Women and apples. The two of have been inexplicably linked in mythology and art for centuries. But why? Is there a genuine link between women and apples, and if so, what is the foundation for it, and how did we come to discover it? A recent study suggests that the consumption of apples may increase a woman’s sexual pleasure. Is there any validity to such a claim and is there any historical evidence to back it up? Let’s ponder these things…
Throughout the religions of the world, mythological figures and goddesses have often been associated with apples and thus apples have become a symbol of femininity.
In Greek myth, the Garden of the Hesperides was a sacred place, where the Hesperides, the nymph daughters of Hesperus, dwelt. They tended to the garden as was their sacred duty. As often as is the case, especially in Greek mythology where triads of females are prolific (the Fates, the Graces, the Moirai), the Hesperides are usually depicted as being three nymphs, beautiful and yet unattainable. Some variations on the myth depict four or seven Hesperides. The Garden of the Hesperides was an orchard belonging to the goddess Hera. There in the garden was a tree, which grew from the branches that Gaia, the Earth, gave to Hera as a wedding gift. That tree bore magical golden apples.
There are numerous legends and myths in which the golden apples play a part, but most notably, they are seen as the cause for the Trojan War. Eris, the goddess of chaos and discord, once wandered into the garden and took a single golden apple from its branch, inscribing on it that it was intended “for the most beautiful”. She then rolled this apple into a wedding ceremony, a wedding to which she had not been invited, where it was found and three vain goddesses claimed that the apple was intended for them. Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite squabbled over who was more beautiful and therefore most deserving of the golden apple. The three goddesses sought the wisdom of Zeus, king of the gods, but he was reluctant to judge which of them was the most beautiful. And who could blame him? Hera was his sister and wife, Athena his daughter and goddess of wisdom, and Aphrodite the goddess of love herself. So, he left the unfortunate task to the mortal Prince Paris of Troy, whom had been deemed a fair judge by the gods after conceding that when Ares, god of war, took the form of a bull that he was far more glorious as a bull than any bulls that Paris had in his possession. After bathing and beautifying themselves, the three goddesses presented themselves to Paris, and each attempted to bribe him with their powers. Hera offered to make him a mighty king over Europe and Asia. Athena offered to make him wise beyond measure and courage in battle. Aphrodite offered him the most beautiful of mortal brides. Consequentially, Paris awarded the golden apple to Aphrodite, and so Paris bestowed the apple to Helen, the most beautiful of mortal women, but she was already married to the Greek warrior-king Menelaus. Paris and Helen return to Troy and are married and Menelaus besieges Troy for the next ten years.
Hercules (also spelled Herakles), who was son of Zeus and a legendary hero, had to perform Twelve Labors of atonement and one labor was to pick the golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides. In another myth, Atalanta, a beautiful and fiercely independent huntress and athlete, sought to outrace her unwanted suitors, offering her hand in marriage to whomever could outrun her. She was outsmarted by Hippomenes who threw three golden apples, a gift from Aphrodite, into Atalanta’s path which she stopped to admire.
In Norse mythology, the gods themselves were not immortal inherently, but rather they were given their powers of immortality by eating magical golden apples. These apples were guarded over by Idunn, the goddess of eternal youth, who was on one account lured out of the gods’ home of Asgard by Loki, the trickster god of mischief. Also, another goddess, Freyja, the goddess of fertility, sexuality, gold, beauty, life, and death. In Sweden, at Christmastime, Freyja was believed to shake the apples from the trees, which would bring in a good harvest the following year. Because of this, and because of certain similarities between Freyja and Idunn, Richard Wagner combined the two goddesses in his epic opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen, creating the amalgam character of Freia.
In Arthurian legend, the Isle of Avalon is the final resting place of King Arthur and the mystical land where his magic sword Excalibur was forged, and it was also called Insula Pomorum, or the “island of apples“, by historian Geoffrey of Monmouth. Avalon was believed to be the home of a group of mystical priestesses, the sorceress Morgan le Fay and her sisters, chiefly among them.
