Roman Plate with Fruit Seeds

Roman Plate with Fruit Seeds


'Paradise Lost': How The Apple Became The Forbidden Fruit

Except, of course, that Genesis never names the apple but simply refers to "the fruit." To quote from the King James Bible:

And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'"

"Fruit" is also the word Milton employs in the poem's sonorous opening lines:

Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit

Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste

Brought Death into the World, and all our woe

But in the course of his over-10,000-line poem, Milton names the fruit twice, explicitly calling it an apple. So how did the apple become the guilty fruit that brought death into this world and all our woe?

The short and unexpected answer is: a Latin pun.

In order to explain, we have to go all the way back to the fourth century A.D., when Pope Damasus ordered his leading scholar of scripture, Jerome, to translate the Hebrew Bible into Latin. Jerome's path-breaking, 15-year project, which resulted in the canonical Vulgate, used the Latin spoken by the common man. As it turned out, the Latin words for evil and apple are the same: malus.

In the Hebrew Bible, a generic term, peri, is used for the fruit hanging from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, explains Robert Appelbaum, who discusses the biblical provenance of the apple in his book Aguecheek's Beef, Belch's Hiccup, and Other Gastronomic Interjections.

"Peri could be absolutely any fruit," he says. "Rabbinic commentators variously characterized it as a fig, a pomegranate, a grape, an apricot, a citron, or even wheat. Some commentators even thought of the forbidden fruit as a kind of wine, intoxicating to drink."

A detail of Michelangelo's fresco in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel depicting the Fall of Man and expulsion from the Garden of Eden Wikipedia hide caption

A detail of Michelangelo's fresco in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel depicting the Fall of Man and expulsion from the Garden of Eden

When Jerome was translating the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil," the word malus snaked in. A brilliant but controversial theologian, Jerome was known for his hot temper, but he obviously also had a rather cool sense of humor.

"Jerome had several options," says Appelbaum, a professor of English literature at Sweden's Uppsala University. "But he hit upon the idea of translating peri as malus, which in Latin has two very different meanings. As an adjective, malus means bad or evil. As a noun it seems to mean an apple, in our own sense of the word, coming from the very common tree now known officially as the Malus pumila. So Jerome came up with a very good pun."

The story doesn't end there. "To complicate things even more," says Appelbaum, "the word malus in Jerome's time, and for a long time after, could refer to any fleshy seed-bearing fruit. A pear was a kind of malus. So was the fig, the peach, and so forth."

Which explains why Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel fresco features a serpent coiled around a fig tree. But the apple began to dominate Fall artworks in Europe after the German artist Albrecht Dürer's famous 1504 engraving depicted the First Couple counterpoised beside an apple tree. It became a template for future artists such as Lucas Cranach the Elder, whose luminous Adam and Eve painting is hung with apples that glow like rubies.

Eve giving Adam the forbidden fruit, by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Wikipedia hide caption

Eve giving Adam the forbidden fruit, by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Milton, then, was only following cultural tradition. But he was a renowned Cambridge intellectual fluent in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, who served as secretary for foreign tongues to Oliver Cromwell during the Commonwealth. If anyone was aware of the malus pun, it would be him. And yet he chose to run it with it. Why?

Appelbaum says that Milton's use of the term "apple" was ambiguous. "Even in Milton's time the word had two meanings: either what was our common apple, or, again, any fleshy seed-bearing fruit. Milton probably had in mind an ambiguously named object with a variety of connotations as well as denotations, most but not all of them associating the idea of the apple with a kind of innocence, though also with a kind of intoxication, since hard apple cider was a common English drink."

It was only later readers of Milton, says Appelbaum, who thought of "apple" as "apple" and not any seed-bearing fruit. For them, the forbidden fruit became synonymous with the malus pumila. As a widely read canonical work, Paradise Lost was influential in cementing the role of apple in the Fall story.

But whether the forbidden fruit was an apple, fig, peach, pomegranate or something completely different, it is worth revisiting the temptation scene in Book 9 of Paradise Lost, both as an homage to Milton (who composed his masterpiece when he was blind, impoverished and in the doghouse for his regicidal politics) and simply to savor the sublime beauty of the language. Thomas Jefferson loved this poem. With its superfood dietary advice, celebration of the 'self-help is the best help' ideal, and presence of a snake-oil salesman, Paradise Lost is a quintessentially American story, although composed more than a century before the United States was founded.

