Paradise Lost: Milton's Approach to Lust, Sex, and Violence

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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,...
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