Apples also play an important function as symbols in other pagan religions. With it’s five-petaled blossoms which resemble a pentagram, as does the center of an apple that has been cleaved in halves, apples are seen as both a symbol of the divine feminine and a potent magical. Because of their nutritious value and the occult value endowed to them by pagans, the apple has also been associated in folklore with witches and witchcraft. This is perhaps best exemplified in the Evil Queen who deceives the virginal and virtuous Snow White with a poisoned apple. Interestingly, apple wood has been used in the making of magic wands, which themselves have their origin in fertility rites, the wand being a phallic symbol and the magic, whether real or imagined, that emanates from them serving the symbolic function of seminal fluid. There is a reason that the phallic magic wand was often shown in the arts with a feminine pentagram atop it.
There’s a long tradition of bobbing for apples in the Autumn of each year dates back to ancient times. When the Romans, in their conquest of Britain, brought the apple tree, a symbol of the Roman goddess Pomona, to Ireland, the Celts embraced the tree and the fruit and assimilated it into their own religion. Because the seeds of an apple which has been halved forms a pentagram, which was a symbol used in magic and fertility rites, and because the apple tree was the symbol of a goddess, the Celts considered the apple to be an icon of fertility. Apples were then used in various fertility rituals and bobbing for apples was thought to be a way to predict who might be married. Young women who place the apples they successfully bobbed under their pillows while they slept were alleged to dream of their future spouse. When the Roman feast of Pomona and the Celtic festival of Samhain were combined with All Hallows Eve, the resultant holiday was Halloween, and bobbing for apples has become a popular children’s game ever since.
Obviously, one does not need to look exclusively to pagan mythological archetypes or obscure magic rituals to find a very distinct connection between women and apples, for the symbol of the apple has its place in Judeo-Christian conventions as well. One need look no further than the creation myth itself and the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In the creation myth, God creates man and woman, Adam and Eve, gives to them the Garden of Eden as their idyllic paradise home. They are to watch over it is as their dominion and they shall watch over all the flora and fauna that exists there. However, God warns that they are strictly forbidden to eat of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but temptation takes the form of a serpent who convinces Eve to taste of the forbidden fruit and to share this with her husband, Adam, and because of this they are endowed with the knowledge of sin, and thus are banished from paradise and all their progeny, meaning all of humankind, shall inherit this Original Sin. When they eat of the forbidden fruit, they also become aware of their nakedness, something that had seemed natural before but which was then perceived as shameful. Many see the consumption of the forbidden fruit as a metaphor for sexual awakening.
While the Bible does not explicitly identify what the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was, it has commonly been depicted as an apple since around the Medieval era when artists borrowed the image of the apple in the garden from the Greek Garden of the Hesperides. Of course, it is from the Biblical creation myth that the apple becomes synonymous with images of serpents, concepts about curiosity and the acquisition of knowledge, themes of seduction and sexuality, and it has forever cemented the association of Adam and Eve themselves, and of the fall of man with the apple. It is also from this myth that we derive the term Adam’s apple, which was said to be the result of the forbidden fruit getting caught in Adam’s throat. The protrusion of the Adam’s apple is also a sign of sexual maturity in a man, so there is again a strong link between the apple and sexual maturity. The apple appears elsewhere in the Bible, prominently in The Song of Songs, where an apple tree is used as a symbol of beauty and desire in the lover’s speech, or in Deuteronomy where the phrase “the apple of my eye” came into being, using the apple as a symbol for that which is valued or prized above all else.
The Roman goddess, Venus, the Roman counterpart to the Greek Aphrodite, has long been depicted in art with apples, mainly due to the myths tying her to golden apples. In the Biblical iconography apples have been used to represent temptation, sin, and seduction. Conversely, they have also been used to represent true love and fidelity. New brides and grooms were given apples as a gesture of good will, as a blessing that their marriage would be one of fidelity and that it would be fruitful, literally and figuratively speaking.
In the art world, the apple has come to symbolize many things. Apples have traditionally been seen as feminine. They have been used to represent youth, the sustenance of nature, the well-being of the environment, and various other things.
