Apple Mythology: The Fruit that Launched A Thousand Ships

Apple Mythology: Paris and Helen

Apples are a storied fruit; their trees were possibly the earliest to be cultivated.   Alexander the Great is thought to have found dwarfed apples in Kazakhstan in 328 BCE - these early trees produced fruit with hardly any of the sweetness we associated with apples today.

As with any food that’s been around this long, the mythological, biblical and historical references run deep! Here are some of our favorites ...

Apple Mythology: Idunn and the Apples
1. Eternal youth

Nowadays, an apple a day keeps the doctor away - but in Norse Mythology, the benefits went beyond health, with the goddess Idunn providing golden apples to Thor and other gods that gave them immortality. Apples were also buried in early Germanic graves (Norse paganism developed from Germanic Paganism), perhaps as a symbol of eternal life.

Apple Mythology: The Goddess Frigg
2. Fertility

Also in Norse Mythology: After King Rerir prays for a child, the goddess Frigg sends him an apple via her messenger crow, which drops it into his lap. Rerir’s wife consumes the apple, resulting in a six-year pregnancy and the birth of their son, the hero Volsung.

In Bulgarian folklore, the apple is a symbol of love, marriage and children. Apples were given as tokens of love during courtship, were present in wedding rituals and decorations, and were eaten by newlyweds hoping to have children.

Apple Mythology: Adam and Eve
3. Original sin

Did Eve really eat an apple? The book of Genesis refers to the forbidden “fruit” of the tree of knowledge of good and evil - but its identification as an apple may be simply a linguistic mistake between two Latin words (mālum = apple, mălum = evil).

Related to this is the term “Adam’s apple,” stemming (har har) from the notion that the larynx in the human throat is actually a piece of the forbidden fruit remaining in the throat of Adam.

Apple Mythology: The Goddess Aphrodite
4. Throw an apple at your crush

Apples were sacred to the Greek goddess Aphrodite. Throwing an apple at someone was to symbolically declare your love; catching an apple thrown at you showed your acceptance of that love. In the words of Plato: “I throw the apple at you, and if you are willing to love me, take it and share your girlhood with me; but if your thoughts are what I pray they are not, even then take it, and consider how short-lived is beauty.”

Apple Mythology: The Apple of Discord
5. The fruit that launched a thousand ships

In Greek mythology, an apple sparked the chain of events leading to the Trojan war. During a wedding reception, Elis (the goddess of discord) tossed a golden apple into the crowd, disgruntled for not being invited. Three goddesses - Hera, Athena and Aphrodite - fought over the apple. Unable to resolve the matter themselves, they turned to Zeus, who then assigned the task to Paris of Troy.

Each of the goddesses offered Paris a bribe in return for the apple; with Aphrodite’s being the love of the world’s most beautiful woman, Helen of Sparta. The only problem? She was already married to a King Menelaus. Paris chose to award the apple to Aphrodite, and the rest, they say, is history.

Apple Mythology: Sir Isaac Newton
6. The discovery of gravity

You’re probably familiar with the story of a young Sir Isaac Newton sitting under an apple tree. The fruit falls on his head, prompting the “aha moment” that led to his law of gravity.

The tale is only slightly exaggerated … Newton shared the anecdote with his biographer William Stuckeley, who recounts the conversation: “After dinner, the weather being warm, we went into the garden, & drank thea under the shade of some apple trees… he told me, he was just in the same situation, as when formerly, the notion of gravitation came into his mind…. occasion’d by the fall of an apple, as he sat in a contemplative mood.”