Out of all the fruits of the world, none are as ancient and mythologically important than the apple. This autumn fruit is not only an ordinary, crisp, and sweet treat, it is also associated with the fall of man, Halloween, Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year), and the catalyst to the Trojan War.
Apples are said to have originated near the Tian Shan mountains of Kazakhstan. In Turkic cultures, apples symbolize abundance, fertility, and proliferation. In the Epic of Manas, a Kyrgyz epic poem, Jakip sends his wife to an apple tree and eat the choicest алма (alma) or apple in order to became fertile, as she was barren. Many folkloric tales in Turkey indiscriminately allude to apples. A common story begins with: “There were three apples on the table…” and ends with “I give an apple to our hero, another to the listener, and another to the narrator of this story.”
In China, apples (苹果—pínguǒ) are associated with peace. In Mandarin, 和平 (hépíng) means “peace” and 平静 (píngjìng) means “tranquility,” like a peaceful, quiet, and tranquil orchard where apple trees blossom in its season, and beauty permeates the scene where one can smell the fragrant aroma of the flowers and fruit. Such tranquility is expressed around Christmastime. Although not celebrated, people in China give each other apples and wish for a peaceful year.
The imagery of beauty is not only exclusive to the Chinese. In Ancient Greek lore, apples were symbolic of marriage, union, fertility, and beauty. It was an apple, not Helen of Sparta, who actually started the Trojan War! Eris, the goddess of strife, upset because she was not invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis (Achilles’s mother), she tossed a golden apple (μήλο) inscribed with the words “To the most beautiful.” The goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite claimed the “the Golden Apple of Discord.” The three goddesses invited Paris of Troy to decide who was the most beautiful. Aphrodite, like the other two goddesses, bribed him by promising to give him the most beautiful woman in the world; enter Helen of Sparta, and the rest is history.
The symbol of the apple as a catalyst for “bad” events is also found in the Bible, albeit the Latin version of it. In the Genesis story, God tells Adam not to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The original Hebrew does not say what kind of fruit it was, but the Latin translation uses mālum for “fruit”. Mālum sounded similar to malum (evil, wickedness, wrongdoin), hence when early Christians would read this story, the association with the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge to an apple and evil became hand in hand in Western culture. To the pre-Christian Romans, however, apples did not carry those connotations yet. Despite the later associations that the apple carried, the word survived in Italian as mela, but in Spanish, it survived as Matiāna māla (Matius’s apples), named after Caius Matius, a friend of Julius Caesar who was known to have apple orchards of the exquisite kind. Matiāna became mazana, and, finally, manzana.
Apples, of course, are not “evil”. These symbolisms were a way for people to make connections between themselves and their daily lives, beliefs, and a sense of peoplehood. Today, apples are used during Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, by dipping them in honey to symbolize a good (apple) and sweet (honey) year. For Wiccans, apples symbolize immortality and are given as offerings to the dead during Samhain, which is a holiday related to Halloween/All Hallows’ Even and Day of the Dead. Many things, especially foods, have symbolisms that have shaped how we view our world. Thus, I conclude by giving an apple to you, the reader, another apple to the countless apples in history, and another to the narrator of this story.
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