Sebastian Franck: "All Mankind, doe Eate Death"
Readers will perhaps recall earlier investigations of Sebastian Franck, also known as Augustinus Eleutherius. I had developed an interest in this German reformer because of a book of his that was translated into English in the early 1600s with the intriguing title, The Forbidden Fruit: Or a Treatise of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, of which Adam at the First, and as yet All Mankind, doe Eate Death (listed in A Dictionary of the Anonymous and Pseudonymous Literature of Great Britain. Including the Works of Foreigners Written in, or Translated into the English Language, Volume 2, by Samuel Halkett and John Laing, 1883, 2006).
I have since located the original German title from 1538, the same year that saw published Die Guldin Arch (The Golden Ark), which has nothing to do with my point today, but it makes a fine image. Anyway, here's that German title to The Forbidden Fruit:
Von dem Baum des Wissens Gutes und Boeses, davon Adam den Tod hat gegessen, und noch heute alle Menschen den Tod essen, was der sei, und wie er noch heute jedermann wie Adam verboten sei (Sebastian Franck, Augspurg: Durch Phillip _, 1538)As previously admitted, I don't know if John Milton was familiar with Franck's book. If I recall, Milton didn't read German, so if he did know Franck's ideas, he would likely have learned of them from the English translation, but familiarity might not breed content. We need to look more closely. The Milton scholar William Poole, in Milton and the Idea of the Fall (Cambridge University Press, 2005), explains Franck's ideas on devouring the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge:
It was Franck's The Forbidden Fruit, . . . under the supposed authorship of 'Augustinus Eleutherius', which was to be the most influential of his writings in English circles. A translation appeared in 1640, marked 'Amsterdam', and a distinct text was printed in London two years later. John Everard's own manuscript translation had already been in some circulation. (Everard got into considerable trouble for his translations, and was made to read out a list of retractions on his knees before William Laud in late 1639.) Notably, Franck's work appears in the library catalogues of both George Fox (who lists a lost 1650 edition produced by Calvert) and, later, the Quaker bibliophile Benjamin Furley, and Franck has accordingly been proposed as an influence on early Quakerism. Certainly, in 1676 the Quaker Hilary Prach was writing from London to a German Quaker friend that he had himself just finished a translation of Franck on the forbidden tree into English, 'because it agreed with our position'.Milton's views on the Fall would appear to differ from Franck's. I can't see the polymath Milton calling for unlearning what we know. Milton looks not backward, but ahead. Nevertheless, he might have been struck by the wording of Franck's title, specifically the words (den Tod essen) translated as "Eate Death," though the concept was not absent from Milton's literary environment even without Franck, as we have previously seen.
For Franck, the narrative of creation and fall is both literal and allegorical, 'as the thing was done outwardly, so the same . . . happened inwardly in the heart of Adam; 'the exterior world, and whatsoever outwardly is to be seene or is done, is onely an accident and a certaine signifying figure of the true and interior nature.' Literal and allegorical modes fuse . . . . Franck . . . stays close to what he sees as the literal signification of the text. Thus, of the forbidden tree, 'who should eate thereof, their eyes should be opened to view themselves, and they be made Gods, and so know both Good and Evill'. The interior meaning of this verse applies, as Augustine might have agreed, to 'nothing else but our owne will and knowledge'. Commenting on the incluxion of good as well as evil in the name of the forbidden tree, Franck infers that the prelapsarians were ignorant of both: 'they walk[ed] in innocencie . . . ignorant both of Good and Evill'. This state, rather than being something quite out of our grasp, is one we should labor to regain, and Franck associates this with 'unlearning': 'We must therefore learne to forget, and unlearne whatsoever Adam knew, or doth know, wils, loves, &c.' (pages 60-61)
Anyway, for those interested, there are more books to read on Franck:
Hermann Bischof, Sebastian Franck und deutsche Geschichtschreibung: ein Beitrag zur Culturgeschichte vorzüglich des XVI. Jh (Riecker, 1857)Here's one on Franck's ideas, by the man himself:
Yvonne Dellsperger, Lebendige Historien und Erfahrungen: Studien zu Sebastian Francks "Chronica Zeitbuoch vnnd Geschichtbibell" (1531/1536) (Erich Schmidt Verlag GmbH &, 2006)
Sebastian Franck, Paradoxa, edited by Siegfried Wollgast (Akademie Verlag, 1995)There is also more to know about Herr Franck, but not for me. I've already gone further with him than is even useful for my project on the meaning of Paradise Lost 9.792, "And knew not eating death."