"Do I dare to eat a peach?"
The Milton scholar Robert Appelbaum has recently directed me to a book, and also an article, in which he argues that Milton believed the forbidden fruit to be a peach:
If I may, please consult the relevant section in my book on food in the Renaissance, where I show that the forbidden fruit was actually a peach. Aguecheek's Beef, Belch's Hiccup, and Other Gastronomic Interjections. An earlier piece I published in MQ also makes this argument.This sounds interesting. I may need to order the book. At Amazon.com, the product description notes, among other things, that:
We didn't always eat the way we do today. It was only at the advent of the early modern period that people stopped eating with their hands from trenchers of bread and started using forks and plates, that lords stopped inviting scores of neighbors to dine together in great halls and instead ate separately in private rooms, and that Europeans started worrying about dining à la mode, from the most refined nouvelle cuisine.This reminds me of something similar that Norbert Elias wrote in The Civilizing Process about the process by which Europeans adopted their modern manners, including table manners, so I suspect that Appelbaum draws upon Elias for some of his insights and information.
That piece published in the MQ was an article titled "Eve's and Adam's Apple: Horticulture, Taste, and the Flesh of the Forbidden Fruit in Paradise Lost" (Milton Quarterly, 36.4 (2002), 221-39), an article that I will surely need to read.
Meanwhile, I've gotten an advance look at Appelbaum's book through using "Google Book Search." On page 198, Aguecheek's Beef, Belch's Hiccup, and Other Gastronomic Interjections presents the 'core' of its argument that Milton presented the forbidden fruit as a peach:
But once Eve has eaten the fruit and experienced her intoxication -- wherewith she deludes herself into thinking that she has acquired godlike wisdom -- the fruit itself seems to undergo a change. For the first time, looking at it from Eve's point of view, we encounter the noun "nectar," as well as the adjective "ambrosial" accompanied by "downy." Eve does "reverence" to the tree -- an act of idolatry, among other things:The passage that Appelbaum draws upon for his evidence comes from Paradise Lost 9.834-852, the very moment when Adam comes upon Eve near the forbidden tree immediately after she has eaten from it and bowed down to it in idolatrous worship:. . . as to the powerAnd as she brings a sample of it to Adam for him to taste, we are told that she has "in her hand / A bough of fairest fruit that downy smiled, / New gathered, and ambrosial smell diffused." The juice of an apple is never a "nectar," and the smell is never "ambrosial." Those are words, indeed, that mythology applies to the food and drink of the gods; and they are also words generally applied, in Milton's as in many other times, to the peach, the apple of Persia. And it is of course the peach . . . that is "downy" on the outside.
That dwelt within, whose presence had infused
Into the plant sciential sap, derived
From nectar, drink of gods.
So saying, from the Tree her step she turnd,Now that Appelbaum has drawn my attention to this passage, I have to agree with him that what Milton says hardly describes an apple, whether the cultivated Malus domestica or its wild ancestor Malus sieversii. Milton's words more definitely fit the Prunus persica, which earlier bore a Latin name that Milton would have known: persicum malum -- which translates as "Persian apple," the very "apple of Persia" mentioned above by Appelbaum.
But first low Reverence don, as to the power [ 835 ]
That dwelt within, whose presence had infus'd
Into the plant sciential sap, deriv'd
From Nectar, drink of Gods. Adam the while
Waiting desirous her return, had wove
Of choicest Flours a Garland to adorne [ 840 ]
Her Tresses, and her rural labours crown,
As Reapers oft are wont thir Harvest Queen.
Great joy he promis'd to his thoughts, and new
Solace in her return, so long delay'd;
Yet oft his heart, divine of somthing ill, [ 845 ]
Misgave him; hee the faultring measure felt;
And forth to meet her went, the way she took
That Morn when first they parted; by the Tree
Of Knowledge he must pass, there he her met,
Scarse from the Tree returning; in her hand [ 850 ]
A bough of fairest fruit that downie smil'd,
New gatherd, and ambrosial smell diffus'd.
(Luxon, Thomas H., ed. The Milton Reading Room,
http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton, August, 2008.)
In short, Appelbaum still appeals to an apple-tree evil, which is just peachy with me, for I love a good pun.