Paradise Lost Milton

Paradise Lost: Milton’s Approach To Lust, Sex, And Violence Essay, Research Paper

Paradise Lost: Milton’s Approach To Lust, Sex, and Violence

There is no reason to apply modern theories to Milton if we do not care whether

Milton remains alive. However, if we wish him to be more than a historical

artifact, we must do more than just study him against the background of his time.

We must reinterpret him in light of the germane thought of our own age.

-James Driscoll

The Unfolding God Of Jung and Milton

Images and allusions to sex and death are intermingled throughout John Milton’s

Paradise Lost . The character of Satan serves as not only an embodiment of

death and sin, but also insatiated sexual lust. The combination of sex and lust

has significant philosophical implications, especially in relation to themes of

creation, destruction, and the nature of existence. Milton, in Paradise Lost,

establishes that with sex, as with religion, he is of no particular hierarchical

establishment. However, Milton does not want to be confused with the

stereotypical puritan. Milton the poet, seems to celebrate the ideal of sex; yet,

he deplores concupiscence and warns against the evils of lust, insisting lust

leads to sin, violence and death.

From the beginning, Satan, like fallen humanity, not only blames others; but

also makes comic and grandiose reasons for his evil behavior. Yet, despite his

reasoning to seek revenge against God, “his true motivation for escaping from

hell and perverting paradise is, at least partly, something more basic: Satan

needs sex” (Daniel 26).

In the opening books of the poem, Satan is cast into a fiery hell that is not

only is miserable, but devoid of sex. As Satan describes when he has escaped to

Eden, in hell: “neigh joy nor love, but fierce desire, / Among our other

torments not the least, / Still unfulfilled with pain of longing pine” (Book IV,

509-11). The phallic implications of “pain of longing pine” is quite clear. In

this metaphor, Milton expresses that sex itself is not a sin; to be without it

is a “hellish” punishment. However, Milton rejects the morality of lusting for

sex, equating it with: death, sin, violence and Satan. Milton elucidates the

lustful desires of Satan throughout the first few books. For example, liquid, a

common symbol of femininity is depicted seven times in the first two books in

the form of a “lake” (Daniel 26). The “lake” serves as a metaphor to the waters

of the womb. Further metaphors to female anatomy and the womb are made through

references of hell as a “pit” (Book I, 91). Therefore, Satan’s fall into hell

is an allusion to being thrust back into the womb(hell) where Satan and his

rebels are sexually inhibited. As Daniels states, “These images suggest that

Satan has been, in regard to the perfect sex that he enjoyed in Heaven,

emasculated, rendered impotent but burning, in a feminine, inactive in hell.”

(27). Similarly, Frank Kermode comments, “Milton boldly hints that the fallen

angel [Satan] is sexually deprived . . . the price of warring against

omnipotence is impotence (114). This is exemplified in book II, when Milton

writes, ” Beyond his potent arm, to live exempt/ From Heaven’s high jurisdiction,

in a new league / Banded against his throne, but to remain. In strictest

bondage” (318-321).

Furthermore, Satan’s sexual despair is intensified by the very notion that it

was the Son of God, who caused his malady. As Satan says, he and his “associates

and copartners” (Book I, 265) were “transfix[ed]” by the Son’s “Thunderbolts”

(Book I. 328-329) to a “fiery Couch” (Book I, 377). Thus, Satan blames his

sexual despair on the Son of God, who is his arch-rival for the favor of God. In

Satan’s eyes, it is “as if it were a sexual assault by the triumphant

Son.”(Daniels 27).

Satan lusts for sex, as does his rebels; sexual tensions saturate the images in

the first few books. To elucidate, Satan’s consult begins amidst: a plethora of

phallic symbols: standards, staffs, ensigns, “a Forest huge of spears,” pipes,

flutes, and, amidst the uproar there is the “painful steps over the burnt soil”

of phallic feet . (Daniel, 30).

