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