Sex in Milton's Paradise Lost Term Paper

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Milton's Paradise Lost

Predestined to sexual knowledge: Eve's Dream and the Existence of Sexual Knowledge before the Fall of Man in Milton's "Paradise Lost"

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In the modern, popular cultural imagination, John Milton's retelling of the first few books of Genesis, "Paradise Lost," has supplanted the Biblical work itself as a representation of the Fall of Man and Original Sin. Culture loves a narrative, and people have come to associate the sensual Eve, the innocent Adam, and the angry, Byronic Lucifer with the original depictions of these characters themselves in the Hebraic scriptures. However, it must not be forgotten n that "Paradise Lost" is actually an artist's retelling and fictional elaboration and expansion of Genesis. Milton had his own theological and topical agenda in examining the work. For Milton, although he wrote the work when he did not believe in predestination as an absolute doctrine, he still believed that the Fall of Man was already ordained in human history. In "Paradise Lost," man has free will that can be easily impinged upon and shaped by outside influences, showing that Milton was still highly influenced by the prevailing Protestant ideology of his day. Milton began his life as a Calvinist, and although he later rejected Calvinist orthodoxy, its influence is still retained in his greatest epic work. In "Paradise Lost," Adam and especially Eve are already sexual beings, physically and emotionally open to temptation. They are sexually aware, even when supposedly naked and innocent. Their sexuality is manifest in an unconscious way, evident in Adam's conduct towards Eve and the language of desire he uses to inquire about her dream. Even their sexual cultivation of plants shows that man's life as a cultivator of the sexual, fertile side of nature, is extant in Eden.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Sex in Milton's Paradise Lost Assignment

The influence of predestination is most obviously evidenced in the sexual overtones of the relationship between Eve and Adam, as well as Eve's dream. In Book V of Milton's epic, the post-Fall relationship of Book IX is prefigured and gestured at in a way that deemphasizes the free will of the two first human beings, even while God explicitly says that man has free will and he is right to condemn the two first progenitors of humanity. Original Sin does not seem to begin with the decision to eat the forbidden fruit, but in the creation itself, in the "wantonness" of Eve's curls, before Eve can even think rebellious thoughts under those curls. The fact that Eve dreams what will transpire with the serpent in reality shows in a kind of pro-Freudian sense that her desire exists before her disobedience, and that God knows of this disobedience, as God sees all. Adam's desire for Eve is seen when desire clouds his mind regarding her pressure to eat from the tree and is evident in his caresses after they sleep together. Early on his later obedience to her tempting and Satanically-influenced will is foreshadowed in his reaction before and after her dream in Book X. His desire is always manifest in his earlier expressed but supposedly innocent desire for the woman.

Milton's work is thus a complex blend of Calvinist influence and the idea that humans do have free will, just as it is a blend of pagan epic and Christian ideology in its rhetoric and construction. Book V of "Paradise Lost" begins like Homeric epic, with the rosy fingers of dawn caressing the world: "Now Morn her rosie steps in th' Eastern Clime / Advancing, sow'd the Earth with Orient Pearle." The setting, of course is from the Holy Bible, but Milton clearly lays claim to his role as poet by creating this connection with antiquity. By recalling the phraseology of "The Iliad," given that the pagan era was a focus of literature and culture at this period of English history Milton establishes his own identity as a poet and also recalls the godly light that is lost to Lucifer, the angel of light, because of his disobedience.

The reference to pre-Christian antiquity and the looser morals of the gods, goddesses, and mortals of Greece and Rome further reinforces the idea that before their own fall from divine grace, Adam and Eve in Eden existed in a state of hidden sexual knowledge, hidden even to their own conscious minds. Contrary to the Christian tradition that sees sexualized knowledge beginning after eating the forbidden fruit, their later stage of knowledge is foreshadowed in the relationship they have before Eve has the chance to recount her dream. The intense, close physical relationship of the two is immediately manifested in the fact that they share the same bed. Thus at this point, as the two have an intense and intimate physical relationship even if it is not based in conjugal sexuality and an awareness of nudity, Adam wakes Eve by touch and voice and her appearance after her dream is like a woman after a night of pleasure, with her hair mussed and her cheeks glowing:

His wonder was to find unwak'nd EVE

With Tresses discompos'd, and glowing Cheek,

As through unquiet rest: he on his side

Leaning half-rais'd, with looks of cordial Love

Hung over her enamour'd, and beheld

Beautie, which whether waking or asleep,

Shot forth peculiar Graces; then with voice

Milde, as when ZEPHYRUS on FLORA breathes,

Her hand soft touching, whisperd thus.