Even when Satan views his consult of demons, the images used by Milton conjure

images of a potential erection: “his heart / Distends with pride, and hardening

in his strength ” (Book II, 571-573), Satan “stood like a Tower” (Book II, 591).

Furthermore, when Satan arrives at the walls of Eden, the sexual imagery

continues, Eden is seen as mons Veneris: “a rural mound, the champaign head /

Of a steep wilderness, whose hairy sides / With thicket overgrown, grotesque and

wild, / Access denied” (Book Iv. 134-37).

In Paradise Lost, Milton equates lust with evil, Satan is seen as a foil to

Christ, God’s good son, and references are made to Christ being: “by merit more

than birthright Son of God, / Found worthiest to be so by being good, / Love

hath abounded more than glory abounds;” (Book III, 309-312). Furthermore,

although Eve is seduced by Satan, it is her lust for the fruit from the Tree of

Knowledge that causes her downfall.

However, unlike lust, sex itself is not presented in Paradise Lost as impure.

Milton takes a different attitude towards sex than what would be expected of the

doctrines of the time. He passes no moral judgment in Paradise Lost that sex

itself may or may not be engaged solely to procreate. For Milton, “chastity is

rather `purity of life’, the aggregate of `the duties that touch the purities of

ones person’. Her [chastity] proper companions are `modestie and temperance’,

and if she appears at all as abstinence it is only in the sense of `abstaining

from straggling lusts and al impurity’”(Patrides, 166). In Eden, before the fall,

sex is perfect, as Adam and Eve are sinless nor do they feel guilt about

themselves. In fact, it is when Adam and Eve must engage in sex to procreate

that guilty feelings arise: “After the fall, both Adam and Eve agonize that the

devil has devastated their sex lives by turning the personal pleasure of sex

into the source of a race of beings doomed to suffer” (Daniels 36). Before the

fall, Satan while observing Adam and Eve in Heaven becomes hateful and jealous

at the sight of this universal and harmonious fornication, and writhes with

hateful envy at the memory of his state in Heaven: “I hate thy beams /That bring

to my remembrance from what state / I fell”(Book IV, 37-39). Before the fall,

Adam and Eve are amorous and like God, delight in love. As Patrides states, “No

Protestant commentator ever denied that Adam and Eve `knew’ each other before

the Fall, and neither does Milton” (167). Milton asserts outside of Paradise

Lost that love is “as a fire sent from Heaven to be ever kept alive upon the

altar of our hearts, be the first principle of all godly and vertous [sic]

actions in men ” (Patrides, 168) . Most renaissance writers regard love as a

positive passion. But they also believed that if love is cut off from its true

source, which is God, it grows perverted, immoderate and irrational. Burton,

wrote, “if it rage . . . it is no more love but a burning lust, a disease,

Phrensie[sic], Madness, Hell.”(440) and according to Peter Sterry “All lust is

Love degenerated, Love corrupted” (Patrides, 170). In Eden, before the fall Adam

and Eve are guiltless of “dishonest shame / Of Nature’s works, honor

dishonorable, / Sin bred “(Book Iv, 313-315) and are “god like erect, with

native Honor clad / In naked Majesty” (Book IV, 289-90). This stands also as a

phallic metaphor to contrast Satan’s impotence. He is a fallen angel, not “God-

like” as is Adam, having cut himself off from God, his love has been corrupted

and turned into a madness. Through Raphael, Milton expresses a concern for

sexual gratification without love as reducing man to the level of animals:

if the sense of touch whereby mankind

Is propagated seem such dear delight

Beyond all other, think the same voutsafed

To Cattle and each Beast

(Book VIII, 579-82)

The pain caused by Satan’s sexual frustration and lust is incalculable, as he


Sight hateful, sight tormenting! thus these two

Imparadised in one another’s arms

The happier Eden shall enjoy their fill

Of bliss, while I to Hell am thrust,

Where neither joy nor love, but fierce desire,

(Book IV, 505-509)

The above passage contains several sexual connotations; Eden provides a

blissful “fill” while Satan is “thrust” into hell, devoid of joy or love.

