We all know that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but apparently it does not keep the suitors away. If we were in ancient Greece right now, and you angrily threw a nearby object, which happened to be an apple, at someone, you’d be hearing wedding bells. I know, as bizarre as it sounds, people believe that throwing an apple at someone was considered a marriage proposal according to the Greeks. It was conventionally done by men, and if the woman caught the apple, Hallelujah!
Apples have always been associated with the idea of romance and love. Throwback to Adam and Eve for example. In myths and in literature, apples have symbolized beauty, courtship, and fertility. Now, if it was because of its lush red appearance, or because it was so smooth to touch and so sweet to taste, we can’t be sure. What we CAN say with certainty is that marriages from Greek mythology definitely featured a special guest- a certain red skinned fruit.
A wedding gift for Hera and Thetis
Ok wait, before you get confused, these are two different stories. The first is of the Queen Goddess Hera’s marriage to King Zeus, when her grandmother (the Earth) gifted her a beautiful apple tree laden with not normal, but golden apples. Hera then proceeded to gift this tree to her beloved husband. This is one of the stories that contributed to the idea that throwing apples signaled a ‘marry me’.
The other story, a very famous one, is of the Apple of Discord. Thetis (a goddess) and Peleus (a mortal) were celebrating their wedding day by inviting everyone, except one goddess- Eris, the goddess of conflicts. Let’s acknowledge the Sleeping Beauty storyline first. Moving on, Eris, who obviously felt insulted and vengeful, crashed the wedding and threw a golden apple among the three major goddesses- Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. Now you might be thinking, “Hey, that’s kind of a nice gesture!” Haha, sike. The apple was engraved with the words “to the most beautiful one”. Obviously, there was an instant argument about which of the goddesses it was addressed to. This decision was left to Paris, a shepherd, who was offered many things by the immortal women, but ended up choosing Aphrodite, who had promised to make Helen (the most beautiful woman in the world, apparently) his wife. And then BAM! The Trojan War.
This story seems to steer our idea of the apple in the opposite direction, but since Aphrodite was the goddess of love and the apple ended up in her hands, the Greeks still thought of it as a symbol of beauty, sexuality, and fertility and as a declaration of love.
Atalanta and Hippomenes
Now we’re talking! According to me, this myth is the strongest contender for influencing the “throwing apple = marriage” idea. Atalanta was a cool and athletic Greek princess who had declared that the man who could outrun her in a race would be allowed to marry her. Enter the hero Hippomenes, a huge simp for Atalanta. He knew that he couldn’t win against her by fair means, so he somehow procured three golden apples from Aphrodite. During the race, he threw them down on the ground one by one, whenever Atalanta started getting far ahead. The princess was intrigued by the beautiful shiny apples and every time she saw one, she stopped to pick it up, giving Hippomenes the lead in the race, thus getting married to him. The people who read this story might have misinterpreted it a little, because the apple was thrown not AT her, but for her. Still, this is probably the most clear source of the concept.
Other myths and the truth behind the belief
There are descriptions of throwing apples at the married couple (ouch), much like we throw rice or wheat. It is also believed that the newlyweds should share an apple to strengthen their bond. There are many loopholes in the “apples-throwing” theory, though. Firstly, the most you can associate the apple with is seduction or love (since it is sacred to Aphrodite), but not that widely with marriage. Next, this theory indicates that marriages were an affair of choice, but in ancient Greece, marriages were arranged by the parents (especially in the case of brides), and there were hardly any instances when a man could court his lover. And finally, there are no stories aside from the ones told above to verify that people in real life actually used to carry out this custom.
To conclude, if you wanna go ahead and copy this tactic of the Greeks, you are welcome to. I would advise against it though, because you might end up with rejection and a very angry girlfriend instead of marriage.
You can’t miss The Questionable Origins of Valentine’s Day