Divine, Forbidden and Dangerous? Magic Apples in Ancient Mythology

Divine, Forbidden and Dangerous? Magic Apples in Ancient Mythology

Apples have a prominent place in world mythology, and are often associated with paradise, magic, knowledge and sensual experience. Legendary magician Merlin was said to carry a silver bough from an apple tree which allowed him to cross into the other worlds and to return to the land of the living. It’s no accident, then, that the apple tree is closely associated with knowledge, truth, and enlightenment. The association between apples and knowledge continues in the Christian tradition as Eve offered Adam an apple—a fruit which grew on the tree of knowledge. Images after images were painted of this scene and the “forbidden fruit” became immortalized in arts as an apple.

Fresco of ‘First Sin’, Cathedral of Gurk, Austria. Circa 1264.

Fresco of ‘First Sin’, Cathedral of Gurk, Austria. Circa 1264. (Public Domain)

This makes us forget that Eve actually offered Adam “a fruit”, and this fruit was not believed to be an apple until much later. Indeed, one of the problems identifying apples in mythology is that as late as the 17th century, the word "apple" was used as a generic term for all foreign fruits apart from berries. When tomatoes were introduced into Europe, they were called "love apples". in Old English, cucumbers are called eorppla, which literally translated as “earth apples”. Therefore, the word “apple” can actually refer to many other fruits in the ancient world. Yet, this particular fruit was chosen as the “forbidden fruit” and became the basis from which many other fruits were named. What is it about the apple that caused this fruit to become such a sacred symbol in the mythologies of the world?


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