What is it with apples that we, womankind seem to be drawn to, often to our detriment? From the original story of Eve and her stubborn fixation on eating the forbidden apple, I seem to come across a number of legends and myths involving more apples. Remember Snow White? Women and apples. Is it because it was discovered that the apple is the “perfect” food according to a Mayo Clinic research? Or is it because apples are good for you and low in calories which women love because they can eat them and still stay thin? “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”, the popular saying goes, our ancestors were on to something about apples long before the research confirmed their superior nutritional value. The Beatles were also fans of apples, as well as Steve Jobs and his apple trademark. hmmm
I am still in Madrid, where I am starting to find out more about this vibrant city. One of the city’s main squares is Plaza de la Cibeles, the square is named after the landmark fountain depicting Cybele, the Greek Goddess of Earth and mother of Zeus in a chariot drawn by two lions. I was curious about the history of the fountain and its origins, so I bought an excellent book called “Hidden Madrid” by Mark and Peter Besas, which tells quirky stories about the city and its origins (Did you know that the name Madrid comes from the Arabic word ‘majira’ meaning water way, and that the city was built as a fortification site by the Emir of Cordoba Muhammad I in 854 – to ward off the Christian Re-conquest forces who were trying to reclaim the Iberian Peninsula?)
The legend of La Cibeles was what I found quite interesting, going back to women and apples. The story starts in Greek mythology where a child called Atalanta is abandoned by her father in the wild and left to die. She was found by a female bear and raised as one of her cubs (you wonder where the Tarzan story came from). Atalanta soon learnt how to survive in the forest and became a superb runner. Her fast running skills saved her many times in the wilderness until she was found by a hunter and returned to civilization where she kissed and made up with her father, who wanted her to get married now that she has grown into a woman. She consulted an oracle who advised that if Atalanta married, she would turn into an animal. She tried to create diversions and put obstacles in the way of her impending marriage, until she convinced her father that she will only marry a suitor who will outrun her in a race. Of course no one could outrun her, with her agility after having lived in the wild, until a man called Hippomenes saw her, fell madly in love with her and went to Mount Olympus to consult the Goddess Aphrodite on how to win Atalanta’s heart. The Goddess picked three golden apples (see? apples) from the garden of Hesperides for Hippomenes to use in his race against Atalanta.
Once the race started, Hippomenes would drop one golden apple every time Atalanta tried to overtake him, whereby she would stop to pick it up, she was so fascinated by the golden fruit, until he used up all three apples and won the race and her hand in marriage. They were madly in love, and couldn’t control their urge to make love at every opportunity, even in a temple of Zeus when once out hunting, which led a mad Zeus to met out the punishment that they be transformed into lions for all eternity. The Goddess Cybeles took pity on them and hitched them to her chariot so that the two lovers can stay together forever. But the story of La Cibeles does not end here. The funny thing is that the two lions in the famous fountain are both MALE. It was either Zeus that was cruel and transformed the lovers into two male lions (the jury is still out on this one, as the gender of the lions is not clear in the Greek myth), or else the artist who designed the fountain in the 18th Century, Ventura Rodriguez, had a comic streak.
Either way, a woman’s fascination with apples landed her a fate of being first thrown out of Paradise with her naked lover, and then again forced to have a male gay lover who is also a lion for eternity. What is it with us and apples?