What makes the temptation scene so absorbing and enjoyable is that, although written in archaic English, it is speckled with mundane details that make the reader stop in surprise.

Take, for instance, the serpent's impeccably timed gustatory seduction. It takes place not at any old time of the day but at lunchtime:

"Mean while the hour of Noon drew on, and wak'd/ An eager appetite."

What a canny and charmingly human detail. Milton builds on it by lingeringly conjuring the aroma of apples, knowing full well that an "ambrosial smell" can madden an empty stomach to action. The fruit's "savorie odour," rhapsodizes the snake, is more pleasing to the senses than the scent of the teats of an ewe or goat dropping with unsuckled milk at evening. Today's Food Network impresarios, with their overblown praise and frantic similes, couldn't dream up anything close to that peculiarly sensuous comparison.

It is easy to imagine the scene. Eve, curious, credulous and peckish, gazes longingly at the contraband "Ruddie and Gold" fruit while the unctuous snake-oil salesman murmurs his encouragement. Initially, she hangs back, suspicious of his "overpraising." But soon she begins to cave: How can a fruit so "Fair to the Eye, inviting to the Taste," be evil? Surely it is the opposite, its "sciental sap" must be the source of divine knowledge. The serpent must speak true.

So saying, her rash hand in evil hour

Forth reaching to the Fruit, she pluck'd, she eat:

Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat

Sighing through all her Works gave signs of woe,

That all was lost.

But Eve is insensible to the cosmic disappointment her lunch has caused. Sated and intoxicated as if with wine, she bows low before "O Sovran, vertuous, precious of all Trees," and hurries forth with "a bough of fairest fruit" to her beloved Adam, that he too might eat and aspire to godhead. Their shared meal, foreshadowed as it is by expulsion and doom, is a moving and poignant tableau of marital bliss.

Meanwhile, the serpent, its mission accomplished, slinks into the gloom. Satan heads eagerly toward a gathering of fellow devils, where he boasts that the Fall of Man has been wrought by something as ridiculous as "an apple."

Except that it was a fig or a peach or a pear. An ancient Roman punned – and the apple myth was born.

Nina Martyris is a freelance journalist based in Knoxville, Tenn.

Correction April 30, 2017

A previous version of this story misspelled the name of the author of Aguecheek's Beef, Belch's Hiccup, and Other Gastronomic Interjections. His name is Robert Appelbaum.


7. Olive Oil

Ancient Romans cultivated olives and did olive farming so as to get olive oil, an essential food item in most Romans’s diet. Since, Rome formed a part of the Mediterranean region, most cities and villages supported olive plantations and it was one of the most popular vegetables eaten at homes. Most Romans also consumed olives as a symbol for fertility and growth.

The common folks used olive oil to fry their food items to make it more healthy. The Roman army cooked its food in olive oil for its soldiers and made sauces out of olive oil. Most Roman people loved eating olives and used them in their daily lives too for their cleansing properties.


9. Olive Oil

A popular commodity among the Romans, olive oil became even more common in Roman kitchens when Roman emperors began to actively support olive tree plantations and olive oil production. As a fruit, the olive was one of the most commonly grown food items in the Mediterranean region. It also had a symbolic meaning in ancient Rome since olive leaves and branches represented peace, fertility, and prosperity. Because of this, the Romans had many purposes for olive oil.

Most ordinary Romans would either boil their food or fry it in olive oil. Most of the meals in the Roman military were cooked in olive oil and vinegar. It was also a major ingredient in some of the most popular sauces used in ancient Roman cooking. But olive oil was not just used as a foodstuff it was in fact a part of the Romans’ daily lifestyle. They used it in lamps, and even to cleanse their bodies in baths as the Romans did not have soap.


Forbidden fruit: The curious early history of apples

As mundane as the apple may seem, its history involves enormous animals, the Ice Age, the Silk Road and a huge role in the stories we tell.

Within the first few days of Economics 101, one can expect to learn about the global supply chain. This is the first time many begin to understand that, for example, the apples in their fruit bowl didn't magically materialize on the shelves of their local grocery store but rather through a complex system of coordination. The apples in your grandmother's pie could have been harvested on a Chinese farm, for example.

