[Milton-L] "Oh we can't eat apples"

Robert Oventile rsoventile at earthlink.net
Thu Apr 3 12:56:00 EDT 2014

Milton does specify that the tree of life¹s fruit is ³ambrosial² (4.217).
And then in the next lines mentions the tree of the knowledge of good and
evil. So the tree of life¹s fruit does have some specificity. Might the tree
of the knowledge¹s fruit be specified in at least one way: not ambrosial?
Does the tree of life¹s fruit being ambrosial help by contrast to specify
the tree of knowledge¹s fruit?


On 4/3/14 9:35 AM, "Gregory Machacek" <Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu> wrote:

> I do strongly hold the assumption that John pinpoints me as holding, so
> strongly that the alternative he proposes has never so much as entered my
> mind:  that there are lots of whatever-kind-of-fruit-the-forbidden-fruit-is
> trees throughout the Garden, and that just one of those trees has been
> interdicted.  Eat all the apples you want, just not this tree's apples.
> I suppose I got the notion in my head that the interdicted tree has a unique
> fruit because the words fruit and tree are always singular, so I've concocted
> an interdicted variety of fruit.  So I've done a quick search of all of the
> instances of "fruit" in the poem.  There didn't seem to me to be any passage
> that proved conclusively whether John's or my assumption is correct.   If I
> had to argue for the validity of my assumption, I'd start with 7.537ff
>> He brought thee into this delicious grove,
>> This garden, planted with the trees of God,
>> Delectable both to behold and taste;
>> And freely all their pleasant fruit for food
>> Gave thee; all sorts are here that all the Earth yields,
>> Variety without end; but of the tree,
>> Which, tasted, works knowledge of good and evil,
>> Thou mayest not.
> I'll give a paraphrase of part of this that at least shows the logical
> connections by which my mind has devised the notion of a unique fruit:  all
> sorts (of trees-and-their-fruit) are here that all the Earth yields, a variety
> (of trees-and-their-fruits) without end, but one part from that variety (one
> sort of tree-and-its-fruit), you may not eat.  I guess, in short, I'm reading
> "but" as singling out an exception from among the "sorts."  A sort has been
> interdicted.  I'm not certain that the passage must be read that way, so I
> don't take it as conclusive proof for what I've always assumed about the poem.
> If the forbidden fruit is not a unique kind of fruit, then, yes, my reading of
> 9.585 falls apart.  I'll have to ponder to determine how much of the case I'm
> making to Salwa crumbles along with it.  Because there I'm saying a bit more
> than that "Milton didn't much care" what particular kind of fruit was on the
> forbidden tree; I'm saying he positively wanted us to steer clear from
> bothering to speculate on the matter.
> But am I alone in assuming that God's forbidding a tree was tantamount to
> forbidding a particular kind of fruit?   Boy how embarrassed I'll be if I've
> had something so fundamental so wrong.
> Greg Machacek
> Professor of English
> Marist College
> -----milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu wrote: -----
> To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
> From: John K Leonard
> Sent by: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
> Date: 04/03/2014 09:38AM
> Subject: [Milton-L] "Oh we can't eat apples"
> A characteristically astute post from Greg, but the following sentences
> surprised me: 
> 'If the forbidden fruit was known to Eve as an apple, she would not have had
> to wait until Satan brought her to the tree to say, "Oh we can't eat from this
> one" (9.647).  As soon as he'd told her that he'd tasted "those fair apples"
> (9.585), she could right then have said "Oh we can't eat apples."  She must
> take "apple" at 585 as meaning just "fruit."'
> Like Greg, I don't much care what particular kind of fruit it was (and I don't
> think Milton much cared). The above quoted sentences nevertheless surprised me
> because Greg clearly imagines that the forbidden tree was the only one of its
> kind. I have never made that assumption. I have always made the opposite
> assumption that it was just one of many apple trees that was singled out from
> the others (and other kinds of tree) by the simple fact of being prohibited.
