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 as late as the 17th century, the word "apple" was used as a generic term for all (foreign) fruit other than berries, but including nuts. 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 eorþæppla (lit. "earth-apples'), just as in French, Dutch, Hebrew, Persian and Swiss German as well as several other German dialects, the words for potatoes mean "earth-apples" in English. In some languages, oranges are called "golden apples" or "Chinese apples". Datura is called 'thorn-apple".
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. Its association with knowledge is 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.
Mythology and religion
Though the forbidden fruit in the Book of Genesis is not identified, popular Christian tradition holds that Adam and Eve ate an apple from the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. This may have been the result of Renaissance painters adding elements of Greek mythology into biblical scenes. The unnamed fruit of Eden thus became an apple under the influence of the story of the golden apples in the Garden of Hesperides. As a result, the apple became a symbol for knowledge, immortality, temptation, the fall of man and sin.
The Ancient Greek word "μήλον" (mēlon), now a loanword in English as melon or water melon did not mean, in Homer's time, apple, the pomaceous fruit, but sheep or goat. In Latin, the words for 'apple' ("mālum") and for 'evil' ("mălum") are nearly identical. This may also have influenced the apple's becoming interpreted as the biblical 'forbidden fruit' in the commonly used Latin translation called "Vulgate". The larynx in the human throat has been called Adam's apple because of the folk tale that the bulge was caused by the forbidden fruit sticking in the throat of Adam. The apple as symbol of sexual seduction has sometimes been used to imply sexuality between men, possibly in an ironic vein.
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. But, when Christ is portrayed holding an apple, he represents the Second Adam who brings life. This difference 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. The apple is represented in pictures of the Madonna and Infant Jesus as another sign of that redemption.
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 who is 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. During the Jewish New Year - [Rosh Hashanah] - it is customary to eat apples dipped in honey to evoke a "sweet new year".
It is a long-standing tradition in many tribal communities that the first born child of any couple shall be presented with an apple randomly picked from a tree by their paternal grandparents on the day of their birth. If the chosen apple is sliced open and revealed to have a worm inside, it is a bad omen and on their 21st birthday, the child must perform a dance to the fruit gods to spare the lives of their own offspring.
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.
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.
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.
In Norse mythology, the goddess Iðunn was the appointed keeper of golden apples that kept the Æsir young (or immortal) forever. Iðunn was abducted by Þjazi the giant, who used Loki to lure Iðunn and her apples out of Ásgarðr. The Æsir began to age without Iðunn's apples, so they coerced Loki into rescuing her. After borrowing Freyja's falcon skin, Loki liberated Iðunn from Þjazi by transforming her into a nut for the flight back. Þjazi gave chase in the form of an eagle, whereupon reaching Ásgarðr he was set aflame by a bonfire lit by the Æsir. With the return of Iðunn's apples, the Æsir regained their lost youth. Apple trees were the symbol of rebirth and beauty; the apple tree was sacred in Norse mythology.
Allantide (Cornish: Kalan Gwav, meaning first day of winter) is a Cornish festival that was traditionally celebrated on the night of 31 October, as well as the following day time. One of the most important parts of this festival was the giving of Allan apples, large glossy red apples that were highly polished, to family and friends as tokens of good luck. Allan apple markets used to be held throughout West Cornwall in the run up to the feast. and in the town of St Just it surpassed Christmas as a time for giving gifts until the late 20th century. A game was also recorded in which two pieces of wood were nailed together in the shape of a cross. It was then suspended, with 4 lit candles on each arm and Allan apples suspended underneath. The aim being to catch the apples with your mouth without getting molten wax on your face. For unmarried recipients the apples would be placed under their pillows in the hope that they would bring dreams of their future wife or husband.