Sunday, November 21, 2010

"All Mankinde Do Eate Death"

Sebastian Franck
(Image from Wikipedia)

We've recently seen that the image of an 'all-devouring death' was a commonplace metaphor in the early seventeenth century, the time of John Milton's youth, so let's now focus on an expression with the 'opposite' meaning, "eat death," which is perhaps mimicked in its word arrangement by "eating death" in Paradise Lost 9.792.

Assiduous readers will recall that I've already noted Sebastian Franck's book on eating death, published in English translation in 1640: 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. Let's consider it again, borrowing from my earlier post's citation 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 (sic) 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)
I still haven't read Lieb's book, but I have managed to find a fuller form of the brief passage that Schwartz cites from Lieb concerning Franck:
As Sebastian Franck says in The forbidden fruit: or a treatise of the tree of knowledge (1640), 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" (Lieb, Poetics of the Holy, pp. 14-16).
Lieb is citing the following passage from Franck:
The Testimony of the Scripture, how we ought to evacuate the Seed of the Serpent his counsel & word, and so vomit up the Fruit of the forbidden Tree, and purge the same away as deadly poison by the Fruit of the Tree of Life. (Franck, The Forbidden Fruit, p?)
We might as well look at the full title of Franck's book (in a 1642 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 (London: Printed by T.P. and M.S. for Benjamin Allen ..., 1642.)
Franck published under a pseudonym August Eleuthenius and originally in German, apparently, as Vom dem Baum des Wissen Gutes und Böses, though the source of the preceding block quote has it as translated from Latin.

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 as The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, it doesn't say anything about Franck's views on the subject.

The Milton scholar Alastair Fowler notes Franck's book in his annotated Paradise Lost:
[S]ee Svendsen (1956) 128 citing Sebastian Franck, The Forbidden Fruit (1640): all men 'do eat death, and yet . . . think themselves to eat life, and hope to be Gods'. Eve's eating resembles Death's own -- 'the release of inordinate appetite into the world brings on the insatiable devourer of all men'. (Alastair Fowler, John Milton: Paradise Lost, London and New York: Longman, 1998, p. 516)
I assume that both quotes are from Svendsen, of whom Fowler's bibliography offers this:
Svendsen, Kester (1956). Milton and Science. Cambridge, MA.
Fowler also touches upon the Greek and Latin backgrounds, but more on that another time. The quote from Svendsen is intriguing for what it says about Eve resembling Death in her "inordinate appetite" -- though I don't know if this is a point made by Svendsen using Franck or by Franck himself.

I wish that I had a copy of Franck's book, for it might have details useful for analyzing Milton's own views on "eating Death." Elsewhere in Paradise Lost, Milton writes of the baleful effects of overeating and compares them to the effects of trying to digest too much knowledge, a point that I might need to follow up.

For now, the important point is that Milton could well have known about the 1640 (1642?) translation of Franck's book into English and the clause in its title that "All Mankinde Do Eate Death."

Labels: , ,


At 4:15 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

we shall become clean again only when we "doe vomitt up the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evill"

At 4:27 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Superdownsize me!

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 4:39 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

But, more seriously...

Eve resembling Death in her "inordinate appetite"

in Dante's Purgatory the gluttons must run from a great tree to another one etc., hungry and thirsty, asking for its fruits and juice, in vain. The plant is directly born from the Tree of Knowledge in paradise (which rises a bit above, on the top of the Purgatory mountain). And, the gluttons' souls look like scrawny people, "like re-dead things" Dante literally says.

At 4:49 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

P.S. a source (though much reworked) for PL 10.563 ff?

At 5:11 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Interesting reference, Dario. I'll need to think about it as I get further into the appetite stuff.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 8:17 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

Jeffery, this PL / Purgatorio connection, in general (*), should absolutely be more thoroughly studied! In rereading Dante's Purgatorio I am finding a lot of surprising hints, tho' I have already read it dozens of times. See e.g. 1.40-48, which somehow prepares Chaos' words to Satan in PL 2. Or, much more impressing, Purgatorio 1.118-120: it clearly inspired the final lines in PL, that are among my favorite verses throughout Poetry worldwide. The more so, as Dante sets this episode right at the borders of the mountain of Eden.

(*) On the basis of several online comments by Miltonists, I think that the Purgatorio is not very well-known in UK, USA etc. And, on the other hand, in Italy PL is quite ignored...

So, there's an important joint (ad)venture to embark on here!

At 8:31 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You would appear to be the man to do the study, as it requires bilingualism.

I'm not really even a Miltonist.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 9:52 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

You would appear to be the man to do the study

(after clearing my throat)

"... I should ill become this throne, O Peers,
And this imperial sov'ranty, adorned
With splendour, armed with power, if aught proposed
And judged of public moment, in the shape
Of difficulty or danger could deter
Me from attempting!"


I'm not really even a Miltonist

oh, c'mon, YOU are the Jefe here.


At 9:59 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yeah, I'm the chief on my blog, but I'm only a minor Miltonist.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 10:07 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

... and I am just a M(ilton)ad(vertiser)man.

At 3:39 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

One more text from Dante's Purgatorio (7.31-32):

Quivi sto io coi pargoli innocenti
Dai denti morsi della morte...

Virgil tells, "There (in the Limbo) I stay, together with the innocent children / bitten by Death's teeth..."

even including a pun between "morsi" (bitten) and "morte" (death).

At 6:17 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hmmm . . . I'd never thought of the possible pun between "morsel" and "mortal," but I now strongly suspect one in Paradise Lost 2.807: "I should prove a bitter morsel."

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


Post a Comment

<< Home