> If my assumption is correct, the logic of Greg's last quoted sentence breaks
> down. Eve could take 'apple' at 585 to mean 'apple' (in our familiar sense)
> and still not know for sure that the serpent is referring to the forbidden
> apple tree. Hence her high excitement when she follows the serpent, and dashed
> hopes ('Fruitless to me, though fruit be here to excess') when she arrives at
> the tree and discovers that it is the forbidden one.
> I do think it matters that Satan is the only speaker to name the fruit an
> 'apple'. It matters not because precise identification of the species is of
> any consequence, but because 'fruit' includes the sense 'consequences'. The
> narrator and the good characters always name the fruit in a way that preserves
> an awareness of the dreadful consequences that will ensue if Adam and Eve eat
> it; Satan shifts focus to the apple itself (both to promise immediate
> gratification and to reassure Eve that transgression will be a trivial
> offence).
> John Leonard
> On 04/02/14, Gregory Machacek <Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu> wrote:
>> I'm trying to make sense of the fact that this poem is so coy about
>> identifying the variety of fruit that was the Forbidden Fruit.
>> I take the following as the relevant background to his treatment of the
>> fruit.  Milton is writing in a time when 1) there was controversy over the
>> matter, various commentators proposing figs, pomegranates and other
>> contenders and 2) the common opinion was that it was an apple (genus malus,
>> what we today call an apple: Macintosh, Empire, Red Delicious; also
>> crabapples, I guess).
>> John Leonard will say, the poem isn't coy at all; Satan twice names the fruit
>> as an apple.
>> But we know that apple had two seemingly equally current and well-established
>> meanings in Milton's day.  The OED gives as a second definition "any of
>> various fruits that resemble an apple" and gives 17c instances of
>> pomegranates, palm trees and oaks all as producing "apples" in this sense.
>> So, in Milton's day, "apple" could mean, essentially, "fruit."
>> I think the first of Satan's uses of the word must mean this, and the second
>> can.  If the forbidden fruit was known to Eve as an apple, she would not have
>> had to wait until Satan brought her to the tree to say, "Oh we can't eat from
>> this one" (9.647).  As soon as he'd told her that he'd tasted "those fair
>> apples" (9.585), she could right then have said "Oh we can't eat apples."
>> She must take "apple" at 585 as meaning just "fruit."  And all that the boast
>> in 10.487 requires is the meaning "some minor thing," "a mere piece of
>> fruit," not genus malus specifically.
>> That would leave us nowhere in identifying the variety of fruit that is the
>> forbidden fruit.  (Which, I'm arguing, is where we should stay.)
>> But, the two Satanic uses do introduce the word "apple" into the poem, and
>> it's hard therefore for our minds to prevent the "genus malus" meaning from
>> entering, not least because it's the common opinion, and therefore to begin
>> to raise the question of what is the variety of this fruit.
>> But I think Milton's consistency elsewhere in the poem in only calling it a
>> "fruit," signals that he wants to avoid the interpretive controversy of his
>> day over the variety of the fruit.  And his assigning the only two uses of
>> "apple" to Satan constitutes a temptation to the reader to begin to try to
>> identify or speculate or argue about its variety.  I think Milton thinks the
>> controversy of his day is a fruitless controversy; I think he would say we
>> know everything we need to know about the fruit when we know that it is
>> forbidden.  Look how much of a mess A&E get themselves into by trying to
>> interpret the tree's name rather than just know what God has told them to
>> know about it.  We are to see the possibility of speculating on the genus of
>> the fruit, and decline to pursue that line of speculation (like Adam with the
>> controversy over the motion of celestial bodies).
>> Now this might seem a Fishian argument:  the poem gives us readerly
>> equivalents to the moral choices depicted in the poem.  But I take courage
>> from noting that Patrick Hume's second annotation for PL is for the phrase
>> "Fruit of that forbidden tree" and he says the following: "it imports not
>> much to know, nor can it be determined, what kind this Interdicted Tree was
>> of, the Prohibition having no regard to, or influence on, its Fruit, more
>> than that it was made the Trial of man's entire Obedience to his Maker."