It has been thoroughly documented that ancient civilizations had used various plants, herbs, fruits, and fungi as primitive medicines. Certain plants were used as contraceptives and others as fertility enhancement. Many foods and drinks (chocolate, strawberries, mangoes, oysters, red wine, for example) have been thought to be aphrodisiacs. Anyone with food allergies is at least somewhat aware of how the chemical components of what they eat effect their own biochemistry and can cause reactions. Certain foods are known to have certain properties that cause physical changes in our bodies. For men, citrus fruits and foods containing high levels of Vitamin C have been shown to increase sperm health, and for women, proteins derived from vegetable sources have been shown to improve fertility. In the 17th Century, Nicholas Culpepper claimed that asparagus was an aphrodisiac for men, and as it turns out, he was right. Asparagus contains essential fiber, potassium, vitamins A and C, thiamin, and folic acid. Folic acid boosts histamine which is needed in order for both men and women to achieve orgasm. Another food which has been sited as an aphrodisiac is avocado. Avocados are also high in folic acid and potassium, and the way they hang from trees in pairs gives them a rather sexual appearance, so much so that they were called “testicle trees” by the ancient Aztecs.
A recent study at Santa Chiara Regional Hospital in Trento, Italy, and which was published in Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics has found an apparent link between apple consumption and a woman’s sexual responsiveness and pleasure. There were 731 female participants in the study, ranging from age eighteen to age forty-three, and with no history of sexual dysfunction. None of the women included in the study were taking any prescription drugs. The women were divided into two groups: one in which the participants consumed one to two apples daily and the other in which the participants did not consume any apples on a daily basis. The results are fascinating to say the least. The women who ate one to two apples every day reported increased arousal, vaginal lubrication, the frequency and intensity of orgasms, and overall sexual functioning. The reason behind this, according to the researchers, is that apples contain phloridzin, which can decrease blood glucose levels and increase metabolism, but it’s also a phytoestrogen and phytoestrogens can improve blood flow the vagina. Phloridzin is similar to female sex hormone estradiol. The pectin in apples also help to lower cholesterol, which is important to heart function, and again improves blood flow. Apples also contain polyphenols and antioxidants and have been shown to lower blood-fat levels in postmenopausal women.
Now, there is a difference between causation and correlation, and it’s possible that with such a small number of participants in the study, that these findings may not be completely accurate or that there are other factors not being accounted for. But it is possible that this is very real scientific merit to this study and that apples can improve sexual responsiveness and function in women. And if so, does this account for the long association between apples and women, and in particular, between apples and female sexuality and fertility?
William-Adolphe Bouguereau is perhaps one of the great heroes of the Academic art movement. His works are vividly brought to life in a manner that is at once realistic and yet also idealized. While Bouguereau confined himself to the traditional Victorian values of Academicism and Realism, the images that he managed to create during his lifetime are iconic and timeless, though he has not been treated as kindly as his contemporaries by many art historians. Often drawing on themes of gentle eroticism, the juxtaposition of beautiful women with nature, and the bittersweet reminisces of childhood, Bouguereau painted in a way that could be emotionally evocative in its realistic depiction of everyday life, but also dreamily intoxicating in the way that he romanticized human sexuality and sexual innocence.
Je dédie affectueusement cette collection de chansons qui bougent mon cœur à ma belle.
I love you so much and yet no words that I can conjure up can adequately express the way you make me feel. There is a warmth and a fullness in my soul that I’ve never known before, and I am determined to let you know how deeply my love for you runs, though my mere words aren’t sufficient to the task. So, until I can hold you in my arms, until I can kiss and caress and make love to you, until I can cook for you, until I can whisper my love to you in the darkness, and until I can wipe your tears from your eyes and replace them with the sound of your sweet laughter, these words and these melodies will have to suffice…
Previously published on Blogger.com on March 10, 2011. Updated and revised for WordPress on November 10, 2012.
It’s a subject that has been at the forefront of human existence for longer than we can remember, filling the pages of our history, etching its name in our poetry and songs and stories. It has been the catalyst for great romances which have become legend, it has been the driving force behind great conflicts that have stained the earth with blood, and it has proven to be one of the most complex occurrences within human nature. We use the word “love” with frequency, describing everything from our preference for certain foods to our fondness for a particular author, musician, actor, director, or artist.
Yet what is love?
