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The Rape of the Lock is a narrative poem written by the eighteenth-century English poet Alexander Pope about a Baron who steals the main character Belinda's flowing locks. Belinda is guarded by 50 sylphs (magic spirits). However, unaware that the Baron wants her locks, they are only guarding her petticoat.

Belinda is warned of this "dread event" in her sleep by her "guardian sylph" Ariel as early as line 110 in the first canto:

In the clear Mirror of thy ruling Star

I saw, alas! some dread event impend,

Ere to the main this morning sun descend.

Ariel says she doesn't know exactly what will happen, but tells Belinda

Beware of all, but most beware of Man!

In the second canto, Belinda attends a party on a boat heading for Hampton Court Palace that includes the Baron. At this point, the reader learns that the Baron admires and wants to steal Belinda's locks.

The advent'rous Baron the bright locks admir'd

He saw, he wish's, and to the prize aspir'd.

He even has an altar at his home displaying other goods stolen from beautiful women:

There lay three garters, half a pair of gloves:

And all the trophies of his former loves

As the reader knows, Ariel doesn't know exactly what will happen, or what will be stolen, but she sends out 50 “chosen Sylphs of special note” to guard Belinda and, in particular, her beautiful petticoat. Ariel “shall be the guard of Shock” the dog.

Ariel tells the Sylphs

Form a strong line about the silver bound,

And guard the wide circumference around . . .

and warns them

Whatever spirit, careless of his charge,

His post neglects, or leaves the fair at large,

Shall fell sharp vengeance soon o'vertake his Sins . . . .

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In The Rape of the Lock, Pope’s satire on aristocratic manners, Ariel summons an army of sylphs to attend Belinda while she is aboard the pleasure boat. Their numbers, while staggering, also seem quite ridiculous when one learns what they have been summoned to protect. For example, fifty of them are assigned the sole purpose of protecting her petticoat. Before the fifty, celestial bodyguards are mentioned, however, Ariel charges others— Zephyretta, Brillante, Momentilla, and Crispissa—to guard her fan, earrings, watch, and hair, respectively, while assigning himself the task of protecting Shock, Belinda’s lapdog. If the aforementioned sylphs exist independently of the fifty, Belinda would have had fifty-four sylphs guarding her in addition to Ariel, which would have raised the count to fifty-five. References to the sylphs and their numbers may be found in Canto II, lines 39-41.

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