But what about the trees on that Chinese farm? They didn't magically materialize either.

While most can grasp the supply chain nature of our produce, few understand its evolutionary nature

Researcher Robert Spengler has spent a decade and a half searching for apple seeds in an attempt to answer this question.

Apples were likely much bigger before the Ice Age

Going back to the start

Spengler, who's the director of the archaeobatony lab system at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, has tracked the history of the apple from its wild origins to its distribution across the Silk Road until today.

"Both the genetic and the fossil evidence seem to suggest that large fruiting varieties seem to go back to the late Miocene," Spengler told DW. "So probably in the range of nine to seven million years ago would be a good estimate."

Humans weren't around at that point, though, so who — or what — spread the seeds? For smaller fruits like cherries, birds were the main seed spreaders. But birds couldn't disperse the seeds of larger fruits like apples and pears, whichmeans something else did the job.

Spengler and other researchers suspect megafauna, meaning large animals such as horses associated with the Pleistocene or the Ice Age carried and dispersed the seeds, much like they do today.

In terms of the fruit's evolution, "It seems to be a much more rapid process," Spengler says, "and it took place by different groups or lineages crossing with each other, or hybridizing."

Much of the current apple's genetics can be traced to the Silk Road

Animal role in evolution

The role of animals in plant domestication is often overlooked, Spengler said.

According to his research, the evolution of apples happened long before humans began domesticating them. Paleontological evidence traces the first origins of the fruit up to 9 million years ago, during the late Miocene.

For smaller fruits like cherries, birds were the main seed spreaders. But birds couldn't disperse the seeds of larger fruits like apples and pears, which means something else did the job. But what?

Spengler suspects megafauna — enormous animals such as horses associated with the Pleistocene, or the Ice Age — carried and dispersed the seeds much like they do today. His research indicates that apple seeds were dispersed further and wider during this time than in the last 10,000 years.

This suggests many of the megafauna to spread the seeds became extinct after the Ice Age.

Bisons are an example of Ice Age-era megafauna

The first modern apples were discovered in the Tien Shan mountains of Kazakhstan, Spengler says, with other wild apple populations found in "glacial refugia zones," meaning areas where plants survived during the ice ages. Such zones have been discovered in places like modern France, Germany and Italy.

Spengler's research suggests that the genetics of the modern apple can be traced back to the Silk Road trading routes connecting East and West, where traders and farmers cultivated them through hybridization.

Hybridization is a human-facilitated process in which tree branches are "grafted," or physically connected, to other trees.


The Horn of Plenty

The cornucopia (pronounced korn-uh-KOH-pee-uh), a curved horn with fruits and flowers spilling from its open mouth, is a common symbol of abundance and the earth's bounty. The symbol's origin lies in Greek mythology. Legend says that Zeus (pronounced ZOOS), the king of the gods, was raised by a foster mother named Amalthaea (pronounced am-uhl-THEE-uh), who was either a goat or a goddess who tended a goat. Either way, she fed the infant god goat's milk. One day one of the goat's horns broke off. Amalthaea filled the horn with fruits and flowers and gave it to Zeus, who graciously placed it in the sky, where it became a constellation.

Breadfruit The breadfruit—a round fruit that can be baked and eaten like bread—is an important staple food in Polynesia. Myths about the origin of the breadfruit are found on several Polynesian islands. One story told in Hawaii takes place during a famine. A man named Ulu (pronounced OO-loo), who died in the famine, was buried beside a spring. During the night, his family heard the rustle of flowers and leaves drifting to the ground. Next came a thumping sound of falling fruit. In the morning, the people found a breadfruit tree growing near the spring, and the fruit from the tree saved them from the famine.

Peach Peaches can symbolize immortality or fertility. One hero of Japanese folklore, Momotaro, is said to have been sent from heaven to Earth inside a giant peach found floating down a river by an old woman. In some versions of the myth, the old woman and her husband eat pieces of the peach and become younger. One Chinese legend tells of the goddess Xi Wang Mu (pronounced shee wang MOO), in whose garden the peaches of immortality were gathered by the gods every six thousand years. Peaches were commonly believed to extend life to those who ate them.

