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Apples in Mythology from Tales from the Ancient World

Comfort me with apples

Eve is reported to have bitten into one, or perhaps it was a quince. Hera gave some to her husband for a wedding gift, or maybe they were lemons. Golden Apples are a familiar element in legends and folk tales. Usually, a hero has to retrieve them to marry the King's daughter, fulfill his destiny, liberate those held in thrall, or to save the world from evil. These days apples are common, we give an apple to the teacher, or eat one a day to keep the doctor away. No longer do we believe that apples are gifts from the gods or guarded by dragons, and we know that apples don't magically heal wounds or make us irresistibly beautiful. Nor, sadly, will one bite from an apple grant us eternal youth.

Apples of the Garden of the Hesperides

The eleventh Labour of Hercules Hera, Queen of Olympus, had an orchard in the west called the Garden of the Hesperides, somewhere toward the sunset, at the very edge of the world. It was here that a grove of immortality-giving golden apples grew. The eleventh Labour of Hercules was to steal the apples from this garden. These apples were guarded by the Hesperides, lovely nymphs who were the daughters of Atlas, the Titan who held the sky and the earth upon his shoulders. Hera also placed in the garden a never- sleeping, hundred- headed dragon, named Ladon, as an additional safeguard. Our hero journeyed through Libya, Egypt, Arabia and Asia, having numerous blood -chilling adventures along the way. Finally, acting on advice, Hercules asked Atlas to go and fetch the apples.

Poor fatigued Atlas hated holding up the sky and the earth so much that he jumped at the chance of a break. He thankfully passed his burden over to Hercules, but, on returning with the apples, he wanted Hercules to stay there and hold the heavy load for eternity.

Hercules slyly agreed, but asked Atlas to take back the sky again, just for a moment, while the hero put some soft padding on his shoulders to help him bear the weight of the sky and the earth. Atlas put the apples on the ground, and lifted the burden onto his own shoulders. And so Hercules picked up the apples and quickly ran off!

But these golden apples of immortality belonged to the gods and, after all the trouble Hercules went through to get them, he had to return them to Athena, who took them back to the garden at the edge of the world. And that is where they are today. If you can find them, you will gain the gift of eternal life.

Atalanta and the Golden Apples

Don't be distracted from your purpose

In Greek mythology, Atalanta was a superb athlete. Her father wanted a son and so, when Atalanta was born, he exposed her on a hillside to die. Happily, she was nurtured by a bear sent by Artemis, the Protector of Women, and kept safe until a group of hunters found her and raised her to adulthood. Atalanta, like Artemis, was an excellent runner, archer and hunter. In any case, Atalanta's father was proud of her skills in masculine activities and took her back to his palace. Now that she was a princess, she was expected to marry but Atlanta, very sensibly, did not want a husband. Atalanta has a plan

Atalanta swore that she would race any suitors and the one who beat her would be the lucky man to marry her, but if she won, she would kill the losers. One youth, Melanion, a little smarter than the others, went to Aphrodite for assistance. The goddess gave him a loan of three golden apples (the very same from the Garden of the Hesperides). During the

race, whenever Atalanta would get ahead of Melanion, he would drop one of the golden apples, and Atalanta would stop and pick it up. Her frequent stops gave Melanion the advantage he needed. He won the race. Alas! Atalanta had to marry him.

The Apple of Discord

Always make sure you invite everyone to a wedding

The most famous mythological apple is the Apple of Discord. You may know of it as the Judgement of Paris. Oh dear! What a tragic tale. The story starts with one of those foolish mistakes that can happen to anyone, anywhere and anytime. A party is planned. Someone is left off the invitation list. Mayhem follows. It was the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. All the gods and goddesses of Olympus were invited except for one - and she was Eris, the Goddess of Discord. (This Eris was troublesome at the best of times - and indeed was the personification of trouble and strife. Some of her children were Ponos, Spirit of hard labour, Lethe, Spirit of forgetfulness and Limos, Spirit of starvation) Furious at not being invited, Eris turned up anyway and tossed among the guests a golden apple with the inscription, Kallisti, meaning For the Fairest

Should Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, get the apple? Or should Hera, Queen of the Olympians, win it? Or perhaps Athena, the grey-eyed goddess of wisdom, should have the prize. As they were all beautiful goddesses, this was not an easy decision.

The Judgement of Paris

A decision which started a war

A squabble broke out. Zeus decided to send them to an independent arbitrator to decide which of them deserved the apple. No god was foolish enough to take this role, so it went to a simpleminded human shepherd named Paris. Each goddess offered the lad a gift if he would just choose her. What did they offer?

Athena offered Heroic Victories, for now and always Hera offered all of the knowledge in the whole world Aphrodite promised the gift of attraction, that no woman could ever resist him

Paris, a mere mortal man, took Aphrodite's offer. Hera and Athena, the rejected goddesses, were furious and caused great devastation to Paris and his family. And we know what that meant - the Trojan War!

Isle of Avalon
In Britain, apples are most identified with the Island of Avalon, whose name is derived from the Welsh word for apple: afal (pronounced aval). Avalon was the Otherworld home of one of the Celtic Underworld Gods, Afallach. Both names relate to the Apples that grew in this mystical land of the dead and show Avalon's relationship to other legendary realms such as the Garden of the Hesperides. Obviously, this is where a Celtic King, such as Arthur, would go when near to death.

Avalon, it is said, is where the mortally wounded Arthur is taken to be healed, a place where there is ever sunlight and warm breezes, the land is lush with vegetation, and the inhabitants never age nor know pain or injury