[Milton-L] assumptions about the fruit, a question for john leonard

Horace Jeffery Hodges horacejeffery at gmail.com
Fri Apr 11 21:19:26 EDT 2014


I drew attention to the holiness of the forbidden fruit a day or two ago,
but here's the passage of PL 9.921-931:


Bold deed thou hast presum'd, adventrous Eve

And peril great provok't, who thus hath dar'd

Had it been onely coveting to Eye

That sacred Fruit, sacred to abstinence,

Much more to taste it under banne to touch. [ 925 ]

But past who can recall, or don undoe?

Not God Omnipotent, nor Fate, yet so

Perhaps thou shalt not Die, perhaps the Fact

Is not so hainous now, foretasted Fruit,

Profan'd first by the Serpent, by him first [ 930 ]

Made common and unhallowd ere our taste;


If the tree was sacred, then it was filled with holy power and deadly for
impure individuals to touch, similar to the Ark of the Covenant. Adam and
Eve were not impure before touching the fruit, but they became so through
touching. Both holiness and impurity are forces of power, but in opposition
to one another (see Jacob Milgrom's commentaries on *Leviticus*). Thus does
Adam reason that perhaps the serpent first profaned the fruit, i.e., making
it common (unhallowed). Common is a neutral state (unless invaded by
impurity), and Adam is assuming -- for argument's sake -- that the fruit is
merely *un*-hallowed (not *impurified*) and thus safe to touch.


I don't know quite how this impinges on the debate over the type of fruit
and its taste, but it seems linked to the question of whether the tree is
ordinary or extraordinary and can itself effect a change in Eve and Adam.


Jeffery Hodges





On Sat, Apr 12, 2014 at 8:30 AM, Hannibal Hamlin
<hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com>wrote:

> I'm afraid I'm desperately far behind in this seemingly inexhaustible
> thread. Plus, I'm writing from the SAA in St. Louis (how many here, I
> wonder, think Shakespeare, contra Nigel Smith, is better than Milton?). If
> the following seems out of place in light of what's gone before, I
> apologize, but I find myself unsatisfied with the argument that the fruit
> doesn't matter, which seems the prevailing view. I take the point about the
> test being about obedience, but still. Milton is such an obsessively
> gastric writer, I can't believe he doesn't think the fruit itself
> important. Some things seem beyond absolute proof -- whether the FF is of a
> totally different kind from the fruit of all the other trees, for instance.
> (I suppose it might be a Cortland, whereas all the others are Macs and
> Granny Smiths?) But the effect of eating the fruit is automatic, and
> physiological. This particular fruit, when eaten and digested, has an
> effect different from all the others. As others have noted, it is
> intoxicating. It also seems an aphrodisiac. And whether it's flavor is
> unique, it is certainly such as to stimulate the appetite (think of
> whatever you can't eat only one of -- salted peanuts, Ritz crackers, BBQ
> ribs). One could argue perhaps that these effects are not intrinsic --
> Eve's appetite is unsatisfied because fallen, just as she and Adam rise
> from sex unfulfilled. But Milton is constantly emphasizing food, digestion,
> even excretion. Others know more than I do about Milton's
> materialism/monism, but isn't it appropriate that the Fall of Man comes
> about by eating something that doesn't agree with us? Of course, Adam and
> Eve disobey God, but his prohibition is not, I think, arbitrary, but
> connected to what this fruit does. (I know there are loads of theologians
> who argue differently -- but they also have different views on angelic sex
> and digestion, chaos and matter.) It's interesting in this light that God's
> insistence that Adam and Eve must be expelled from Eden describes them as a
> kind of waste product; what they have consumed and digested has altered
> them physiologically (though for Milton body and soul are one), so they are
> no longer a healthy part of the "body" of Eden, but must be purged or
> excreted:
>
> But longer in that Paradise to dwell,
> The Law I gave to Nature him forbids:
> Those pure immortal Elements that know
> No gross, no unharmoneous mixture foule,
> Eject him tainted now, and purge him off
> As a distemper, gross to aire as gross,
> And mortal food, as may dispose him best
> For dissolution wrought by Sin, that first
> Distemperd all things, and of incorrupt
> Corrupted.
>
> Hannibal
>
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