Adam and Eve’s Sex in “Paradise Lost”

Adam and Eve's Sex in "Paradise Lost" 1

Paradise Lost is an epic poem written by John Milton and published in 1667 that chronicles the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve, largely written from Satan’s point of view. It’s a challenging read, but Sexy Corte and I are enjoying it together in the evenings. Obviously Paradise Lost isn’t scripture and has no authority in your life, but we have found some passages to be beautiful and inspiring.

Book IV, “The Argument”, describes Adam and Eve saying their evening prayers and then having sex before falling asleep. I will break up the quote with my thoughts, while attempting to disrupt the flow as little as possible.

Their prayer to God begins:

“Thou also madest the Night,
Maker Omnipotent; and thou the Day,
Which we, in our appointed work employed,
Have finished, happy in our mutual help
And mutual love, the crown of all our bliss
Ordained by thee; and this delicious place,
For us too large, where thy abundance wants
Partakers, and unpicked falls to the ground.

Adam and Even have finished tending the Garden of Eden for the day and praise God for this delicious place and the mutual love that is the crown of all our bliss. But Eden is too large and abundant for them alone.

But thou hast promised from us two a race
To fill the Earth, who shall with us extol
Thy goodness infinite, both when we wake,
And when we seek, as now, thy gift of sleep.”

They remind themselves of God’s promise that they won’t be alone forever, that God intends to fill the earth with people who will worship Him day and night.

This said unanimous, and other rites
Observing none, but adoration pure,
Which God likes best, into their inmost bower
Handed they went, and, eased the putting-off
These troublesome disguises which we wear,
Straight side by side were laid; nor turned, I ween,
Adam from his fair spouse, nor Eve the rites
Mysterious of connubial love refused:
Whatever hypocrites austerely talk
Of purity, and place, and innocence,
Defaming as impure what God declares
Pure, and commands to some, leaves free to all.

Adam and Eve were unified in their prayer and performed no bedtime rituals other than to give God their adoration pure, which God likes best.

Then things get a little more interesting!

Getting into bed, Adam and Even put off these troublesome disguises which we wear — not clothes, but perhaps simply the demeanor and mindset required to perform their daily work — a focus on productivity and responsibility. With their prayers complete, perhaps they even set aside their conscious worship of God and turned their attention to each other — continuing to worship God nonetheless.

Adam and Eve lay down straight side by side facing each other. Adam did not turn away from his fair spouse, and Eve did not refuse the rites of mysterious connubial love. This rite certainly stands alongside the rite of adoration pure they just proclaimed for God together: both rites pure and simple, requiring nothing else to magnify them or prop them up.

And then Milton addresses the austere hypocrites who create rules and rituals around connubial love that that are unnecessary and even harmful, just like the rules and rituals the Pharisees created around their relationship with God. Rules about purity, as if marital sex could ever be impure. Rules about place, as if marital sex must be confined to a time, location, or circumstance. Rules about innocence, as if marital sex could ever be shameful, slutty, or dirty. No! God declares pure sex in marriage, and leaves this blessing free to all who desire it.

Our Maker bids increase; who bids abstain
But our destroyer, foe to God and Man?

What’s more, for marital sex Our Maker bids increase — God bids you to have more sex in your marriage, and thereby more bliss. In contrast, abstention from sex in marriage comes from our destroyer and foe.

Hail, wedded Love, mysterious law, true source
Of human offspring, sole propriety
In Paradise of all things common else!

Sole propriety here means that wedded Love is the only “property” (thing you can own) in Paradise, where everything else is held in common. In Paradise everything belongs to everyone, except your marital love. Your marital sex life belongs only to you and your spouse; it is your property.

Continuing on the topic of wedded Love:

By thee adulterous lust was driven from men
Among the bestial herds to range; by thee,
Founded in reason, loyal, just, and pure,
Relations dear, and all the charities
Of father, son, and brother, first were known.

Wedded Love is founded on reason: loyal, just, and pure. (See also: Applying the Fruit of the Spirit to Your Sex Life.) In fact, all relationships and loves that we hold dear were first known through marital love.

Now Milton breaks into the first-person:

Far be it that I should write thee sin or blame,
Or think thee unbefitting holiest place,
Perpetual fountain of domestic sweets,
Whose bed is undefiled and chaste pronounced,
Present, or past, as saints and patriarchs used.

Wedded Love is above and beyond any sin or blame and is fit for the holiest place. Milton wants to make sure that his readers don’t miss an important point: Adam and Eve’s sin in Eden was not about sex or nakedness. Marital love is a perpetual fountain of domestic sweets: never bitter, and never dry.

Here Love his golden shafts employs, here lights
His constant lamp, and waves his purple wings,
Reigns here and revels; not in the bought smile
Of harlots—loveless, joyless, unendeared,
Casual fruition; nor in court amours,
Mixed dance, or wanton mask, or midnight ball,
Or serenade, which the starved lover sings
To his proud fair, best quitted with disdain.

Wedded Love is a golden angel who reigns and revels — a boisterous party! In contrast, the love of harlots and casual fruition (casual dalliances), are loveless and joyless. Wedded Love is no wanton midnight ball, and no starved lover pining for an unrequited love. Wedded Love is above and beyond all these shameful, bestial lusts and should not ever be lumped together with them.

This section of the poem closes with an exhortation for Adam and Eve:

These, lulled by nightingales, embracing slept,
And on their naked limbs the flowery roof
Showered roses, which the morn repaired. Sleep on,
Blest pair! and, O! yet happiest, if ye seek
No happier state, and know to know no more!

Adam and Eve will be happiest if they seek no happiness beyond the bliss of their wedded Love, sleeping naked in each others arms.

(The engraving above is by William Blake.)

4 comments

  1. I was told by a teacher in grade 8 that Adam and Eve’s sin wasn’t eating an apple – that that was a euphemism for sex. I’m glad that even at that point in my life I knew that was ridiculous. I like Milton’s depiction of them here. His prose can be tricky to understand, thanks for explaining some.

  2. Your statement, “Adam and Eve’s sin in Eden was not about sex or nakedness,” is good. Pope John Paul II has much to say on this topic that you would very much like. For instance, about “original nakedness” he says:

    In fact, Genesis 2:25 presents one of the key elements of the original revelation, just as decisive as the other elements of the text (Gen 2:20, 23) that have already allowed us to determine the meaning of man’s original solitude and original unity. To these one must add, as a third element, the meaning of original nakedness, which is clearly highlighted in the context; in the first biblical sketch of anthropology, it is not something accidental. On the contrary, it is precisely the key for understanding it fully and completely.

    And about original union he says:

    When they unite with each other (in the conjugal act) so closely so as to become “one flesh,” man and woman rediscover every time and in a special way the mystery of creation, thus returning to the union in humanity (“flesh from my flesh and bone from my bones”) that allows them to recognize each other reciprocally and to call each other by name, as they did the first time. This means reliving in some way man’s original virginal value, which emerges from the mystery of his solitude before God and in the midst of the world. The fact that they become “one flesh” is a powerful bond established by the Creator through which they discover their own humanity, both in its original unity and in the duality of a mysterious reciprocal attraction.

    While I’m not Catholic, I appreciate hearing this from any authoritative church leader! These are taken from him book “Theology of the Body.”

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