Narcissism in Paradise
In Book 4 of Paradise Lost, the reader is introduced to Eve and her creation story. John Milton uses the scene where Eve sees herself in the lake in close relation to Ovid’s story of Narcissus. Milton writes, “I started back,/It started back, but pleased I soon returned, Pleased it returned as soon with answering looks/Of sympathy and love. There I had fixed. Mine eyes till now and pined with vain desire/Had not a Voice thus warned me…” (Teskey 90-91). The footnote for these few lines says that “the episode closely follows that of Narcissus, in Ovid Metamorphoses, the crucial difference being that Eve is rescued and does not pine with vain desire for herself” (Teskey 90). The idea that Eve’s story follows so closely to the story of Narcissus makes critics and essayists respond in different ways. Taking a closer look into essays by Julia Walker, Mandy Green and Maggie Kilgour about Eve, Narcissus and other parts of Paradise Lost make me as a reader think beyond what is written on the page.
Mandy Green’s essay titled “The Virgin in the Garden: Milton’s Ovidian Eve” takes the character of Eve and compares her not only to Narcissus, but also to Daphne (who flees from Apollo, just as Eve retreated from Adam after seeing him), Flora (who named the flowers), the “frail and vulnerable Proserpine”, the “unwary gardener Pomona” and finally, “when she repents her sin, she is seen to resemble the pious and virtuous wife Pyrrha” (Green 922). Green’s discussion about Eve compared to Narcissus is fairly basic in that she mentions “although no explicit comparison is drawn between the two, readers from the earliest editors onwards have recognized the obvious and open application to Eve’s first memories of Ovid’s Narcissus and his love for his own reflection in the water” (Green 907). She says that the most prominent connection between both stories is when both Eve and Narcissus “gaze at their relections in the pool” (Green 908). Something interesting...
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