>> That last bit is what I've been arguing we must discipline ourselves to have
>> be the only thing we think about the fruit in this poem.  It's hard to tell
>> if Hume is saying what he is about the "real life" forbidden fruit, or the
>> one in Milton's poem, but I will note that, relative to 9.585, he repeats
>> "Tis difficult to divine what Tree the forbidden one was"; he must be taking
>> "apple" here in the broader definition.
>> An early reader thought we ought not be spending our time with such
>> questions, and seems to have thought that Milton thought that as well.
>> In sum, I don't think refusing to consider the genus of the fruit is
>> tendentious, or if it is, its a kind of tendentiousness that Milton's God,
>> and Milton, want us to exercise.
>> I decline to speculate on what the fruit was.  It doesn't matter.
>> Greg Machacek
>> Professor of English
>> Marist College
>> -----milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu wrote: -----
>> To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>> From: "Salwa Khoddam"
>> Sent by: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
>> Date: 04/02/2014 05:20PM
>> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] on not imagining in paradise lost
>> "but that Milton believed we should exercise the mental discipline to know
>> about it that it variety is irrelevant.  Does the poem call on us steadily to
>> say to ourselves "though I am curious as to the variety of this fruit, I will
>> fight that curiosity and remember that the only thing important about it is
>> its being forbidden".
>>  One could also see "mental discipline" in reading literature as an
>> "intellectual askesis," as as emptying of one's self from a tendentious
>> argument and opening up to the text, including images and symbols, that
>> excite our imagination, and let them speak to us freely before we render our
>> conclusions. 
>> Then we can be ready to absorb the "intention" of the author, assuming we
>> can. It would be bad poetry, if the poet asked us to do any restraining of
>> our curiosity or imagination ,  in the first stage of interpretation. I
>> believe that reading a poem begins with the text, moves into research,
>> ponderings, and deliberations, and returns to the text for validation. I
>> don't think it matters whether the fruit is an apple, peach, or banana, I
>> agree, but it matters that a poet would be asking his readers to restrict
>> their imagination in the first stages of the interpretation in order to get
>> his theological doctrine across. A reader would get his doctrine without the
>> restriction of the imagination to wander in pleasure and appreciation of
>> colors, smells, and beautiful shapes. (A platan is nicer than a fig tree and
>> gives more shade). To use Renaissance faculty psychology, the sensual
>> experiences are relayed to the imagination, and then to understanding (higher
>> reason) and will. Before the will interferes to act to restrain (the last
>> stage of intepretation) there must be something in the imagination to be
>> acted upon. Restrain the imagination early in the process and the will
>> delivers abstract doctrines. Those who studied the apple/peach as a symbol,
>> conclude that it doesn't matter what it is, but only at the end of an
>> enriching  process of interpretation. What a loss to the richness of Milton's
>> poem (linguistic, cultural, etymological) and to the pleasure of
>> interpretation itself if curiosity about the fruit is enforced.
>> I hope I'm making some sense. If not, let me know.
>> Best,
>> Salwa
>> Salwa Khoddam PhD
>> Professor of English Emerita
>> Oklahoma City University
>> Author of *Mythopoeic Narnia:
>> Memory, Metaphor, and Metamorphoses
>> in The Chronicles of Narnia*
>> skhoddam at cox.net
>>> ----- Original Message -----
>>> From: Gregory Machacek
>>> To: John Milton Discussion List
>>> Sent: Wednesday, April 02, 2014 9:18 AM
>>> Subject: [Milton-L] on not imagining in paradise lost
>>> Yes, Jim, I feel that that is in accord with what I am asking/proposing.