Eve's rest is "unquiet," and Adam sleeps by her side, like they are two lovers, and although his looks are signified with "cordial Love" he is said to be enamored with her beauty, waking or asleep. His breath is as mild as the pagan god of the West winds "Zephyrus," or "Flora," the goddess of spring. Also, perhaps even more significantly, although Eve has dreamed an unpleasant dream that hints at their fall from grace and the later sexual awakening of the human race, her appearance seems beautiful, almost happy, as if despite what she says she has taken physical delight, even ravishment, at the prospect of what is to come. Lucifer has unwittingly entered her subconscious mind and against her will impregnated her with ideas and ideals of power. Although Adam is not as sexualized as his 'helpmate,' the language with which Adam wakes Eve further reinforces what is to come as is ripe with images of "tended" fertility of the new spring harvest and the sexual fertilizing of the honey bee:

He said] mark how spring

Our tended Plants, how blows the Citron Grove,

What drops the Myrrhe, & what the balmie Reed,

How Nature paints her colours, how the Bee

Sits on the Bloom extracting liquid sweet.

In some interpretations fertility and his caresses and whispers suggest that future sexual congress is hidden in his gestures, although men and women can touch with innocence in Eden before the Fall. Eve is the "fairest," he goes on to say, as well as a "gift from Heaven." She is his "espoused" already, although they are not man and wife in the formal, legal sense.

If none regard; Heav'n wakes with all his eyes,

Whom to behold but thee, Natures desire,

In whose sight all things joy, with ravishment

Attracted by thy beauty still to gaze.

Nature as if itself is potentially fallen is "ravished" by Eve's beauty, the couple already derive their food from the fertility of nature, as do the bees from the plants, and the images and colors of pagan spring being painted by nature itself in all its colors create a picture of sexual knowingness upon "waking" rather than celestial purity. The fact that they are eating of the plants leads them to eat of the tree that Eve dreams about as she, in her dream 'alone I pass'd through ways:"

That brought me on a sudden to the Tree

Of interdicted Knowledge: fair it seem'd,

Much fairer to my Fancie then by day:

And as I wondering lookt, beside it stood

One shap'd & wing'd like one of those from Heav'n

By us oft seen; his dewie locks distill'd

Ambrosia; on that Tree he also gaz'd;

And O. fair Plant, said he, with fruit surcharg'd,

Deigns none to ease thy load and taste thy sweet,

Nor God, nor Man; is Knowledge so despis'd?

Just as Adam is enamored of Eve's appearance, the fact that Eve is more drawn to the Tree of Knowledge at night so "Much fairer to my Fancie then by day" suggests that she already possesses the capability of sexual desire and sexual deception, and this desire seems transplanted onto the "wing'd" figure of Satan and the tree itself of her dream. Satan harvests the fruit in a way that horrifies Eve, but it ought to be noted that the couple themselves have already been living from the harvest of the earth, again suggesting the action is not so far afield from what they have been doing. Satan's address to the fruit: "Sweet of thy self, but much more sweet thus cropt, / Forbidd'n here, it seems" implies that sweetness of the self (the state that the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Sex in Milton's Paradise Lost" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Sex in Milton's Paradise Lost.  (2008, June 21).  Retrieved December 4, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Sex in Milton's Paradise Lost."  21 June 2008.  Web.  4 December 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Sex in Milton's Paradise Lost."  June 21, 2008.  Accessed December 4, 2021.