Expat Living: "The fruit of all evil"
My most recent language column has appeared in today's issue of the Korea Herald (note: pop-up at newspaper), so I'll now post it here:
Originally, the column above was intended for early July, but one of the other columnists who writes on language misunderstood and missed the deadline, resulting in a long delay before the printing of that language-column page, so my article has only appeared in print now, about an entire month later. During that lost month, I had actually sent in a revision of the penultimate paragraph, but the time delay resulted in those changes being lost. Here's what I had intended for the final form of that next-to-last paragraph:In "Areopagitica," that famous 17th-century defense of free expression, John Milton wrote, "It was from out the rinde of one apple tasted, that the knowledge of good and evill as two twins cleaving together leapt forth into the World. And perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evill, that is to say of knowing good by evill."The fruit of all evil
Milton's opinion presupposes a sin-fallen world where we necessarily experience evil with good and thereby learn to distinguish these mortal opposites that cleave together -- a clever pun, incidentally, upon the ambiguous meaning of "cleave" as both "cling" and "cut."
Doomed as we are to know good by experiencing evil, Milton infers that any attempt to promote goodness by overly restricting bad speech would be . . . well, fruitless. But why does Milton call the fruit that Eve plucked and offered to Adam an apple? The biblical passage specifies no apple, but leaves the fruit unnamed.
That never stopped the pious from naming it, of course. Biblical reticence invites speculation. The extracanonical "Book of Enoch" calls the fruit grape-like, as do several rabbinical passages. Other rabbis name the fruit a fig, perhaps on the scriptural evidence that Adam and Eve, their fallen eyes first perceiving their nakedness, covered their pudenda with fig leaves. Other speculations about the unnamed fruit abound -- even the wild suggestion "wheat"!
Milton, however, says apple. Why?
He was hardly alone, for the Western Christian tradition in literature and art had largely settled on the apple as the fruit from the tree of knowledge, probably based on a pun in Latin between evil (malum) and apple (malus). The scriptural text in Latin reads "lignumque scientiae boni et mali" -- or, in plain English, "and the tree of knowledge of good and of evil," but the genitive singular form mali can be translated either "of evil" or "of apple." The "tree of knowledge of good and of apple" might sound slightly ludicrous, but we are talking wordplay, hence all in good pun.
Milton, however, might have had other thoughts in calling that fatal fruit an apple, for the word has an interesting history. The most ambitious English lexicon of all, the intimidating Oxford English Dictionary, notes that from early on, the word "apple" included "any fruit." Intriguingly, the English cleric Edward Topsell reveals that the English language held to this broader range of meaning as late as 1607, for in his book "The History of Four-footed Beasts," he refers to the "Apples of Palm-trees," and the book was republished some fifty years later. Moreover, nearly a hundred years after Milton, as late as 1765, the country gentleman Abraham Tucker observed in his multi-volume book "The Light of Nature Pursued" that the "fly injects her juices into the oak-leaf, to raise an apple for hatching her young," thereby demonstrating a still-extant, rather broad range of meaning.
Consequently, when Milton referred in "Areopagitica" to "the rinde of one apple tasted," when he had his narrator in "Paradise Regained" mention "that crude Apple that diverted Eve," and when he showed Satan in "Paradise Lost" tempting Eve with "tasting those fair Apples" and later boasting before the other demons of having seduced mankind "with an Apple," he might not have meant specifically what we today mean by "apple" but more indefinitely what we now mean by "fruit."
Therefore -- no two ways about it -- fear all fruit. You could study hard in school. You could even get a good job. But then, you might unwittingly eat some foreboding fruit . . . and just die!
Consequently, when Milton referred in "Areopagitica" to "the rinde of one apple tasted," when he had his narrator in "Paradise Regained" mention "that crude Apple that diverted Eve," and when he showed Satan in "Paradise Lost" tempt Eve with "tasting those fair Apples" and later boast before the other demons of having seduced mankind "with an Apple," Milton might not have meant specifically what we today mean by "apple" but more indefinitely what we now mean by "fruit."Just for the sake of clarity.