Apple (symbolism)

Apples appear in many religious traditions, often as a mystical or forbidden fruit. One of the problems identifying apples in religion, mythology and folktales is that the word "apple" was used as a generic term for all (foreign) fruit, other than berries but including nuts, as late as the 17th century. This term may even have extended to plant galls, as they were thought to be of plant origin (see oak apple). For instance, when tomatoes were introduced into Europe they were called "love apples". In one Old English work cucumbers are called eoržęppla (lit. "earth-apples'), just like in some languages (such as French and Dutch) potatoes are still called "earth-apples". In some languages oranges are called "golden apples" or "Chinese apples". Datura is still called 'thorn-apple".

, or as a memento mori . Crispin van den Broeck (Dutch), ca. 1590; Oil on panel; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.]] Ethnobotanical and ethnomycological scholars such as R. Gordon Wasson, Carl Ruck and Clark Heinrich write that the mythological apple is a symbolic substitution for the entheogenic Amanita muscaria (or fly agaric) mushroom, and its association with knowledge an allusion to the revelatory states described by some shamans and users of psychedelic mushrooms.

At times artists would co-opt the apple, as well as other religious symbology, whether for ironic effect or as a stock element of symbolic vocabulary. Thus, secular art as well made use of the apple as symbol of love and sexuality. It is often an attribute associated with Venus who is shown holding it.

Apples in the Bible

.]] Though the forbidden fruit in the Book of Genesis is not identified, popular Christian tradition has held that it was an apple that Eve coaxed Adam to share with her. This may have been the result of Renaissance painters adding elements of Greek mythology into biblical scenes. In this case the unnamed fruit of Eden became an apple under the influence of story of the golden apples in the Garden of Hesperides. As a result, in the story of Adam and Eve the apple became a symbol for knowledge, immortality, temptation, the fall of man into sin, and sin itself. In Latin, the words for 'apple' and for 'evil' are similar in the singular (malum — apple, malus — evil) and identical in the plural (mala). This may also have influenced the apple becoming interpreted as the biblical 'forbidden fruit', although the word malum for apple comes from the Hittite mahla meaning "grapevine, branch" and has nothing to do with malus. The larynx in the human throat has been called Adam's apple because of a notion that it was caused by the forbidden fruit sticking in the throat of Adam. The apple as symbol of sexual seduction has been used to imply sexuality between men, possibly in an ironic vein. (See illustration above)

The notion of the apple as a symbol of sin is reflected in artistic renderings of the fall from Eden. When held in Adam's hand, the apple symbolises sin. However, when Christ is portrayed holding an apple, he represents the Second Adam who brings life. This also reflects the evolution of the symbol in Christianity. In the Old Testament the apple was significant of the fall of man; in the New Testament it is an emblem of the redemption from that fall, and as such is also represented in pictures of the Madonna and Infant Jesus.

In some versions (such as Young's Literal Translation) of the Bible the Hebrew word for mandrakes dudaim (Genesis 30:14) is translated as "love apples" (not to be confused with the New World tomatoes).

There are several instances in the Old Testament where the apple is used in a more favourable light. The phrase 'the apple of your eye' comes from verses in Deuteronomy 32:10, Psalm 17:8 Proverbs 7:2, and Zechariah 2:8 implying an object or person greatly valued. In Proverbs 25:11, the verse states, "a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver". In the love songs of the Song of Solomon, the apple is used in a sensual context. In these latter instances the apple is used as a symbol for beauty. The apple appears again in Joel 1:12 in a verse with a sense of profound loss when the apple tree withers.

Apples in mythology

The Greek hero Heracles, as a part of his Twelve Labours, was required to travel to the Garden of the Hesperides and pick the golden apples off the Tree of Life growing at its center.

The Greek goddess of discord, Eris, became disgruntled after she was excluded from the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. In retaliation, she tossed a golden apple inscribed Kallisti ('For the most beautiful one'), into the wedding party. Three goddesses claimed the apple: Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. Paris of Troy was appointed to select the recipient. After being bribed by both Hera and Athena, Aphrodite tempted him with the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Sparta. He awarded the apple to Aphrodite, thus indirectly causing the Trojan War.

Atalanta, also of Greek mythology, raced all her suitors in an attempt to avoid marriage. She outran all but Hippomenes (a.k.a. Melanion, a name possibly derived from melon the Greek word for both "apple" and fruit in general), who defeated her by cunning, not speed. Hippomenes knew that he could not win in a fair race, so he used three golden apples (gifts of Aphrodite, the goddess of love) to distract Atalanta. It took all three apples and all of his speed, but Hippomenes was finally successful, winning the race and Atalanta's hand.

In Norse mythology, the goddess Išunn was the appointed keeper of golden apples that kept the Ęsir young (or immortal) forever. Išunn was abducted by Žjazi the giant, who used Loki to lure Išunn and her apples out of Įsgaršr. The Ęsir began to age without Išunn's apples, so they coerced Loki into rescuing her. After borrowing Freyja's falcon skin, Loki liberated Išunn from Žjazi by transforming her into a nut for the flight back. Žjazi gave chase in the form of an eagle, where upon reaching Įsgaršr he was set aflame by a bonfire lit by the Ęsir. With the return of Išunn's apples, the Ęsir regained their lost youth.

Celtic mythology includes a story about Conle who receives an apple which feeds him for a year but also gives him an irresistible desire for fairyland.

Legends, folklore, and traditions

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