Coconut People in tropical regions consume the milk and meat of the coconut and use the oil and empty shells for various purposes. According to a legend from Tahiti, the first coconut came from the head of an eel named Tuna (pronounced TOO-nuh). When the moon goddess Hina (pronounced HEE-nuh) fell in love with the eel, her brother, Maui (pronounced MAH-wee), killed it and told her to plant the head in the ground. However, Hina left the head beside a stream and forgot about it. When she remembered Maui's instructions and returned to search for the head, she found that it had grown into a coconut tree.

Fig Native to the Mediterranean region, the fig tree appears in some images of the Garden of Eden. After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve covered their nakedness with leaves that are usually said to be from the fig tree, and Islamic tradition mentions two forbidden trees in Eden—a fig tree and an olive tree. In Greek and Roman mythology , figs are sometimes associated with Dionysus (pronounced dye-uh-NYE-suhs), god of wine and drunkenness, and with Priapus (pronounced pry-AY-puhs), a satyr (half-man, half-goat) who symbolized sexual desire.

The fig tree has a sacred meaning for Buddhists. According to Buddhist legend, the founder of the religion, Siddhartha Gautama (pronounced see-DAHR-tuh GAW-tuh-muh), or the Buddha, achieved enlightenment one day in 528 bce while sitting under a bo tree, a kind of fig tree. The bo or bodhi tree remains a symbol of enlightenment.

Pear In Greek and Roman mythology, pears are sacred to three goddesses: Hera, Aphrodite, and Pomona (pronounced puh-MOH-nuh), an Italian goddess of gardens and harvests.

The ancient Chinese believed that the pear was a symbol of immortality. (Pear trees live for a long time.) In Chinese the word li means both “pear” and “separation,” and for this reason, tradition says that to avoid a separation, friends and lovers should not divide pears between themselves.

Plum The blossom of the plum tree, even more than the fruit, has meaning in East Asia. Appearing early in the spring before the trees have leaves, the blossoms are a symbol of a young woman's early beauty. The cover on a bridal bed is sometimes called a plum blossom blanket. The blossom has another meaning as well. Its five petals represent the five traditional Chinese gods of happiness.

Pomegranate For thousands of years, the pomegranate, a juicy red fruit with many seeds, has been a source of food and herbal medicines in the Near East and the eastern Mediterranean. Its many seeds made it a symbol of fertility, for out of one fruit could come many more. To the Romans, the pomegranate signified marriage, and brides wore pomegranate-twig wreaths.

Pomegranate seeds appear in the Greek myth of the goddess Demeter (pronounced di-MEE-ter), protector of grain, crops, and the earth's bounty, and her daughter Persephone (pronounced per-SEF-uh-nee). One day Persephone was picking flowers when Hades (HAY-deez), the king of the underworld , or land of the dead, seized her and carried her to his dark realm to be his bride. Grief-stricken, Demeter refused to let crops grow. All of humankind would have starved if Zeus had not ordered Hades to release Persephone. Hades let her go, but first he convinced her to eat some pomegranate seeds. Having once eaten the food of the underworld, Persephone could never be free of the place. She was fated to spend part of each year there. For those months, the world becomes barren, but when Persephone returns to her mother, the earth again produces flowers, fruit, and grain.

Strawberry Strawberries have special meaning to the Seneca of the northeastern United States. Because strawberries are the first fruit of the year to ripen, they are associated with spring and rebirth. The Seneca also say that strawberries grow along the path to the heavens and that they can bring good health.


How the apple took over the planet

By Erika Janik
Published October 25, 2011 12:00AM (EDT)

(iStockphoto/jstan2)

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This article is excerpted from the new "Apple: A Global History," from University of Chicago Press.

In early September of 1929, Nikolai Vavilov, famed Russian plant explorer and botanist, arrived in the central Asian crossroads of Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan. Climbing up the Zailijskei Alatau slopes of the Tian Shan mountains separating Kazakhstan from China, Vavilov found thickets of wild apples stretching in every direction, an extensive forest of fruit coloured russet red, creamy yellow and vibrant pink. Nowhere else in the world do apples grow thickly as a forest or with such incredible diversity. Amazed by what he saw, Vavilov wrote, ‘I could see with my own eyes that I had stumbled upon the centre of origin for the apple.’

With extraordinary prescience and few facts, Vavilov suggested that the wild apples he had seen growing in the Tian Shan were the ancestors of the modern apple. He tracked the whole process of domestication to the mountains near Alma-Ata, where the wild apples looked awfully similar to the apples found at the grocery store. Unfortunately, Vavilov's theory would remain mostly unknown for decades.

