RAPE of the LOCK.
In Five Canto’s.
Written by Mr. Pope.
A tonso est hoc nomen adepta capillo.“this name does she obtain from cutting off the lock.” The quotation comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book 8.
The epigraph refers to the story of Scylla, the daughter of King Nisus of Megara. King Minos of Crete had laid seige to Megara, but it had been decreed that the city would not be taken while King Nisus’ purple lock remained on his head. Scylla, who could see Minos from a tower on the city walls, fell in love with him and resolved to betray her father by creeping up on him while he slept and cutting the lock from his head. She presented it then to Minos, offering to him her father and his kingdom: “to thee do I deliver the fortunes of my country and my own, as well,” she said. “I ask for no reward, but thyself. Take this purple lock, as a pledge of my love; and do not consider that I am delivering to thee a lock of hair, but the life of my father.” Minos, however, refused to touch the lock and spurned her in disgust for such a traitorous act. He ordered fair terms for Megara and prepared to leave the conquered city. As the ships departed, Scylla held fast on the stern of one until her father, transformed into a sea eagle, attempted to tear her to pieces with his beak. She let go and would have fallen into the sea if a deity had not changed her into a bird (the quotation from the epigraph begins “being changed into a bird, she is called is called Ciris,” from the Greek word κείρω, “to clip,” or “cut”).
The cutting of the lock, then, explicitly establishes a theme of the betrayal of a father by his child. The epigraph could suggest a betrayal of the young Baron’s father and family, or of Pope’s friend John Caryll as a father figure. He had been the guardian of Lord Robert Petre, the 7th Baron Petre, from the death of his father in 1707 until March 1710 when the young man came of age. He may have been attempting to make a match between Robert and Arabella Fermor, after whom Belinda is modelled. All three were connected through marriage and family friendships. Depending on how one reads Belinda’s role in the poem, the epigraph could also suggest a betrayal by Arabella of her father’s memory (he had died in 1703), placing Arabella squarely in the position of responsibility for the loss of the lock for what would turn out to be a misguided, and spurned, love offering.
The next revision of the poem, appearing in Pope’s Works of 1717, had a more obviously scathing epigraph from Martial: “Nolueram, Belinda, tuos violare capillos, Sed juvat hoc precibus me tribuisse tuis,” which Tillotson translates as “I was loth, Belinda, to violate your locks; but I am pleased to have granted that much to your prayers.” Tillotson delicately suggests this might imply that “Belinda, as the poem hinted elsewhere, was willing to marry” Lord Petre (91), but it might have insinuated something more scandalous about Arabella’s desires and Lord Petre’s accommodations thereof.
THE SECOND EDITION
Printed for BERNARD LINTOTT, at the
Cross-Keys in Fleet-street. .