In Paradise Lost, Ithuriel is one of two angels (the other being Zephon) charged by the archangel Gabriel to go in search of Satan, who is loose in the Garden of Eden. They find him lurking, in the shape of a toad, close to the ear of the sleeping Eve, attempting to corrupt her thoughts. Ithuriel touches Satan with his spear, causing him to instantly resume his true form:
Him thus intent Ithuriel with his spear
Touched lightly; for no falshood [sic] can endure
Touch of celestial temper, but returns
Of force to its own likeness: Up he starts
Discovered and surprised.
The angels then compel Satan to return with them to Gabriel.
Although the names of the angels in Paradise Lost are, in most cases, taken from the Bible, Ithuriel is one of the exceptions. In 1950, Robert H. West affirmed that the origins of this name had not been discovered, and that Milton may have coined it himself.
However, others have claimed that the name can be found in earlier Hebrew sources, such as "the 16th-century tracts of Isaac ha-Cohen of Soria", and the Kabbalistic text Pardes Rimonim. In an 1888 edition of The Key of Solomon, translated into English by S. L. MacGregor Mathers, one of the angel names written inside the first pentacle of Mars is claimed in a footnote to be a Hebrew form of Ithuriel.
The image of the spear of Ithuriel transforming falsehood into truth has been adopted by many authors as a poetic metaphor. John Adams, for instance, describes political philosophy as an Ithuriel's spear, which causes "prejudice, superstition, and servility" to "start up in their true shapes". U.S. Representative Justin S. Morrill, in a 1858 speech regarding the importance of agricultural colleges, made use of the metaphor, stating: "Spurious dogmas will be touched lightly with the spear of Ithuriel, and no longer squat around the ears of weary ploughmen." References to Ithuriel can also be found in the works of poets such as Rudyard Kipling, Théophile Gautier, and Victor Hugo.
"Ithuriel's spear" is the common name of a native wildflower in California, Triteleia laxa.
- Milton, John (1674). Paradise Lost, Book IV. Lines 788-876 – via Wikisource.
- Dryden, John (1674). The State of Innocence and the Fall of Man. Act 3, Scene 1 – via JackLynch.net.
- West, Robert H. (April 1950). "The Names of Milton's Angels". Studies in Philology. 47 (2): 211–2, 219. JSTOR 4172929.
- Davidson, Gustav (1994). Dictionary of Angels. The Free Press. p. 152.
- West 1950, p. 219
- Mathers, S. L. M. (1888). "Plate V". The Key of Solomon the King – via Internet Sacred Text Archive.
- Adams, John (1856). "Discourses on Davila, XIII". The Works of John Adams, Volume 6. Little, Brown and Co – via Online Library of Liberty.
- Morrill, J. S. (1858). Speech of Hon. Justin S Morrill on the Bill Granting Lands for Agricultural Colleges. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Globe. p. 8.
- "The Hour of the Angel", "Dinah in Heaven". The Kipling Society. Retrieved 22 August 2021.
- "Les yeux bleus de la montagne", "Notre-Dame" (in French). Poésie française.fr. Retrieved 22 August 2021.
- "Oh! les charmants oiseaux joyeux", "Psyché" (in French). Poésie française.fr. Retrieved 22 August 2021.