Satan’s building lustful hate becomes perverted into thoughts of forceful rape.

God, seeing Satan winging his way to earth, has sent angels Ithuriel and Zephon,

to prevent Satan from overwhelming the humans against their will(Book IV, 800-

900). Through Satan’s plot against humanity, the lust/love relationship becomes

elucidated further when compared to biblical references. James I:15 states:

“That when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is

finished bringeth forth death”. Milton painstakingly reiterates this ideology

throughout Paradise Lost.

By the end of Paradise Lost, lust brings forth death. Most readers recognize the

erotic nature of Satan’s encounter with eve. The tasting of the forbidden fruit

by Eve is based on a lust created by Satan as the serpent. Eve returns to Adam

“defaced”, “deflowered” and “now to Death devote” (Book IX, 901). When Satan

ruined Eve, he knew that Adam would soon follow. Satan realizes the

consequences of his actions; in agony of lust and despair he needs sex so badly

he is willing to murder Adam and Eve, for in order to sate his lust, the humans

must die, and consequently so must all humans.

After the fall, Eve is distraught as she contemplates abstaining from having

sex in order to thwart death. She states to risk bringing children into “this

cursed world” is unconscionable (Book X, 981-91). From here, the theme of sex

and lust moves towards lust and violence. As Daniels writes: “Milton subtly

modulates the theme of lust and death to one of lust and violence, a theme that

already has been heard in the catalog of devils as well as in the sexual

dimension of the war and Heaven” (44).

According to Milton, lust gives rise to warfare, when mankind is not busy:

“marrying or prostituting , as befell, /Rape or Adultery, where passing fair /

Allured them” (Book XII, 716-18), it wars: “With cruel Tournament the Squadrons

join; / Where cattle pastured late, now scattered lies / With Carcasses and Arms

the ensanguined Field / Deserted. Others to a city strong / Lay siege ” (Book XI,

652-55). Furthermore, he describes “just men they seemed, and all their study

bent / To worship God aright, and know his works / Not hid, nor things last

which might preserve / Freedom and peace to men” (Book XI, 577-580). Even these

“just men” succomb to lust:

They on the plain

Long had not walked, when from the tents behold

A bevy of fair women, richly gay

In gems and wanton dress; to the harp they sung

Soft amorous ditties, and in dance came on:

The men, through grave, eyed them, and let their eyes

Rove without rein, till in the amorous net

Fast Caught?

(Book XI, 580-587)

These “just men” become corrupted by their lust for these women and their

“perverted love” brings forth violence, and eventually their death:

Bred only and completed to the taste

Of lustful appetence, to sing, to dance

to dress and troll the tongue, and roll the eye.

To these that sober race of men, whose lives

Religious titled them the Sons of God,

Shall yield up all their virtue, all the fame

Ignobly, to the trains and to the smiles

Of these fair atheists” (Book XI, 618-625)

Thus, reiterating the renaissance and Milton’s notion that love cannot by cut

off from its true source, which is God; otherwise, it develops perverted lust.

The punishment for the ensuing spread of lust is the cataclysm of universal

death by the flooding of the earth; also death on a less universal scale caused

by the violence of “slaughter and gigantic deeds” (Book XI, 659) lust creates:

great conquerors

Patrons of Mankind, Gods, and Sons of Gods,

Destroyers rightlier called and Plagues of men

(Book XI, 695-697)

In reviewing Milton’s lethal nature of lust, it would be helpful to also examine

another work, Samson Agonsistes, in comparison to Paradise Lost. In Samson

Agonistes, Samson like the “just men” in Paradise Lost also becomes lost in lust

and violence and fears the consequence of death: “My race of glory run, and race

of shame, . And I shall shortly be with them that rest.” (Samson, 597-598). As

Daniels states, “Samson is ruined not so much because he is garrulous but

because he is violent and licentious”(77).

