*I do not own the rights to any of these images. I am happy to remove them upon request.
Detail from Rossetti’s “Venus Verticordia” 1864-1868
(photo source: http://www.rossettiarchive.org/docs/s173.rap.html)
After reading A.R. Littlewood’s “The Symbolism of the Apple in Greek and Roman Literature” I have a renewed interest in using apples as offerings for multiple deities and the dead. From my childhood love of Greek mythology, I was already aware of the story of Paris and the golden apple of discord, the role of Aphrodite’s golden apples in the story of Atalanta and Hippomenes, and the golden apples of the Hesperides, but I was not formerly aware of how apples are sacred to Apollo. Littlewood cites how apple garlands were used occassionally alongside the laurel garlands at the Pythian Games. This fact intrigued me further to explore how apples are symbolically portrayed and used in Greek culture outside of the spheres of love and marriage…
Apples for the Dead
Littlewood mentions the role of apples in rituals for the dead, citing Hyginus Fabulae 104, which a translation of (courtesy of theoi.com) states:
When Ladomia, daughter of Acastus, after her husband’s loss had spent the three hours which she had asked from the gods, she could not endure her weeping and grief. And so she made a bronze likeness of her husband Protesilaus, put it in her room under pretense of sacred rites, and devoted herself to it. When a servant early in the morning had brought fruit for the offerings…
What does this imply? Were apples frequently associated with gifts for the dead? Apples as a part of the totenmahl, or funeral banquet, are frequent depictions as part of the banquet desserts, alongside images of pomegranates, figs, eggs, and specific cakes (Grandjouan 1989: 9). ***Look below at the low table beneath the reclining man to see the various foods. The little pyramid shaped object is one of the special cakes…
Totenmahl Votive Relief, Athens
Based upon this new information, I now plan to offer apples to the dead when doing Hellenismos rites where I call upon Aphrodite Epytimbia and Askalaphus. I feel inspired to use apples blossoms alongside laurel leaves when offering to Apollon in his aspect as Apollon Nymphagetes, and especially in conjuction with honoring the Epimelides, nymphs who protected the apple orchards and sheep flocks.
In my practices of Norse heathenry, when I find synchronicities between Greek practices and those of my Northern gods, I am well-pleased. Iðunn’s golden apples, the apples of youth, are also discussed as being food of the dead. Apples were also found as grave offerings in Oseberg ship burial site, where in the burial chamber a chest of wild apples and corn was found (Davidson 1968: 17). In my trip to Helheim, the road to Hela’s garden was lined with the twisted trunks of ancient apple trees. In future rites for the Norse dead, I will offer apples, especially apples drizzled with bright honey (the nectar blessed by Freyr, king of those under barrows) to the hungry spirits in order to nourish them and anoint their lips with prophecy.