"To Compare Great Things With Small"

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 272

Context: It having been decided in the great council of the devils that Satan should seduce mankind so as to destroy God's favorite creation, Satan makes his way towards the gates of hell. He meets a creature that is a woman above and a serpent below; this monster announces that she is Sin, who issued from Satan's head, as Athena had issued from the head of Zeus. There is a specter with her who is the product of Satan's incestuous dalliance with Sin; he is Death, and is inseparable from Sin. Satan cajoles Sin into opening the gates of hell so that he can go up to earth on his wicked errand. She opens the gates, but for ever cannot close them again. Satan and Sin look out on the hoary deep where Chaos and Night, the ancestors of nature, rule. Here the four elements war for mastery, and Chance governs all. Satan stands on the brink of hell and contemplates the wild abyss, pondering his trip. To compare the noises of hell with the sounds caused by the Roman Goddess of War is to compare objects on two levels. "Frith" is a clearing in the woods.

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Into this wild abyss the wary fiend
Stood on the brink of hell and looked a while,
Pondering his voyage: for no narrow frith
He had to cross. Nor was his ear less pealed
With noises loud and ruinous (to compare
Great things with small) than when Bellona storms,
With all her battering engines set to raze
Some capital city, or less than if this frame
Of heaven were falling, and these elements
In mutiny had from her axle torn
The steadfast earth.

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