Milton viewed violence as another guise of a perverse satanic energy. However,

it may be argued as to weather or not Milton is a pacifist. James A. Freeman, in

Milton and the Martial Muse maintains Milton was anti-violence/war to the point

of pacifism. According to Freemen, Milton in Paradise Lost gives to the devil

the traditional warrior ethos and by doing so undoubtedly, “startled early

readers who were conditioned to respect military men? By identifying demonic

[and/or lustful] actions as martial, Milton attacks the `double speak’ of his

time(220-221)?war is the utmost that vice [evil] promises to her followers” (45).

In contrast, Michael Lieb, in Poetics of the Holy: A reading Paradise Lost of,


Peace was valued by Milton as much as anyone in the Renaissance, and yet this

love of peace and detestation of war should not blind one to the extent to which

Milton was imbued with the fervor of what he considered to be a just war

undertaken in a righteous cause (265-266).

Based on Paradise Lost alone, it would appear that Milton regards lust and

violence as two related issues. It is lust that gives rise to violence and

hatred. Even today, debate rages over the nature of violence. Often discussed is

the issue of whether the word denotes only physical harm or whether certain

kinds of emotional or psychological harm constitute violence. In Paradise Lost,

violence is linked with satanic energy and lust which alienates one from God.

Milton connects violence with lust in some of his early works as well; in his

mask Comus, the character of Comus and his crew, are compared with “stabled

wolves or tigers at their prey” (534) who surprise their victims with “unjust

force” (590) and with “the sons of Vulcan” who “fierce sign of battle make, and

menace high” with “brandished blade”(651-56). As well, sexual connotations are

very evident in Comus; Comus himself experiences the same sexual despair and

frustration of Satan in Paradise Lost. This lust creates a hell for Comus

similar to that depicted in Paradise Lost:

Of midnight torches burns; mysterious dame,

that never art called but when the dragon womb

Of stygian darkness spets her thickest gloom,

And makes one blot of all the air


Furthermore, as Comus lusts after the lady in the mask, this lust turns to

thoughts of violence. In the mask, the two brothers debate the possibility that

Comus and his crew could conceive of trying to rape her. The second brother

states: “the rash hand of blood Incontinence” (397) will not allow “a single

helpless maiden pass /Uninjured” (402-403).

Without a doubt, it may be argued that Milton may or may not agree with a “just

holy war”, but he does believe that lust and excess will lead to violence. Such

violence created by lust, alienates man from God and is therefore, sinful.

In conclusion, Milton is consistent in his approach to sex, lust, violence and

death throughout Paradise Lost and many of his other works. The downfall of

humankind was caused by lust for the forbidden fruit, as was Satan’s motive for

revenge. Milton explicitly points out that lust leads to violence and alienates

man from God. The punishment according to Milton is justly, death. Throughout

Paradise Lost, Milton emphasis moderation, and love that becomes an obsession,

becomes lust. In Milton’s eyes lust is very dangerous and leads to violence and

death of mankind. Like other writers of his time, Milton warns of the

consequences of “falling” into lust as removing oneself from Godhead.


Daniel, Clay. Death in Milton’s Poetry. (London: Ass. Univ. Press, 1994)

Freeman, James A. Milton and the Martial Muse: Paradise Lost and the European

Traditions of War. (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1980)

Kermode, Frank. Ed. “Adam Unparadised” in The Living Milton: Essays by Various

Hands (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960)

Lieb, Michael. Poetics of the Holy: A Reading of Paradise Lost. (Chapel Hill:

University of North Carolina Press, 1981)

Milton, John. Comus in The Portable Milton. Editor Douglas Bush (New York:

Viking Press, 1977)

—-, Paradise Lost in The Portable Milton. Editor Douglas Bush (New York:

Viking Press, 1977)

—-, Samson Agonistes in The Portable Milton. Editor Douglas Bush (New York:

Viking Press, 1977)

Patrides, C.A. Milton and The Christian Tradition. (Oxford: Clarendon Press,




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