[Milton-L] How do you like them apples...?

FLANNAGAN, ROY ROY at uscb.edu
Tue Jul 29 08:42:15 EDT 2008

What hasn't been mentioned is that the fruit itself, or the type of fruit, is what Milton called "a thing indifferent."  What IS important is "Man's first Disobedience."  I think the "apple" business is a red herring, and Satan's joking about a "mere apple" is a joke on Satan, not on God.
Treating "apple" as "fruit in general" is not important as compared with man's first disobedience.
If ikon-worshippers go after figs or apples or dogwood or Judas trees, in positive or negative iconography, I think Milton deplores the over-emphasis on a thing that has no meaning in itself.  The apple becomes an irrelevant fetish.
Roy Flannagan


From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu on behalf of Horace Jeffery Hodges
Sent: Tue 7/29/2008 5:36 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: [Milton-L] How do you like them apples...?

I see that I am not the first to note the possibility that "apple"' in Milton's time meant "fruit" . . .  as well as what we mean by "apple." Karen Edwards notes this in passing, or so it seems [see footnote 18: "apple may refer to fruit in general"].


Living in Korea, I lack ready access to books (and Milton-Listers have often been very generous with their help), but through Google Books and Amazon Search-Inside-the-Book, I've managed to piece together the following from Karen Edwards's book, Milton and the Natural World:


Karen L. Edwards, Milton and the Natural World: Science and Poetry in Paradise Lost (1999 - 280 pages)




Page 96


[Concerning Satan . . .]


His fate follows hard upon and is a manifestation of his habit of interpreting signs literally. Immediately before his metamorphosis, he boasts of deceiving man with an apple: 

him by fraud I have seduced

>From his creator, and the more to increase

Your wonder, with an apple. (PL. X. 485-87)


The boast signals what Milton might call "apprehension, carnall" or a propensity 
to deny the spirit that inheres in the letter.[15] Satan is an unfit reader of Creation: to call the forbidden fruit a mere apple attests to an inadequate hermeneutics.[16] For his denial of the spirit, incorporation in the (dead) letter is appropriate. 

The representation of Satan in book x is thus structured in direct opposition to 
what Milton sees as God's mode of representing himself in the Scriptures. Although "God, as he really is, is far beyond man's imagination," God has helped human understanding, Milton argues, by providing descriptions of himself in the Bible.[17] These contain all that it is requisite for human beings to know about him.[18]


. . .


Page 234


15. Newton, ed., PL, IX.585n.


16 The OED (apple sb., sense 4) follows suit.


17 OED, apple, sb., sense 2.a.

18 Even if Satan could plead not guilty on the technicality that apple may refer to fruit in general, the term is informal and familiar and hence inappropriate to God's high prohibition. It constitutes a lie of stylistic register.



The footnotes look as though they do not fit the text. Are these correct? Of did the more-recent edition confuse the notes?


Meanwhile, if any Milton-Listers know of other scholars who have commented upon "apple" as "fruit in general," please let me know.


Jeffery Hodges

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