Milton's Serpentine Demons Eating 'Apples of Sodom'
My cyber-friend and fellow Milton scholar Carter Kaplan suggested that I cite the passage in Paradise Lost 10 where the demons in Hell are forcibly made to assume serpentine form and eat the ashy Apples of Sodom:
Jeffery, at some point are you going to turn this discussion upon the horrific descriptions in Book X of devils hungering and eating ash, and so on?I half-demurred:
Maybe not, since I'm focusing on Eve's 'mistake' . . . but perhaps I'll take another look, now that you mention it.What the Hell (so to speak), let's take a look at the crucial passage (PL 10.547-572), which comes hard after the demons' transformation ("thir change"):
. . . There stood In refering to "Frutage fair to sight, like that which grew / Neer that bituminous Lake where Sodom flam'd," Milton is thinking of the so-called "Apples of Sodom," mentioned in Josephus:
A Grove hard by, sprung up with this thir change,
His will who reigns above, to aggravate
Thir penance, laden with Fruit like that [ 550 ]
Which grew in Paradise, the bait of Eve
Us'd by the Tempter: on that prospect strange
Thir earnest eyes they fix'd, imagining
For one forbidden Tree a multitude
Now ris'n, to work them furder woe or shame; [ 555 ]
Yet parcht with scalding thurst and hunger fierce,
Though to delude them sent, could not abstain,
But on they rould in heaps, and up the Trees
Climbing, sat thicker then the snakie locks
That curld Megæra: greedily they pluck'd [ 560 ]
The Frutage fair to sight, like that which grew
Neer that bituminous Lake where Sodom flam'd;
This more delusive, not the touch, but taste
Deceav'd; they fondly thinking to allay
Thir appetite with gust, instead of Fruit [ 565 ]
Chewd bitter Ashes, which th' offended taste
With spattering noise rejected: oft they assayd,
Hunger and thirst constraining, drugd as oft,
With hatefullest disrelish writh'd thir jaws
With soot and cinders fill'd; so oft they fell [ 570 ]
Into the same illusion, not as Man
Whom they triumph'd once lapst. (PL 10.547-572)
The country of Sodom . . . was of old a most happy land, both for the fruits it bore and the riches of its cities, although it be now all burnt up. It is related how, for the impiety of its inhabitants, it was burnt by lightning; in consequence of which there are still the remainders of that divine fire, and the traces [or shadows] of the five cities are still to be seen, as well as the ashes growing in their fruits; which fruits have a color as if they were fit to be eaten, but if you pluck them with your hands, they dissolve into smoke and ashes. (Flavius Josephus, The Wars Of The Jews, translated by William Whiston, Baltimore: Armstrong and Plaskitt, 1835; Book IV, Chapter 8, Section 4; page 517a)I failed to locate the original Greek text of Josephus online, but perhaps some knowledgeable reader can do so. Anyway, this connection to Josephus is well known (though perhaps not Milton's only source). See, for example, Karen L. Edwards, Milton and the Natural World: Science and Poetry in Paradise Lost (Cambridge University Press, 2005), both text and footnote. Neither Josephus nor Milton, however, calls the fruit by the name "Apples of Sodom." I wonder who first did. They are also known as "Dead Sea Apples" or "Apples of Asphaltus," and the scientific name is Solanum sodomæum (or Solanum sodomaeum). According to Wikipedia, "Apple of Sodom . . . [is] a name derived from the Hebrew Tapuah Sdom" (תַּפּוּחַ סְדוֹם), but I wonder if perhaps the Hebrew name derives from English or some other language since tapuah is postbiblical Hebrew, if I recall correctly.
More to my interest in today's post, however, one could argue that the demons -- in their serpentine form -- are imitative of Eve, and quite explicitly so, for the passage in Paradise Lost speaks of them being tempted in a grove "laden with Fruit like that / Which grew in Paradise, the bait of Eve / Us'd by the Tempter: on that prospect strange / Thir earnest eyes they fix'd, imagining / For one forbidden Tree a multitude / Now ris'n" (PL 10.550-555). They pluck it greedily, apparently as Eve plucked the forbidden fruit, and seem to attempt to gorge themselves on it as Eve did.
But I don't see much for my purposes here, for the parallels are rather general, albeit worth noting.