Of Immortality and the Eternal Trickster
Across the seas in the frozen lands that were home to the original Vikings, Norse legend spoke of the Aesir and the Vanir. One of the Goddesses of the Vanir, named Idunn, Iduna or Ithunn depending on the version of the legend you read, was responsible for the sacred apples of immortality. Whether Ithunn was herself the creator of these apples is uncertain, however she was the Goddess who made sure that the Gods regularly ate the apples that allowed them to maintain their health and the all important youth and beauty so necessary for prestige. Typically enough for a trickster God, Loki decided one day that it would be a good idea to steal the sacred apples. Unfortunately for him, this was one step too far, and after some time, and after noticing the effects of the apples’ loss and the Gods’ subsequent ageing, the other Gods forced Loki to return the fruit. Interestingly enough, Iduna was married to Bragi, the Norse God of poetry – and given the apple’s link to the Otherworld and even with madness, Iduna’s choice of a mate is perhaps not so surprising given that it is an often found theory that madness and creativity are only one step removed from each other.
A Message and an Impossible Choice
On the other side of the world, in Greek myth there are two particular tales that feature the apple rather prominently. The first, of course, is the tale of the famous beauty Helen of Troy. The beginnings of the war that culminated in the destruction of the ancient city of Troy was caused, essentially, by the rather capricious decision of Aphrodite, Athene and Hera to give Paris, young prince of Troy, an apple and give him the impossible job of deciding which of the three Goddesses was the most beautiful. They offered him many different rewards, but Aphrodite, Goddess of love, offered him the fabled Helen, said to be one of the most beautiful women in the world, and of course he accepted. Unfortunately for the citizens of Troy, Helen was already married to a very jealous man named Menelaus. There are two different versions of the story – one states that Helen fell in love with Paris as a result of Aphrodite’s manipulations, and the other is of the opinion that Helen did not want to marry Paris, and that the herb Elecampane grew where her tears fell as she was being abducted. Whatever Helen may have thought of it, the long and short of the story is that she ended up in Troy. The rest, as they say, is history – or perhaps legend, in this case, although there is certainly a school of thought that says that legend is simply history that is so old that nobody remembers when it was true any more, only that it was true once upon a time.
Other examples of using the apple to convey a message certainly include the story of the beautiful Snow White who was poisoned by an apple given to her by her embittered stepmother, though the message in this case would seem to have been along the lines of ‘I hate you, please die’ rather than ‘who is the fairest of them all’!