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This post rests nowhere. Its only excuse is its theme.

The first extended simile in Paradise Lost compares Satan to

                                          that Sea-beast
Leviathan, which God of all his works
Created hugest that swim th’ Ocean stream:
Him haply slumb’ring on the Norway foam
The Pilot of some small night-founder’d Skiff,
Deeming some Island, oft, as Seamen tell,
With fixed Anchor in his scaly rind
Moors by his side under the Lee, while Night
Invests the Sea, and wished Morn delays:
So stretcht out huge in length the Arch-fiend lay
Chain’d on the burning Lake….

As first the passage deserves special attention. “Of Man’s First Disobedience,” the poem begins, and it aims to establish itself as first—before what Homer tells, before every classical myth. When we reach Leviathan there has already been speech (In the beginning was the Word), but action is now heralded by the incidental tale of the Pilot’s error; the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor commence with a like story. What does it signify here? It is obliquely cautionary: a reader seduced by the fallen angel will but repeat the experience of Eve; no stability is in Satan, the leviathan that the Lord will punish.[1]

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Having entertained, in the last post, the possibility of transformation into a bird, I pass on to an indisputable instance thereof, with scholarly commentary appended.

“Of a man whom nothing could put out of his way, or dérouter in the least,” Harriet Cavendish reports this anecdote to her mother, the Duchess of Devonshire, in 1804.

To try him one night Lord Somebody and a large party at a house in the country made him dead drunk, rubbed him all over with sirrup, rolled him in a feather bed and then hid themselves in his room to watch his recovery. When he woke he walked slowly up to the glass, and, upon beholding himself, quietly said—“A bird, by God,” and went and sat down again.

“I nearly expired when I heard it,” writes Harriet. (The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose, ed. Frank Muir.)

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