[Milton-L] yet once more

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Sat Apr 5 00:36:03 EDT 2014

Richard Strier's reading (below) describes well my first impressions of
reading PL and the impressions I've always had -- that the nature of the
fruit doesn't matter -- but I've also held this idea along with the idea
that the tree of the knowledge of etc. was somehow unique within the Garden
of Eden, as is the tree of life. The two ideas are neither necessary to one
another nor incompatible, and I would have never questioned this second
idea until John Leonard's recent post.

The two questions we have at hand are:

1. Is there some physical quality about the fruit that caused Adam and Eve
to fall? I think this option is actually unacceptable within Milton's
universe, as it would make "evil" a created thing, so by extension would
make Milton's God the author of evil. I think we have to exclude this
possibility from our readings.If we did believe this, though, then we would
have to believe that the tree of the knowledge of etc. was indeed unique in
the garden.

I would also argue that Milton explicitly existentializes the communication
of evil with this line:

"Our Death the Tree of Knowledge grew fast by,
Knowledge of Good bought dear by knowing ill."

Adam and Eve weren't to know good by having it communicated to them
directly. They would instead learn what evil is through disobedience, and
then learn what good is by its contrast with evil.

Once we've resolved the theological question (to the extent that we can),
though, we're still left with this question:

2. Is the tree of the knowledge of etc. a unique tree or not? It's still
possible for the tree to be unique without it being a means of -physically-
transmitting evil to Adam and Eve.

I think this question still has some validity as the tree of knowledge etc.
is indeed a physical thing planted in the middle of the garden alongside
the tree of life.

I don't think there are enough textual clues about the nature of this tree
in PL to answer our question, but there's one thing very much bugging me
about the tree of life.

As has been pointed out, this tree is "ambrosial," which of course is the
food or drink of the gods in Greek mythology, the food or drink that
confers immortality upon those who consume it. Milton appropriated Greek
myth here to describe the Biblical tree of life. This usage indicates,
however, that the tree of life was somehow, by nature, life conferring --
the actual eating of -that particular fruit- from -that particular tree- --
which is physically differentiated from all other trees in Eden by being
the most majestic -- is what confers eternal life:

  "And all amid them stood the Tree of Life,
  High eminent, blooming Ambrosial Fruit"

These trees are found in heaven so that angels can feed upon them:

"though in Heav'n the Trees
  Of life ambrosial frutage bear,"

So I take it that one tree of life from among the many such trees in heaven
has been placed on earth so that if Adam and Eve so choose they too may
partake in eternal life. But again, in this case, the choice isn't purely
existentialized: there appears to be something inherent in the fruit of the
tree of life that is life-conferring.

Not to mention that the tree of life makes an appearance in the Book of
Revelation at the end of the age.

So here's what bugs me: the text of PL leads us to believe (by reasonable
inference) that the tree of life is, by nature, eternal-life-conferring,
but the tree of knowledge of good and evil is only significant as an
-option-. It's not similarly death-conferring. The two trees aren't truly

That just bugs me.

Jim R

On Fri, Apr 4, 2014 at 10:54 PM, Richard A. Strier <rastrier at uchicago.edu>wrote:

>  The point -- again -- is not what things are but what God commands.
>  That's the point of the analogy with Luther's Eucharistic theology.  He
> thought the Real Presence was everywhere, and that God could have made a
> chestnut Eucharistic.  The point is not where He is, but where He wants us
> to find him.  The idea that there is something special about the fruit of
> the forbidden tree is (again) what Satan convinces Eve to believe -- a
> belief that, of course, he mocks later.
>  RS
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