Search This Blog

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2021: A Is For Apple(Golden Variety)


Hesperides, Burne-Jones.Public Domain

Golden apples appear in Greek myths more than once. Robert Graves had a theory about them being the sacred king’s passport to paradise. Whatever. Let’s just think of the stories. Here are three. 

The golden apples of the Hesperides were on a tree belonging to the goddess Hera. The Hesperides were the daughters of the Titan Atlas, who were set to guard the tree, but the girls couldn’t resist scrumping apples, so the job was given to a dragon called Ladon instead. Unfortunately for Ladon, he was shot by Heracles in the course of his Eleventh Labour. 

Not that Heracles actually picked the apples himself. According to the story, which I remember first hearing from a teacher in primary school(I think it was Mr Kaufman, who also introduced us to the Peanuts cartoons), Heracles had no idea where to find the orchard, so, being a hero, instead of asking directions, he grabbed Nereus, one of those sea gods who tend to change shape when you catch them, and asked him the way. Nereus told him, and also advised him to get Atlas to fetch the apples for him. 

Atlas, who was holding up the world by then, agreed if Heracles held up the world while he went to fetch the apples. Heracles shot the dragon and took the load. At this point, instead of running off, Atlas got the apples and returned, but wasn’t keen to take back his load. 

“Okay,” said Heracles, “but could you just hold it for a minute while I put something on my head to make it more comfortable?” 

Poor, dumb Atlas obliged, and you can guess what happened next. Heracles had to hand the apples to Eurystheus, the king who was setting the tasks. And after all that, the apples were handed back. The point was just to do it! 

The next golden apple story has a girl called Atalanta in it. Atalanta was a tough warrior gal and a speedy runner. When her father told her she had to get married, she said she would only marry the man who could outrun her in a foot race. Anyone who lost would be killed. A young man called Melanion decided to have a go. The goddess Aphrodite gave him three golden apples(were they from the orchard of the Hesperides, I wonder?) and told him to roll them ahead of Atalanta during the race. They did the trick beautifully as she was distracted by stopping to pick them up, a bit like the tortoise and the hare, and lost the race. She had to marry him then, but eventually ran off with a guy called Meleager, whom she had met during the Calydonian boar hunt. Oh, well. 

My favourite is the story of the golden apple that sort of started the Trojan War. You think the fairy in Sleeping Beauty was offended by not being invited to a party? Try Eris, goddess of discord, who was not invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis(parents of Achilles). She actually started a whole war over it! 

Using a golden apple. 

Throwing down the apple, labelled “For the fairest” between three goddesses, Hera, Aphrodite and Athene, she flew off cackling. Maybe there were evening classes in psychology on Olympus? Anyway, the three of them fought over it and went off to get a ruling from Paris, the Trojan prince currently working as a humble herdsman. Aphrodite bribed him with a promise to give him the beautiful Helen, even though she was married. So was he, for that matter, but what the heck. He awarded her the apple. Frankly, I wouldn’t have wanted to be Paris, with three goddesses glaring at me, one of them the Queen of the gods. 

There is a lot of Trojan War fiction, some of which I will mention later in this series of posts, but I’ll give a plug here to a short story I wrote for an anthology, Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear, published by Peggy Bright Press. In my story, “Five Ways To Start A War”,  Paris awards the apple to Aphrodite less because of the bribe and more because of what she could do to his favourite bodily organ if she is annoyed...  If you’re curious, the anthology is still available from the publisher or Amazon.

Come back tomorrow for the tale of Bellerophon and the Chimera! 


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Are you familiar with the Canongate Myth Series, books by best-selling modern authors retelling the ancient myths? About 15 years ago, Jeanette Winterson retold the story of Atlas and Heracles in the book "Weight," exploring the eternal questions of choice versus coercion. It is a great read!

Sue Bursztynski said...

