One of the most fascinating parts of Christopher A. Faraone's Ancient Greek Love Magic
is the section on apples. Mela
fruit, apples, pomegranates and quinces, are associated in various mythologies and rituals with marriage. The traditional explanation is that these fruits are filled with seeds and therefore stand for fertility. Faraone disagrees.
Apples are used in eros
magic to make a woman lust after the man who throws them. Faraone says there is evidence that apples were thrown near brides during weddings. The idea was that a thrown apple would elicit sexual desire. Just eating an apple would, too, since it was customary to eat apples on a wedding night.
Two very familiar myths serve to illustrate Farone's theory: Persephone and Atalanta. Each of these stories contains an unexplained element Faraone's theory clarifies. Why is it pomegranate
seeds that Hades gives to Persephone? Why not something more substantial or fragrant, something that would tantalize a starving goddess with its sight or smell? In the Atalanta story, it seems a confirmed virgin would hardly lose a race simply because her unwelcome suitor threw a bit of food her way.
Faraone's answer is quite simply that a melon
fruit fills women with lust. If Persephone had simply been tricked into eating a piece of fruit, the half of the year she spent with Hades might have been filled with conflict. If Hippomenes had thrown golden apples, perhaps Atalanta would have stopped, but she could also have waited until the end of the race to pick them up. Golden apples wouldn't be in danger of spoiling. If they were ordinary apples without any erotic properties, it would have been even stranger that she stopped to pick them up -- unless she were ready to lose her virginity.
Faraone points to other cases were simply picking up an apple or quince seed amounts to acceptance of a proposal.
Greek Eros and Philia Love Magic
Faraone, Christopher A., Ancient Greek Love Magic
. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999.