s chastity will see her through any unfortunate events and allow her to come away unscathed.
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