It’s been categorized in many ways; discussed endlessly by poets who often idealize or romanticize love even when tragic, dissected by scientists who have struggled to determine what part of our bodies is responsible for the impulses we associate with love, and examined by all those who have experienced it and yearned for by all those who have not. It seems almost impossible to place a definition on something as transcendent and amorphous as love. There are those who perceive love to be simply an emotion, a chemical reaction in the brain to an external stimuli in the form of another person, but this cannot be since, in my own experience anyway, all emotions are momentary and pass with time yet love remains as a constant presence. Certainly, love can influence a person’s emotional state dramatically and there are those who say that love makes us blind and act foolishly. Contrarily, many people believe that love elevates our consciousness, lifting us from our own selfish egotism, and allows us to experience empathy and affection in a manner that evolves our sense of reality, thus it transcends beyond any mere emotion. In my personal experience, I have found that the latter is true. Continue Reading
This list of my favorite Romantic poets and poetry was first posted on November 10, 2010 on Lunch.com
I’ve always adored the melancholic romanticism of the 18th and 19th Century poets with their dichotomies of idyllic love blossoming and then unfolding to harrowing outcomes. The themes of life, death, love, loneliness, hope, despair, degradation, and redemption are so intricately woven throughout romanticism that it makes it nigh impossible not to relate to the poems and artwork of that movement. The emotional potency, often melodramatic but almost always genuine, that is invoked by their words is both haunting and enigmatic. Somehow their innate ability to express the highs and lows of love, whether it is unrequited, returned albeit briefly, tragic, or treacherous, seems to resonate with the clarity of truth. So, without further ado, I present a sampling of my favorite poems of the Romantics…
Hear the Voice
by William Blake
Hear the voice of the Bard,
Who present, past, and future sees;
Whose ears have heard
The Holy Word
That walk’d among the ancient trees;
Calling the lapsèd soul,
And weeping in the evening dew,
That might control
The starry pole,
And fallen, fallen light renew!
‘O Earth, ‘O Earth, return!
Arise from the dewy grass!
Night is worn,
And the morn
Rises from the slumbrous mass.
‘Turn away no more;
Why wilt thou turn away?
The starry floor,
The watery shore,
Is given thee till the break of day.’
She Walks in Beauty
by Lord George Gordon Byron
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair’d the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven trees,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Swiftly walk o’er the western wave,
Spirit of Night!
Out of the misty eastern cave,
Where, all the long and lone daylight,
Thou wovest dreams of joy and fear,
Which make thee terrible and clear,
Swift by thy Flight!
Wrap thy form in mantle gray,
Blind with thine hair the eyes of day;
Kiss her until she be wearied out,
Then wander o’er the city, and sea, and land,
Touching all with thine opiate wand −
When I arose and saw the dawn,
I sighed for thee;
When light rode high, and the dew was gone,
And noon lay heavy on flower and tree,
And the weary Day turned to his rest,
Lingering like an unloved guest,
I sighed for thee.
by John Keats
Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art −
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,
And watching with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priest-like task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors:
No, − yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillowed upon my fair love’s ripening breast
To feel forever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest;
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever − or else swoon to death.
by Edgar Allan Poe
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore −
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door −
Only this and nothing more.”
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; − vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow − sorrow for the lost Lenore −
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore −
Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me − filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“‘Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door −
Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door; −
This it is and nothing more.”
Presently my soul grew stronger, hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure i heard you” − here I opened wide the door; −
Darkness there and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long stood I there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there was spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”
Merely this and nothing more.
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore; −
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; −
‘Tis the wind and nothing more!”
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door −
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door −
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, though,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore −
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning − little relevance bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door −
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such a name as “Nevermore.”
But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered– not a feather then he fluttered −
Till I scarcely more than muttered, “Other friends have flown before −
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs burden bore −
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never − nevermore.'”
But the Raven still beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore −
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”
Thus I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee − by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite − respite and nepenthe from my memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! − prophet still, if bird or devil!
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted −
On this home by Horror haunted − tell me truly, I implore −
Is there balm in Gilead? − tell me − tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! − prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us − by that God we both adore −
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore −
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting −
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie they soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! − quit the bust above my door!
Take they beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted − nevermore!
Fall, Leaves, Fall
by Emily Brontë
Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me,
Fluttering from every tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow;
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.