[Milton-L] Under a Platan (PL 4.478)

Kemmer Anderson kanderso at mccallie.org
Tue Apr 1 00:02:33 EDT 2014

West Pointed Sonnet

In a pub in the jungle we stop to survey

The forbidden fruit in a smoothie and rum:

A Miltonic mixture, I stir with my thumb

And ask LTC Dave what the Muse might say

About sin, when we fell on that fatal day.

>From the plantain tree a snake stuck out a tongue

And hissed into syllables fresh words so young

That even Carter did not know what way

The OED would reference this serpentine talk

Shed on the theological discussion under

The tree of sealed knowledge until the ghost

McArthur returned in the form of a hawk

With lightning, ordinance, and thunder

To add to the scene armies of angelic host.

Kemmer Anderson

On Mon, Mar 31, 2014 at 6:47 PM, Stella Revard <srevard at siue.edu> wrote:

> Thanks, Dave, really interesting, and the 1698 quote from a work of that
> year vindicating Oliver Cromwell is fascinating.  The questions would be:
> [1] what Milton knew about the "plantain tree" and did he know it while
> writing PL? [2] was the PL word "platan" used to refer to a plantain tree?
> Of course the PL "platan" tree cannot have been the Tree of Knowledge (had
> it been, Milton would have made sure we knew that), and I see therefore no
> way of identifying any fruit it may have borne as that which Eve and Adam
> so disastrously plucked and ate.  But the 1698 quote does establish that by
> that year readers were expected to recognize a "plantain" tree as a large
> and beneficent source of shade and shelter, which the PL passage does seem
> to imply was the case when Adam was standing under it.  So we are left to
> wonder:  is there evidence that Milton could have been using "platan" to
> refer to a plantain tree, rather than a plane tree?
> I am writing this without immediate access to an OED or would look for
> myself; I hope members of the list, and particularly you, Dave, may kindly
> provide any evidence from the OED or elsewhere to help with these
> questions.  In any case, thanks very much, and I wish a pub were handy so
> we could hear the rest of your story along with some of  Sir Toby's cakes
> and ale, or a Laurentian/Miltonic equivalent.
> Carter Revard
> On 03/31/14, *"Harper, Dave LTC MIL USA USMA" * <Dave.Harper at usma.edu>
> wrote:
> So... as opposed to the northern hemisphere deciduous "plane tree," I've
> always associated this with the tropical plantain, a usage that some
> dictionary work bears out as a possibility. Under "plantain" in the OED,
> you'll find what we would typically call bananas alongside the more
> sycamore-like variety.
> My own reason for this is idiosyncratic to say the least, and it involves
> a strange (but true) story... once upon a time in the Philippines I had a
> conversation with a Navy SEAL about what sort of fruit the forbidden fruit
> was as we ran on treadmills in the jungle heat of our outdoor "jail gym."
> The SEAL was convinced the banana fit the bill with its golden rind and the
> phallic appearance of bunches on the trees. The longer story demands snacks
> and beverages in a pub, I'm afraid.
> Anyway - I thought and wrote about this later when I found an account of
> William Dampier's 1686 voyage to the Philippines in which he describes the
> native's reverence for the "plantain" as an all-around useful plant:
> "The Plantain I take to be the King of all Fruit, not except the Coco it
> self. It is so excellent, that the Spaniards give it the preheminence of
> all other Fruit, as most conducing to Life. It grows in a Cod about 6 or 7
> inches long, and as big as a Man's Arm. As the Fruit of this Tree is of
> great use for Food, so is the Body no less serviceable to make Cloaths; but
> this I never knew till I came to this Island. The ordinary People of
> Mindanao do wear no other Cloth."
> Incidentally, the OED lists this usage: 1698  Modest Vindic. Oliver
> Cromwell 19   They made use of him as their Plantain Tree, whose spreading
> shade might secure 'em from the Swelter of Trouble and Danger.
> A welter of thoughts, I know. But, seriously, this is one useful tree!
> Dave Harper
> Assistant Professor, USMA
> -----Original Message-----
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