Alexander Pope’s epic Rape of the Lock, is essentially a lampoon of traditional epic literature. It is teeming with comparisons between the main character Belinda’s actions, and Homer’s Achilles, Virgil’s Aeneid, and Greek mythology in general. Her character’s image is painted as vain and unconcerned with consequential matters, unlike that of Achilles’ character from Homer’s Iliad; however he was full of wrath and pride resembling that of Belinda’s traits. But, that is where most corresponding attributes end; the scales in which both play out as an epic are far from akin. Although her overall character seems to only be concerned with her charms, Pope consistently describes her in an almost hero like manner, and her quest has become to retrieve her most precious lock that she has lost. Throughout the poem her most trivial actions are glorified and exaggerated with comparisons to Greek heroes and wars, such as Achilles and the Trojan War, when in reality she is simply a vain woman who has lost a lock of her hair due to it’s unblemished beauty, and her quest for the seized lock is a matter that is completely frivolous and has no benefit in pursuing. Essentially that is what Pope is saying, that the high class woman of his time are petty, impractical, and vapid; he parodies Belinda’s actions with comparisons to the epic to drive that concept further.
In the first Canto of The Rape of the Lock, Ariel, her guardian Sylph, speaks to her in a dream, warning her of what is to come, while at the same time echoing Virgil’s Aeneid when the hero Aeneas is visiting the underworlds Elysian Fields:
Think not, when woman’s transient breath is fled,
That all her vanities at once are dead: . . .
Her joy in Gilded chariots, when alive,
And love of ombre, after death survive.
The original text from the Aeneid is as follows: “The love of horses which they had, alive, / And care of chariots, after death survive” (VI, 889). We see here the connection between the two passages: they are almost word for word William Frost reveals, “Belinda is to have her own mock-Elysian Fields” (Frost, p343). There is no scarcity of such comparisons within the poem, only to heighten events that have no real gravity; however it is entertaining to see such correlations between them. “So Pope imitates the structure of the Iliad description in The Rape of the Lock but then parodies it by inserting opposite content” (Schaefer, p.94). It reveals how much labor the author invested into this mock-epic, having translated the Iliad in his past work, he was able to achieve the multitude of lines resembling that of mentioned.
Another point of interest in the story are the folkloric Sylphs, they tend to Belinda on every level, just as the heroes of Homer have the Greek Gods looking over them and giving them notable advice during their...