Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and sometimes an apple is just an apple, but not when it appears symbolically as a communication tool. Looking at a range of images across the ages, it seems that an apple can be a signifier of health, death, beauty, evil, fertility and love.
Most famously the apple is the forbidden fruit from the Judeo- Christian mythology of Adam and Eve. Images of Eve offering the forbidden fruit to Adam were popular themes for artists. The image here is a bronze sculpture by Salvador Dali with the serpent creating a wonderful heart shape.
I found out recently that the Latin word for apple and the Latin word for evil are the same – malum. So an apple can be evil? Although the apple was from Tree Of Knowledge, it has come to represent temptation of a more sexual kind. The serpent is an obvious phallic symbol encouraging the young couple, lest there be any doubt.
Apples have been seen as a health-giving fruit and “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” could contribute to the idea of beauty. Round rosy cheeks were likened to rosy apples. And then there was the jealous wicked step-mother who tried to poison Snow White with a round rosy apple.
Perhaps because of the range of symbolism, the apple can represent wholeness – good and evil, health and death. However, in most images it seems to signify sexual temptation and loss of innocence.
In the Apple computer advert once again there is the rosy apple, and in Rossetti’s painting of Monna Pomona the apple is held against the breast in a gesture of temptation. It seems that overtly or covertly, the apple has become a powerful signifier of the most primitive urge.
Adam and Eve