Sunday, August 10, 2008

"Do I dare to eat a peach?"

Ripe Peaches on the Bough
And Eve begat Prufrock...
(Image from Wikipedia)

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, 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:
. . . as to the power
That dwelt within, whose presence had infused
Into the plant sciential sap, derived
From nectar, drink of gods.
And 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.
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:
So saying, from the Tree her step she turnd,
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,, August, 2008.)
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.

In short, Appelbaum still appeals to an apple-tree evil, which is just peachy with me, for I love a good pun.

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At 7:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We are just finishing our peach harvest of our three fruit trees in our yard, plus three others that came up of their own volition {from an area we dumped some peach seeds after peeling them}.
We have gained some knowledge of good and evil from this experience.
One tree was treated thoroughly to deter insects. The others didn't get sprayed as well initially. All got sprayed on two other occasions. The one with the thorough spraying had 'Good' peaches, ie, no worms and in perfect condition.
The others had some "Good," but others were "Evil," in the sense of having a worm or bad spot.
Whether this qualifies them to be in any sense of the word a "tree of the knowledge and evil," I seriously doubt.
As I have previously noted, no existing tree qualifies as the actual tree found in the book of Genesis, in my opinion. There was also listed a tree of life, and it also is no longer available for scientific inquiry.
Would this type of study be like someone suggested of a philosopher searching for "truth" without acknowledging the one who is the "way, truth, and life?"
This someone said that would be like a blind man, in a dark room, looking for a black cat, that isn't there.
Lay on, MacDuff! Or even Jeffery.

At 7:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"tree of the knowledge of good and evil"
I stand corrected in paragraph 3.

At 8:05 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

"Would this type of study be like someone suggested of a philosopher searching for 'truth' without acknowledging the one who is the 'way, truth, and life'?"

Which study, Uncle Cran? Milton's? Appelbaum's? Mine?

Whichever individual's study one might mean, the literary analysis of what Milton meant can be entirely unrelated to one's religious beliefs.

Of course, such an investigation could also have some connection to one's religious beliefs.

In short, the link or 'dislink' isn't a necessary one.

Interestingly, whatever fruit Milton might have suspected, he was careful not to specify too clearly.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A peach?
That's just fuzzy exegesis. Indeed, I'd say it's the pits.

At 11:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Possibly "all of the above."
It's an interesting study when you read all the different fruit possibilities offered.
My contention is that the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and also the tree of life are not any tree we know. To offer one's opinion as to which fruit is a nice exercise in intellectual studies, but when all is said and done, they are opinions, which we all have....but a final "proof" seems elusive.
My thought in the analogy is we don't know, and as you said, Milton was careful not to specify one in particular.
It is good to read other people's ideas, though.

At 3:29 PM, Blogger goooooood girl said...

Very good......

At 4:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Cran,

I've been kinda busy with stuff but it looks like you've (finally) attracted a fan.

Thank you for knot being too prolific lately (and really for about the next week or so Prof Jeff, don't hand over the blog) makes one facet of life somewhat easier.

In this case Cran I tend to agree with you: who're, or what're we to know?


At 8:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Poor Robert Peachtree.:-)

At 8:57 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Michael, with Mary Poppins, I can say, "I fully agree."

Yet . . . what is Mary Poppins?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:59 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uh . . . thanks, bad girl. That's peachy.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:01 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, good to see your point of view . . . which is probably correct about whose fan bad girl is.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:04 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Steph . . . Robert Peachtree? Must be Robert Appelbaum in drag.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No - he's really Appelbaum's nemesis.

At 9:37 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Then, we agree!

Jeffery Hodges

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