[Milton-L] tree of life

Carol Barton, Ph.D., CPCM cbartonphd1 at verizon.net
Sat Apr 5 12:17:29 EDT 2014

I'd like to think that neither the Tree of Knowledge nor the Tree of Life 
had any actual power, but were symbolically representative of the choice 
between Knowledge of Good and Evil and Eternal Life (somehow resonant of the 
Hebrew Book of Life?) which were available to Adam and Eve--but not 
guaranteed until they affirmed their obedience to God by not tasting the 
Fruit. (In that sense, it could have been a Barbie doll they were told not 
to play with--the object of the disobedience did not matter as much as the 
act of reaching for the thing prohibited.) In Book IX, Eve seems (and I use 
the term guardedly) to suggest that something has palpably been transferred 
from the fruit to her consciousness, but Milton is careful to qualify that 
with his own "seemd . . . or fansied so, through expectation high / Of 
knowledg" and to underscore that *expectation* in the last two lines (" Till 
dieted by thee I grow mature/ In knowledge . . .").

such delight till then, as seemd,
 In Fruit she never tasted, whether true
 Or fansied so, through expectation high
 Of knowledg, nor was God-head from her thought. [ 790 ]
 Greedily she ingorg'd without restraint,
 And knew not eating Death: Satiate at length,
 And hight'nd as with Wine, jocond and boon,
 Thus to her self she pleasingly began.

O Sovran, vertuous, precious of all Trees [ 795 ]
 In Paradise, of operation blest
To Sapience, hitherto obscur'd, infam'd,
 And thy fair Fruit let hang, as to no end
 Created; but henceforth my early care,
 Not without Song, each Morning, and due praise [ 800 ]
 Shall tend thee, and the fertil burden ease
 Of thy full branches offer'd free to all;
 Till dieted by thee I grow mature
 In knowledge, as the Gods who all things know;

The transfer of knowledge is not immediate (zap! You're an Einstein!) and 
may not happen at all, except by the power of the serpent's suggestion. As 
I've argued elsewhere, (1) the serpent--the real one--was not forbidden to 
eat the Fruit; (2) Eve does not know for a fact that it did so; (3) and 
Satan-in-the-Serpent already had the knowledge he/it claimed the Fruit 

Seeing the two trees (which must still be uniquely identifiable from all the 
others) as symbolic of the consequences of obedience (eternal life) or 
disobedience knowledge of good and evil, including death and damnation) 
removes the discomfort for me. Upon the act of disobedience, God withdraws 
the positive alternative--which Christ later restores. 

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