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

Carol Barton, Ph.D., CPCM cbartonphd1 at verizon.net
Thu Apr 3 19:00:58 EDT 2014

Cogitate away, Greg. I like where this is going.

From: Gregory Machacek 
Sent: Thursday, April 03, 2014 6:51 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List 
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] "Oh we can't eat apples"

First of all, I thank Michael and Carol.  By giving some grounds for believing that a kind of fruit grows on the interdicted tree that only grows there, you make me think I'm at least not idiotic or crazy for having assumed what I have about "the fruit of that forbidden tree" for all these years.

I'm now undecided on the matter, and if you all don't mind my using you as a sounding board, I'll share for your comment some of the passages that are occurring to me, thick and fast, as bearing on the matter.

First, I have to say I actually like the idea of God's only prohibiting one tree, and not one variety of fruit.  It does two things.  First, it makes the prohibition all that much more arbitrary, and on this matter, the maximum degree of arbitrariness seems preferable.  Second, it means that Adam and Eve are denied nothing substantial at all.  They can still eat apples, just not apples from one particular tree.  Maximally loving God with a maximally arbitrary prohibition.  Fits with two things I otherwise tend to believe Milton tries to portray in the epic.

(By the way, I can imagine the forbidden tree being identifiable, just by its position in the Garden, even if it shares a fruit with other trees.)

The passages:  At 8.320, God gives Adam Paradise, which includes the freedom "of the Fruit to eat"; then he prohibits one Tree.  The first sounds like a blanket gift of all the fruits in Eden.  The ruling out of one tree here doesn't seem to bear back on the fruits in any way.  From this it seems all that is prohibited is not a variety of fruit, but just the pieces of fruit growing on one particular tree.

By contrast, though, when Adam discusses the prohibition with Eve he urges her not to think the prohibition hard since they enjoy "free leave so large to all things else" (4.434).  That "else" makes me think some tangible "thing" is excluded by the proposition.  Apples-from-one-particular-tree don't seem as deserving of the word "thing" as one-whole-variety-of-fruit does.

I'll review Lewis and Evans, at your prompting, John.

By the way, in the discussion from which this is a tangent, I think I can still argue that both of Satan's "apples" can be OED def 2: "fruits," and perhaps even that his first use of the term must be.  Because as soon as he says "apples," Eve could at least interrupt and say "which apples? 'cause there's some of those we're not supposed to eat"; you'd think if Eve knew of the fruit on the prohibited tree as an "apple," she'd have perked up a bit more when Satan used the term.

Furiously cogitating,

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: "Carol Barton, Ph.D., CPCM" 
Sent by: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
Date: 04/03/2014 05:52PM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] "Oh we can't eat apples"

John, with the greatest respect (and I know you know I mean that sincerely), I don't think you can use the argument about how many species of everything else there were in Eden; it's immaterial. Adam and Eve had to know which (specific) tree to avoid, whether God hung up signs reading "FORBIDDEN" in neon lights on it, or made it one of a kind. As I said previously, God (at least not Milton's God) doesn't "do" entrapment. There has to be no question in Eve's mind that this-is-the-tree-whose-fruit-is-verboten for her to fall by her own choice; if she doesn't know that that's the one, and the only one, that she's been told not to touch, her credulousness when the serpent tells her of its wondrous powers is plausible--and without sin. (So--there's a new species she hasn't tasted yet, and it's got these great powers! What fun! And what's the harm in trying it?)

There are lots of green plants on the planet, and lots of varieties of marijuana--but your kids know the difference between that and oregano and basil and mint, and when you say "NO POT," that's a message understood to mean a specific plant of a certain kind.

But of course, they "didn't inhale." 

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