Exactly where the apple came from had long been a matter of contention and discussion among people who study plant origins. Vavilov, imprisoned by Joseph Stalin in 1940 for his work in genetics during the Lysenko Affair, died in a Leningrad prison in 1943. Only after the fall of communism in Russia did Vavilov’s theory, made more than half a century earlier, become widely recognized.

As Vavilov predicted, it's now known that all of the apples known today are direct descendents of the wild apples that evolved in Kazakhstan. Plants producing apples belong to the genus Malus, which emerged about 12 million years ago in China and consist primarily of small trees and shrubs. A member of the flowering Rosaceae family, apples were among the first flowering plants on earth. The Rosaceae has given rise to many of the fruits that humans commonly eat, including pears, plums, peaches, strawberries and raspberries. Many of these fruits can also be found growing wild in the mountains of the Tian Shan, creating a veritable fruit forest.

Humans passing through the mountains of central Asia helped apples spread east and west. Travellers on the Silk Road, which passed through some of the richest apple forests, packed some of the biggest and tastiest fruits in their saddlebags to snack on as they made their journeys. Animals, too, helped the apple move overland. The apple's smooth, hard, teardrop-shaped seed has evolved to pass through an animal's digestive tract perfectly intact. An apple seed in the gut of a horse could be transported as far as 40 miles in a single day. As humans and animals travelled, seeds were dropped, seedlings grew and millions of unique apple types sprang up throughout Asia and Europe.

Much of the subsequent history of the domestic apple depends on the discovery of grafting. Before grafting, people marked out wild trees with good fruit and cut down those with bad-tasting fruits. We don’t know who first discovered grafting but we do know that the Chinese and the Babylonians were both grafting plants more than 3,000 years ago. Each discovered that a slip of wood cut from a desirable tree or plant could be notched into the trunk of another tree or plant. The fruit produced from the wood that grew from that juncture would share the characteristics of its more desirable parent. Cato the Elder first described the grafting process in his "De Agricultura," written in the second century bce. This knowledge, along with the fresh fruit, travelled on the great long-distance trade networks that stretched from the eastern Mediterranean to the Indian subcontinent, so that by the first millennium bce the cultivation and enjoyment of apples was considered essential to civilized life.

Homer's "Odyssey," written in the ninth or eighth century bce, contains what many believe to be the first written mention of apples in the ancient world. When Mycenean hero Odysseus seeks refuge in the court of King Alcinous, he finds ‘a large orchard of four acres, where trees hang their greenery on high, the pear and pomegranate, the apple with its glossy burden, the sweet fig and the luxuriant olive.’ While this passage is commonly cited as the first mention of apples, the Greek word melon was used for almost any kind of round fruit that grows on a tree. So the many legendary apples of Greek myth – the one given to Paris by Aphrodite, those thrown by Hippomenes to distract Atalanta or the apples growing in the Hesperides – may have been other kinds of tree fruit or perhaps no particular fruit at all. Later Greek writings drew a distinction between the apple and the quince, which had been growing in the region long before the apple. It's important to note, though, that Europeans interpreted these classical references to fruit as apples.

The rise of the Persian empire brought the enjoyment and celebration of fruit to a climax in the ancient world. At its height under Darius, around 512 bce, the empire stretched from the Aegean coast of Turkey across Iran and Afghanistan to India, north to the edge of the Caucasus and into Central Asia, and south to the Middle East and around the Mediterranean coast to Egypt.

When Alexander the Great conquered Persia in 334 bce, he took many things from the Persians, including their appreciation of apples. This admiration soon spread throughout the Greek world. Alexander brought gardeners skilled in grafting from the Tigris basin to Greece to assist in the production of apples. Apples soon appeared on Greek tables, appearing in the final course of cakes and fruits served at grand banquets.

The fruit, knowledge and dining customs of the Greeks and Persians moved west with the rise of the Roman Empire. Unique fruits and improved horticultural skills were eagerly brought back to Rome along the Silk Road trade routes connecting Rome to China. Among the fruits introduced to Rome were sweet cherries, peaches, apricots and oranges. Italy became one vast orchard, so much so that the fruit trees even had their own deity, the goddess Pomona.

