Golden Apples: Part 1

Peter Paul Rubens, Judgement of Paris. C 1636. (image via wikipedia)

As I said in my last post, I’ve been working on a piece of of a chapter about about Thomas Dekker’s The Pleasant Comedy of Old Fortunatus – I will be posting something in my new blog later this week about it. Anyway, I’ve been looking at the use of food as a prop in the play, specifically golden apples.

Golden apples were a popular trope in art and literature during the early modern period. The apples from the tree of knowledge are sometimes depicted as golden, but a more common reference point is the apple of discord, from the Greek myth of the Judgement of Paris. Plucked from the garden of Hesperides by the goddess Eris, and engraved with the word “fairest”, the apple is rolled into a wedding party. On finding it, Aphrodite, Athena and Hera ask Paris to judge which of them the apple should belong to, who is the fairest. Paris chooses Aphrodite, and as a reward, she “gives” Helen of Troy to him, which results in the Trojan War. The apple of discord is often cited as the starting point of the war, Early Modern sources often place it as such. In one of his “Songs and Sonnets”, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey refers to it as:

The golden apple that the Troyan boy,

Gaue to Uenus the fayrest of the thre,

Which was the cause of all the wrack of Troy

Spenser also refers to the apple of discord in The Fairie Queene. The apple itself is once again positioned as the catalyst for the war:

 Here eke that famous golden Apple grew,

The which emongest the Gods false Ate threw:

For which th’Idaean Ladies disagreed,

Till partiall Paris dempt it Venus dew,

And had of her, fayre Helen for his meed,

That many noble Greekes and Troians made to bleed

Spenser demonstrates how Paris’ choice of beauty – Venus and “fayre Helen” herself – ahead of anything else is the reason for the war “That many noble Greekes and Troians made to bleed”. The golden apple, however, is the “famous” mythic object associated with the situation, this story imbues it with associations of danger, warmongering, the unwise choice of beauty and outward appearance over other qualities.

Dietary regimens and herbals of the period often seem concerned with the question of what kind of fruit the mythic golden apple actually is. John Maplet, in A Green Forest (1567), in a section on quinces, says “Many thinke this is the fruit which the Poets call golden Apple”.  Rembarte Dodoens in A Niewe Herball (1578) gives the name golden apples to tomatoes, or “Amorus Apples” as he also calls them. Tomatoes were a relatively new food at this time, and Dodoens seems cautious about recommending them:

The complexion, nature, and working of this plante, is not yet knowen, but by that I can gather of the taste, it should be colde of nature, especially the leaues, somwhat like vnto Mandrake, and therefore also it is dangerous to be vsed.

In Foure Bookes of Husbandry (1577), Conrad Herebach identifies oranges and other citrus fruits as “Golden apples”, stating that “the fruite is called in Latine Hipericum, and Aureum malum, the golden Apple, also the maryage Apple of Iupiter and Iuno: such of them as are yellow, and of a golden colour, they commonly call Oranges”.

For the second post, I’m going to be cooking something called “apple-moyse”, which is a dish made from apple pulp and other things, it’s golden in colour, and (fingers crossed) it does sound very tempting.

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