This post is a companion piece to my article about the the meaning of the Apple logo. In that post, I stated that the primary source of Apple’s symbolism comes from The Bible. Here, I will dig into those historical roots a bit further.
In our standard telling of the Christian creation myth, Eve is tempted to eat forbidden fruit from a tree in the Garden of Eden. However, nowhere in Genesis is the fruit specified as an apple. We are merely told that it is fruit from the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” God tells Adam: “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
Eve disobeys God when she is tempted by the serpent Satan: “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat;”
The forbidden fruit grants wisdom, just like Apple computers do. Of course, the sin of partaking in the tree of knowledge is also the original sin that accounts for the fall of man. If you’ve ever seen the Terminator movies, you know that technology will also be the fall of man! How appropriate.
So, if the Bible doesn’t specify the fruit as an apple, how did the apple become a primary symbol of this creation myth? The most likely reason comes from fine art.
The Apple in Fine Art
The apple has historically been used as a standard symbol in visual depictions of the Garden of Eden (as seen above), and thus accounts for its place in our common knowledge of the Biblical creation story. It’s likely that painters initially chose the apple because of its prominence in Greek mythology, where it was already being used for very similar purposes.
In Greek mythology, the ‘Hesperides’ are nymphs that reside in a garden of delight where golden apples grow. These apples grant immortality when eaten. The garden was also guarded by a hundred-headed dragon named Ladon, who never sleeps. Ladies in a garden, an evil beast, and an apple tree. Sound familiar?
The similarities of these myths reveal a fundamental aspect of storytelling. It’s a natural human habit to borrow, reuse, and re-purpose familiar symbols, plot structures, and other narrative elements. For artists who had a preexisting association of apples with similar stories that had been told before the birth of Christ, it would have been natural to ascribe the same symbol into the Biblical creation tale.
Visual and Mythological Potency
In short, apple symbolism is not only prominent in our most common version of the Biblical creation myth, but it predates that myth. Since the dawn of storytelling, man has used the apple to visually symbolize all manner of things, including knowledge, immortality, abundance, the fall of man, and more. It makes sense – the apple almost seems to epitomize the fundamental idea of fruit and even food itself. It’s a visually simple food – round, colorful, and almost elemental in its form. If you’re building a website, you might use an apple icon to simply represent a ‘food’ or ‘health’ category in the navigation. It’s such a primary symbol to us that we almost take it for granted.
It was extremely savvy of Apple computers to harness such a potent symbol in both their brand name and logo. In doing so, they harnessed iconography that’s been around as long as we have.