[Milton-L] help interpret a line

Alanhorn3 at cs.com Alanhorn3 at cs.com
Mon Jan 26 04:02:45 EST 2004

<< But is it the fruit itself or the act of disobedience that gives "new 
 knowledge"? >>

At PL VIII 323 Adam recalls God telling him not to eat of the tree "whose 
operation brings / Knowledge of good and ill," which implies that 
knowledge-giving is an inherent action of the tree. (Likewise the Tree of Life is called that 
"life-giving plant" (IV 199).)

But Adam's description of what's happened to him and Eve after eating 
suggests it was their disobedience and not the fruit itself which gave them 
knowledge: "since our eyes / Opened we find indeed, and find we know / Both good and 
evil, good lost and evil got" (IX 1070-72). A description which God later 
echoes, adding: "happier, had it sufficed him to have known / Good by itself, and 
evil not at all" (XI 88-9).

In Christian Doctrine, chapter X, it says: "It was necessary that one thing 
at least should be either forbidden or commanded, AND ABOVE ALL WHICH WAS IN 
ITSELF NEITHER GOOD NOR EVIL, so that man's obedience might in this way be made 
evident"--emphasis added. And two paragraphs down: "It was called the tree of 
the knowledge of good and evil because of what happened afterwards: for since 
it was tasted, not only do we know evil, but also we do not even know good 
except through evil. For where does virtue shine, where it is usually exercised, 
if not in evil?"

Alan H

More information about the Milton-L mailing list