No, I haven’t heard of that series, Debra, thanks for letting me know, I will look it up.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Wikipedia has a complete list of all the books published to date:

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue - congratulations ... good start - and an interesting series to look at from Debra. Enjoy the A-Z ... cheers Hilary

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

Happy A to Z, good to see you in the challenge again! :) Love the theme. This post reminds me of folktales where princesses choose their husband by tossing a golden apple at him. Some motifs survive for centuries...

The Multicolored Diary

Anne Young said...

So many great stories. Your retelling brought back memories of reading these as a child, particularly the story of Atlanta caught my imagination then in an old book with a marvellous illustration of her bending down to collect the apples and thus losing the race.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Zalka! Glad you like the theme! Yes, I imagine golden apples appear quite a lot in folklore. I guess Atalanta sort of chose her husband that way. Sort of! I’m looking forward to visiting your blog too, to see what you’ve come up with this year.

Hi Anne! I think we all have childhood memories of this story. I know I do. And there is some wonderful art connected with it, especially in those old folk tale books.

Iain Kelly said...

Good start Sue, looking forward to seeing what other things you cover.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

I know hindsight is 20-20, but I feel like most of those golden apple issues could have been solved with just a little calm rationality! By the way, in medieval bestiaries the instructions for catching a tiger are similar to the story of Atalanta: you steal a cub and dash off, and when the mother tiger chases after, you throw down a mirror behind you. (Perhaps a mirrored ball? Or a super shiny golden apple?) The mother tiger sees her own reflection in the mirror and thinks she's seeing her cub, and is tricked at least long enough for you to make your cubnapping escape.
Black and White: A for Atlantis

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Anne! Calm rationality is a bit short in Greek myths! 😂 But yes. I have to admit I haven’t heard that instruction for capturing a Tiger cub! It does sound similar, but I do have to wonder if any of these instructions were ever tested? Like, catching a unicorn? 😉

Sue Bursztynski said...

Thanks, Hilary, hope you enjoy! And yes, always something delightful to read or listen to on Debra’s blog. The Passover sea shanty was hilarious!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Thanks, Iain, I popped in on your blog, and did comment, though Wordpress is being unco-operative today!

AJ Blythe said...

Oh, I didn't expect apple to be your A. That's a little sneaky ;) Fascinating as always.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Anita! Yes, so many names and things in Greek myths starting with A, too hard to choose, so I thought I’d be cheeky with this one! 😉

Timothy S. Brannan said...


Welcome to the top spot in my "Must Read Blogs for 2021!"

Adore Greek Myths (and Norse, and Celtic...) but it was the Greek Myths that got me to my blogging theme this month as well. I am doing monsters this month.

This is going to be great!

Tim Brannan, 2021: The A to Z of Monsters

David said...

The Golden Apples always make me think of Ray Bradbury, for some reason... :0)

David - @BreakerOfThings from
Fiction Can Be Fun
Saying hello as part of the #A2ZChallenge

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Tim! Yes, I’ve found my way to your B blog post on monsters. It seems to be gaming monsters, yes?

Hi David, not surprising, with one of Bradbury’s anthologies called Golden Apples Of The Sun! I’m betting Greek myth is where he got that title.

James Pailly said...

Slight tangent, but I'm always pleased to see the name Heracles spelled correctly (i.e. the Greek way, not the Roman way).

Sue Bursztynski said...

Thanks, James! After all, it IS Greek mythology! Strictly speaking, I suppose it should be Herakles, but I’m not worrying too much, and I’m spelling names for my convenience here.

Debs Carey said...

After a slow A-Z start (bad backs & shingles will do that do you!) I'm so thrilled to discover that you're doing Greek myths as it's a HUGE hole in my education. I may have to discover some methodology for bookmarking these posts for future reference, other than the old fashioned "print it & file" it method.

Fascinating about apples - I'd no idea of their importance (see what I mean about the size of that hole)

A-Zing from Fiction Can Be Fun
Normally found at Debs Despatches

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Debs, glad to hear you’re better. Always good to fill a few holes!

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

Love the story of Eris!

Ronel visiting for the A-Z Challenge with an A-Z of Faerie: Anubis