Historical Applets

The first apple tale that changed the world is one you learned in Sunday school:  the All-Mother listened to the snake and plucked an apple from the bough for Man — who took a bite and learned that knowledge always comes at a price. Cast forth from Eden, fallen from grace, a bitter Adam glanced back longingly at the garden wall and berated Eve for plucking an apple from the wrong tree. “The other tree!! I said the other tree! The one with the apples that let you live forever!!!”

The second apple tale also takes place in the mists of time, and tells the story of war. Eris, goddess of discord, furious at not being invited to the gala event of the season, pulled a Wedding Crashers and strolled into the fiesta carrying a golden apple inscribed καλλίστῃ  — “to the fairest of them all.” The goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite all claimed the apple as their rightful prize, and Zeus, ever the politician, appointed the dim-witted Paris to arbitrate the dispute. After weighing the relative merits of the proffered bribes, Paris declared Aphrodite the victor. The love goddess then facilitated an extended bit of adultery between Paris and Helen of Troy, leading to the destruction of Ilium, Paris’ famously unpleasant death, and the world’s first soap operas — Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey.

The third apple tale is one you learned about in grade school, immortalized by Longfellow’s famous lines:  I shot an arrow in the air. It fell to earth. I know not where. On 18 November 1307, William Tell shot an apple off his son’s head with a crossbow — not on a dare, as some vapid souls have suggested, but on pain of death. As the story goes, the newly appointed local laird raised a pole in the village’s central square, from which he hung his hat and demanded that all the townsfolk bow down before it to gratify his smallmindedness. When Tell passed by without so much as a howdy-do (no doubt eying the busty chambermaid across the way), he was arrested and forced into the Hobson’s choice of (a) shooting an apple off his son’s head, or (b) having both their heads chopped off. Making the wiser choice, Tell speared the apple on top of his son’s head with a crossbow bolt. He then shot the lord who put him into this predicament, sparking a rebellion that led to the creation of the Swiss Confederation.

The fourth and final apple tale herein has long been thought to be apocryphal, but may be true after all. The Rev. William Stukeley, a physician, cleric, and prominent antiquarian, wrote in 1752 that while he was having afternoon tea with Sir Isaac Newton in his garden, the mathematician announced that he was deep in contemplation among those very apple trees when the notion of gravity “struck” him. Occasioned by the fall of an apple, the laws of gravity were revealed, and the world turned once more. The manuscript of Stukeley’s 1752 biography of Newton, recently rediscovered by the BBC, has conveniently been turned into an e-book so that you may read it now — right this very second — on your Kindle.

Of course, if you insist on keeping the Apple theme going, you may also read it on your iPad.


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