Sunday, August 27, 2006

"And knew not eating Death"

"And knew not eating Death" (PL 9.792)
(Image from Wikipedia)

In Paradise Lost 9.780-794, Eve -- having concluded that she can "feed at once both Bodie and Mind" (PL 9.779) -- decides to take the fruit proferred by the serpent:
So saying, her rash hand in evil hour [ 780 ]
Forth reaching to the Fruit, she pluck'd, she eat:
Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat
Sighing through all her Works gave signs of woe,
That all was lost. Back to the Thicket slunk
The guiltie Serpent, and well might, for Eve [ 785 ]
Intent now wholly on her taste, naught else
Regarded, 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. (PL 9.780-794)
Milton plays on an ambiguity in the phrase "to her self," for the next line will show her addressing the tree ("O Sovran, vertuous, precious of all Trees" PL 9.795), but for a brief moment, we read her as addressing "her self" in an act of self-worship ... which, of course, she implicitly is.

But that's not my point today.

Rather, I'm curious about the expression "eating Death" in line 792. Scholars have long noted the double meaning in the wording, which can mean either that Eve is eating death or that death is ravenous (which it is, cf. PL 2.845ff), so the expression "eating death" has been pretty well looked into, I suppose. At any rate, I was led to a possible source for Milton's expression by way of Regina Schwartz, who writes:
Michael Lieb comments that Adam and Eve become unclean upon violating God's command, noting that seventeenth-century commentators also made the connection between the forbidden fruit and the unclean food of Leviticus. In The Forbidden Fruit: Or a Treatise of the Tree of Knowledge (1640), Sebastian Frank writes that the fall was an "offense" to God, causing man to become "unclean": we shall become clean again only when we "doe vomitt up the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evill" (14-16). Lieb's interest is in the prohibition a "extralegal and dispensational" -- not in any of its commemorative impulses (Lieb, Poetics of the Holy, 114-18). (Schwartz, Remembering and Repeating, pp. 113-114, n. 18)
This point concerning the "connection between the forbidden fruit and the unclean food of Leviticus" sounds fascinating, and I, obviously, need to read Lieb's book closely. Meanwhile, who is this Sebastian Frank -- or actually, "Franck," as I discovered through an online search that located his book with a lengthy title typical of texts back in the heroic days of printing:
The forbidden fruit, or, A treatise of the tree of knowledge of good and evill, of which Adam at the first, and as yet all mankinde do eate death moreover, how at this day it is forbidden to every one as well as to Adam, and how this tree, that is, the wisdome of the serpent planted in Adam, is that great image, and that many headed beast mentioned in Daniel and the apocalyps, whom the whole world doth worship : lastly, here is shewed what is the tree of life, contrary to the wisdome, righteousnesse, and knowledge of all mankinde : with a description of the majestie and nature of Gods word
This website lists the author as Sebastian Franck (note the "c") and gives the following bibliographical information:
London: Printed by T.P. and M.S. for Benjamin Allen ..., 1642
Franck actually published under a pseudonym (August Eleuthenius) and originally in German (Vom dem Baum des Wissen Gutes und Böses), as I discovered through yet another website:
41. August Eluthenius Forbidden Fruit.

Forbidden Fruit or Tree of Knowledge writ by August Eleuthenius

Ed. Note: Full Citation: Sebastian, Franck (1499-1542), pseud. August Eluthenius, Vom dem Baum des Wissen Gutes und Böses, translated, The Forbidden Fruit: or, A Treatise of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evill, of Which Adam at the First, and as Yet All Mankinde Do Eate Death . . . (London: Printed by T. P. and M. S. for Benjamine Allen, 1642)
Most interesting for me is this phrase in the title: "the tree of knowledge of good and evill, of which Adam at the first, and as yet all mankinde, do eate death." Eating death -- as we've already noted above -- is how Milton describes Eve's act of eating the fruit, so I'd like to know more about Franck's views and whether or not Milton was aware of them. Likely, Milton did know since the English translation was published in London in 1642 (also 1640?), but I'd need confirmation.

Wikipedia, by the way, has a useful entry on Sebastian Franck, who was a German and Reformer in Luther's time, but though it lists the book that I'm interested in (as The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil), it doesn't say anything about Franck's views on the subject.

That remains for another time...

Labels: , , ,


At 8:12 AM, Blogger eshuneutics said...

The next chapter, about "the heterodox fall," also ropes together many differing views that have little in common except their opposition to Augustinian orthodoxy. German Anabaptists and Hutterites, Sebastian Franck, George Fox as well as his Muggletonian opponents, Winstanley and the Diggers with their originary communism, all appear here. Some of them have in common that they were readers of Franck, as Poole shows, seeing in Genesis the story of limited creaturely beings who overreached themselves. Isaac Pennington, for example, read Franck even before becoming a prominent Quaker. Both advise the recovery of original ignorance and simplicity: we must "vomit up the fruit of the tree of knowledge" and so "be born anew." Their views comprise a set of assumptions about the Genesis narrative that contradicts those of the main reformers at every turn. Many heretics shared such views, and Calvin had denounced the French Libertines, in a text that was cited by Samuel Rutherford in England, for seeking "to return to that innocent state which Adam enjoyed before he sinned [. . .] and like a child lets himself be led by his natural sense." As Nuttall has pointed out, the intellectual heritage of William Blake was everywhere in this England. Obviously a good deal depended on what one thought of as "natural."

Franck was obviously well known.
This is from a review in Milton Quarterly, March 2006.

At 8:24 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Eshuneutics, thanks for that. Often, what strikes me as new is already well-known.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 3:11 PM, Blogger eshuneutics said...

Paradoxa; De Arbore Scientiae Boni et Mali--another work by Franck. He was "obviously well known", but in what circles...seemingly, a sort of mystical Protestantism, the kind of "thing" that would have interested Milton around 1630 perhaps, when he was writing Il Penseroso and allied, through Cambridge connections, to radical Protestantism? Not so well known: Lieb's mention is brief, actually a name among many to be dropped by way of argument; Scwartz gets his name wrong as if thinking of another Frank (?)...I have never come across the name until you revived it.

At 6:04 AM, Blogger eshuneutics said...

Kester Svendsen (according to Alistair Fowler) actually linked Franck with Milton in Milton and Science, Cambridge, Mass, 1956, so Lieb is following this link, it would seem.

At 6:51 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Eshuneutics. I hadn't even thought to check my copy of Fowler, but there it is.

So, it's known. Good to know.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


Post a Comment

<< Home