[Milton-L] tree of life

Richard A. Strier rastrier at uchicago.edu
Sat Apr 5 14:45:37 EDT 2014


Milton was a mortalist.  The second life of man comes after the end of history.  Until then, there is no human afterlife.  Again, a connection to Luther.

RS
________________________________
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of James Rovira [jamesrovira at gmail.com]
Sent: Saturday, April 05, 2014 1:29 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] tree of life

Michael:

I meant to read Milton as standing somewhat apart from those assumptions:

"Milton's language does seem to be deliberately ambiguous on this point, so he seems to have had some difficulty with the issue himself."

But I provide text from PL that supports them below.

I was at that time thinking of the lines that another listmember (Carol I think) posted earlier:

"Least therefore his now bolder hand
Reach also of the Tree of Life, and eat,
And live for ever, dream at least to live
Forever..."

"and eat, / And live forever" by itself might support my assumptions, but "dream at least to live / Forever..." indicates some ambiguity. It seems odd to me that God himself would be equivocating on this point (doesn't he know?). And the following lines seem interesting too. Michael is instructed to

"...guard all passage to the Tree of Life:
Least Paradise a receptacle prove
To Spirits foule, and all my Trees thir prey,
With whose stol'n Fruit Man once more to delude."

"All passage to the Tree of Life" may just reference, generically, "any entrance into the Garden," but the Tree of Life seems to be singled out here, as if the foul spirits would delude fallen humanity into eating from the Tree of Life.

I would support my assumptions from these words, though:

"I at first with two fair gifts
Created him endowd, with Happiness
And Immortalitie: that fondly lost,
This other serv'd but to eternize woe;"

Note that the Father is concerned that immortality would just "eternize woe," or eternalize Adam and Eve's unhappiness.

"Till I provided Death; so Death becomes
His final remedie,"

To keep that from happening, God now views death as a remedy.

"and after Life
Tri'd in sharp tribulation, and refin'd
By Faith and faithful works, to second Life,
Wak't in the renovation of the just,
Resignes him up with Heav'n and Earth renewd."

So that eternity is now reserved for the period after the final redemption of humanity.

What I still can't quite understand is the phrase "dream at least to live forever." Why just a dream, then?

Jim


On Sat, Apr 5, 2014 at 2:10 PM, Michael Gillum <mgillum at unca.edu<mailto:mgillum at unca.edu>> wrote:
Jim Rovira--

Is there anything in Milton to support the idea that eating the fruit of the Tree of Life would freeze people eternally in the state that they are in? --as opposed, I guess, to PL-God's plan that humans would evolve and become angelic or god-like?

Michael


On Sat, Apr 5, 2014 at 1:29 PM, James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com<mailto:jamesrovira at gmail.com>> wrote:
Here are another series of assumptions of mine, this time about the Tree of Life:

The Tree of Life does not grant redemption or regeneration: it merely grants eternal -existence- to whoever eats it, eternalizing their current state of being (so working like ambrosia). God restricting Adam and Eve from eating of the fruit of the tree after the fall, then, was an act of mercy: it kept them from entering an eternally fallen state. Redemption/regeneration in the Christian sense is effected not by a magical fruit but through Christ's work and the Holy Spirit. What Christians eat for their redemption is the body and blood of Christ. The tree of life, therefore, is not made available again until after humanity has been finally redeemed and the New Jerusalem has been revealed, so that saved humanity can partake and live forever in a redeemed state.

So had Adam and Eve eaten the fruit of the tree of life before the fall, they would have acquired an eternal existence in an unfallen, innocent state with bodies something like our own, which would have been interesting.

My other assumption was that this state was incorruptible, but the Medieval reading mentioned earlier makes sense too. The phrase in Genesis, though, sounds as if a single instance of partaking of the fruit of the tree of life grants eternal existence the first time the fruit is eaten, which in this case would be parallel with the forbidden tree as well, which has its effects the single time a fruit is eaten.

Milton's language does seem to be deliberately ambiguous on this point, so he seems to have had some difficulty with the issue himself. Carol's reading is a way out, existentializing the eating of the fruit of the tree of life.

Jim R


On Sat, Apr 5, 2014 at 1:16 PM, Michael Gillum <mgillum at unca.edu<mailto:mgillum at unca.edu>> wrote:
Milton seems to have adopted a rule for his poem that everything in Gen. 1-3 would be included and, insofar as possible, explained in a sort-of-rational way. The Biblical God's apparent fear that fallen humans should eat of the tree of life is unseemly. Milton deals with that by quoting the Bible but having PL's God add the OR, "or dream at least to live / Forever." PL's God thus implies that the fruit of the Tree of Life would not confer immortality on the fallen humans, so the setting of a guard on the tree is merely symbolic--a sign that humans cannot regain eternal life through their own actions. Perhaps setting the guard is one of the Father's "ghastly jokes" (Empson's phrase).

Since the fruit is not needed before the fall, and would not work after the fall, why is the Tree of Life there at all? Milton seems to strip it of any function in the literal narrative and reduce it to a symbol prefiguring Christian salvation. Does this get us any closer to establishing a symmetrical relation between the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life?


On Sat, Apr 5, 2014 at 12:42 PM, Matthew Jordan <matthewjorda at gmail.com<mailto:matthewjorda at gmail.com>> wrote:
Containerization, surely? (And propagation, of course.)


On 5 April 2014 17:41, JD Fleming <jfleming at sfu.ca<mailto:jfleming at sfu.ca>> wrote:
One tradition held that A+E were immortal through constant noshing on the tree of life. Thus a troubling medieval counter-factual: Had they not fallen, but procreated, their descendants populating the globe, how wd the immortalizing fruit have been transported the necessary distances without rotting? Anyway, this would seem to be the thought Milton is thinking here--though it doesn't necessarily fit with those he thinks elsewhere. jdf

________________________________
From: "Dave LTC MIL USA USMA Harper" <Dave.Harper at usma.edu<mailto:Dave.Harper at usma.edu>>
To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Sent: Saturday, 5 April, 2014 08:29:28

Subject: Re: [Milton-L] tree of life

The arbitrariness of the injunction against the forbidden fruit (in parallel
with the perhaps equally arbitrary exaltation of the Son) has never bothered
me as much as the Tree of Life. I appreciate the bringing of knowledge of
good and evil into the world through the act of disobedience, the same way
that I sense that the parallel exaltation of the Son brings both the
potential for disobedience along with a revelation of angelic history (I
suspect Abdiel probably didn't know he was created by secondary hands prior
to the exaltation).

The tree of Life bothers me not only because it seems to have an inherent
immortality-granting quality, but because (1) there was no injunction
against eating of it and (2) it would serve no purpose in an prelapsarian
world where apparently everything was immortal anyway. And yet, we know it
was there, and the narrator names it such when Satan alights on it as a
cormorant.

God seems to have hedged his bets by placing an immortality-granting tree in
an immortal garden, but then he takes it away when it is most needed. Any
allegorical reference to salvation seems strained at best.

Dave



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http://www.jamesrovira.com
Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety
Continuum 2010
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Text, Identity, Subjectivity
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