Keen for a Peach, Plumbing of the Nectarine: Eve, Bruno Littlemore, and Me . . .
Long-time readers of this blog know that John Milton depicted the putatively 'forebitten' fruit -- the serpent, anyway, claimed to have eaten one -- in his great poem Paradise Lost as a peach. A certain annoying citrus fruit online might quip, "Orange you glad it wasn't an apple?" I'd ironically suggest that apple or peach or whatever generic fruit it seemed in appearance, it turned out to be a lemon.
Just kidding. It was a peach for Adam and Eve, just as it was for Bruno Littlemore, who informs his amanuensis of the scientist's offer of the peach that tempted him into the 'fallen' world of humanity:
A peach, Gwen -- he was my serpent and I was his Eve.The quote, of course, comes from page 12 of Ben Hale's recent novel, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, about which I blogged several days ago. I asked Ben why he chose the peach rather than the apple, and I learned a great deal about the experiment described in the novel, but I didn't get the specific reason for his choice of a peach, so I asked again:
One thing that's not clear yet . . . why did you choose a peach? Did you independently notice that "downie smiled" in PL fit a peach better than an apple?Ben replied:
I don't know why it was a peach, honestly. It started as a peach, and then I slipped the TS Eliot joke in there, which fit so nicely I couldn't change it, and then it for some reason became important that it be a peach. I only wish I knew PL that well!But perhaps Ben knows Paradise Lost better than he thinks if my earlier suggestion was correct:
Ben has at least been reading Milton, or seems to have been if I can take the descriptive clause "releasing into the room the ambrosial aroma" as an echo of Milton's "ambrosial smell diffus'd" (Paradise Lost 9.852).That clause "releasing into the room the ambrosial aroma" occurs on page 13 of Ben's novel as part of the scientist's method for tempting Bruno into daring to eat the peach. If we look more closely at Milton's rendering of the scene in which Eve herself initiates the temptation of Adam, we see that Ben might have been influenced unawares, as Adam goes in search of Eve:
And forth to meet her went, the way she tookThat expression "downie smil'd" is part of the evidence that Robert Appelbaum gathers in his persuasive argument that Milton portrayed the forbidden fruit not as an apple but as a peach, thereby clearing the apple tree and impeaching the peach -- fitting tribute from a man named "Appelbaum"! But my point is that the proximity of "ambrosial smell diffus'd" to "downie smiled" might have been subconsciously noted by Ben Hale and could therefore have influenced his initial reason for settling on a peach that was soon "releasing into the room the ambrosial aroma."
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
A bough of fairest fruit that downie smil'd,
New gatherd, and ambrosial smell diffus'd. [PL 9.847-852]
But was it originally a peach? The "downie" character of its appearance is emphasized only after Eve's fall. Perhaps it was a nectarine when Eve partook, but became 'impeached' with the incipient fall of nature? Botanically, nectarines and peaches are the same fruit, the difference being due to a recessive gene that results in smooth skin. Or should one reverse the order and say due to a dominant gene that results in downy skin?
Note, by the way, that according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the nectarine is first mentioned in English in 1616, early enough for Milton to be aware of the fruit, though I'm being merely half-serious, for Milton would consider the nectarine just as fallen as the peach.