>>> Except that I think I going this degree further:  Not Milton "believed the
>>> type of fruit was either unknown [or] irrelevant," but that Milton believed
>>> we should exercise the mental discipline to know about it that it variety is
>>> irrelevant.  Does the poem call on us steadily to say to ourselves "though I
>>> am curious as to the variety of this fruit, I will fight that curiosity and
>>> remember that the only thing important about it is its being forbidden".  If
>>> that kind of determined and sustained anti-curiosity is a mode of ambiguity
>>> (I'll have to go reread Empson), then yes, ambiguity.  But I'm thinking
>>> something that depends on "registering ambiguity to get Milton's point," but
>>> goes beyond that.
>>> Greg Machacek
>>> Professor of English
>>> Marist College
>>> -----milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu wrote: -----
>>> To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>>> From: James Rovira
>>> Sent by: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
>>> Date: 04/02/2014 10:04AM
>>> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] oops, "proud" not "vain"
>>> It could be that Milton deliberately used a less than precise term to
>>> describe the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil because he
>>> himself believed the type of fruit was either unknown, irrelevant, or both.
>>> In this case, the ambiguity is the point, and registering ambiguity is to
>>> get Milton's point.
>>> Saying that the nature or type of the fruit is irrelevant existentializes
>>> the act of eating rather than attributes some kind of magical property to
>>> the fruit itself, which I think is more consistent with Milton's
>>> presentation of and emphasis upon character. Satan's physical appearance
>>> certainly isn't trustworthy, and where he goes is hell, as he himself is
>>> hell, regardless of his physical nature.
>>> Jim R 
>>> On Wed, Apr 2, 2014 at 9:48 AM, Gregory Machacek
>>> <Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu> wrote:
>>>> (I'm prepping the Limbo of Vanities for class and got a wire crossed.
>>>> Here's the correct version of my reply to Salwa)
>>>> Salwa, you claim that "we have to imagine it as readers before we can
>>>> picture the action involved with it" and in the next breath tell us that
>>>> the poem prevents us from being able to imagine it to the degree we "have
>>>> to" do: "the 'apple' was a generic term for a group of fruits," and
>>>> therefore could be a peach.  If the most precise term Milton gives us for
>>>> imagining the variety of what he elsewhere calls just a "fruit" is itself a
>>>> category word, how do we then do this imagining that we "have to" do?
>>>> And do we have to do it?  Must "poems as poems" prioritize imagination in
>>>> this way?  I know that presupposition is plausible and deeply ingrained in
>>>> us.  But might a given poem challenge us to adopt the "rational viewpoint
>>>> of God" over the imagination that other poems (and even it itself) do
>>>> routinely expect us to exercise?  Particularly a poem that explicitly
>>>> states that fancy serves "reason as chief," a poem that links "imagination"
>>>> with "aery things," not to mention "proud" Satanic ambitions (2.10).
>>>> The only "actions involved with"  the fruit that I can remember being
>>>> called on to imagine are plucking and eating (and avoiding), I can picture
>>>> those actions relative to a generic "fruit" as easily as to a generic
>>>> "apple."  (The rapidity of 9.781, "she pluckt, she eat" does seem to me to
>>>> rule out fruits that would need to be peeled, but still rules in many other
>>>> kinds of fruit.)
>>>> That is all to say, might the poem be calling on us to check our natural
>>>> desire to know what variety of fruit this is and instead regard it as (as
>>>> God calls it) a fruit, and "know to know no more"?  All in service of
>>>> sustaining the view/resolution that theonly important thing about it is
>>>> that it has been forbidden.
>>>> These may sound like rhetorical questions, but I'm in fact genuinely asking
>>>> them, because, while I do believe what I say about the fruit, I've never
>>>> realized what a profound ramification that has for the operation of our
>>>> imaginations in reading this poem.  So I'd like the list members' help in
>>>> working these thoughts out, even if it means that we're back to one of
>>>> those questions that, as John Leonard pointed out, refuse to stay settled
>>>> and periodically re-emerge on this list.
>>>> Greg Machacek
>>>> Professor of English
>>>> Marist College
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