Orchards, vineyards and olive groves offered wealthy Romans a quiet refuge from frenetic city life. Gardens provided their owners a little piece of paradise and no garden was complete without apple trees. The Romans had more varieties of apples in cultivation than any other fruit and considered the apple a luxury item. Fruit gardening both encouraged and was encouraged by the custom of outdoor dining. Romans created dining rooms under the sky where diners ate among the fruit trees. According to the Roman poet Horace, the perfect Roman meal began with eggs and ended with fruit, giving rise to the proverbial Latin expression ova ad malum, ‘from the egg to the apple’, the equivalent of today's English idiom ‘from soup to nuts’.

The Romans almost certainly spread the domestic apple from Europe across the English Channel to Britain. Before the Romans arrived, the inhabitants of Europe and Britain had made good use of their native crab apples, mostly for drinking. These native crab apples were not, however, to the taste of the incoming Romans, who preferred the comforts of home and its perfect, sweet fruits. So they established orchards in Spain, France and Britain that were planted with their favourite apples from home. The tiny Lady apple, which often shows up around Christmastime in Europe, is thought to be one of them. A Roman mosaic at St-Romain-en-Gal in south-eastern France depicts the progress of an apple from grafting through to harvest.

The cultivation and enjoyment of apples, as well as other fresh fruit, remained widespread throughout the duration of the Roman empire. Toward the end of the fourth century, when the empire began to collapse, however, much of the fruit-growing went with it.

With their practical as well as ideological commitment to self-sufficiency, monasteries became repositories of collected cultural and intellectual skills after Rome was overrun. Monastic orders had long been committed to feeding themselves by growing gardens filled with edible plants and fruits. By growing everything within the monastery walls, the monks would never need to go outside. Apples, therefore, followed the abbeys.

Continued Danish and Viking invasions in Britain left apples a low priority on the island until the Norman Conquest in 1066. The Norman invasion changed the legal and social structure of England and brought the island into closer contact with the European mainland. More importantly, however, the Normans brought their enthusiasm for fine cider.

In twelfth-century Europe, the expansion of the Cistercian order of monks, a breakaway group of Benedictines, renewed the cultivation of apples across the continent. The Cistercian monks valued manual labour and the cultivation of abbey lands, and they worked hard to propagate and distribute good varieties of fruit. As Cistercian abbeys spread to Scotland, Germany, Sweden, Portugal and the eastern Mediterranean, orchards went with them. Successful grafts from one orchard were shared with other Cistercian monks around Europe. The effect of all this Cistercian orcharding was to encourage monastic fruit-growing in general.

As Western Europe struggled with invaders after the fall of Rome, the Byzantine Empire in Eastern Europe continued to flourish until the seventh and eighth centuries ce, when it, too, was overrun. The invaders this time were the newly emergent followers of Islam, but unlike those in the West, these conquerors had received strict orders to preserve crops and orchards. With the restoration of peace, the horticultural skills of Byzantium and Persia became part of Islamic life. The Muslim world encouraged scholarship, gardening and fruit-growing. Muslim scholars translated and updated botanical works from Greece and Rome. New kinds of fruit and new varieties were introduced and acclimatized. Moorish Spain, in particular, became a centre of horticultural expertise and the sultan established sophisticated gardens at Toledo and Seville. Among the crops acclimatized to the Iberian Peninsula by the tenth century were rice, sorghum, sugar-cane, cotton, oranges, lemons, limes, bananas, pomegranates, watermelons, spinach, artichokes and aubergines (eggplants). Islam not only preserved the fruit-growing wisdom of the classical world, but expanded and improved it.

By the thirteenth century, apples were again grown with increasing frequency throughout Europe. The number of named apple varieties soared as cultivating the best and most beautiful apples became a mark of wealth and culture, as it had been in Rome and Persia before. Apples became an essential part of daily life, so much so that explorers and colonists could not bear to leave home without a favorite variety. Seeds from these apples travelled to almost every corner of the globe.

The colonists who left Europe in growing numbers throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries planted apples all along the eastern seaboard of North America. Some of the earliest colonists tried growing some of their grafted Old World apple trees, but most did not fare well in their new environment. These colonists also planted seeds and took them west to establish orchards in the Midwest, and on the Pacific coast by the late nineteenth century.

Apples also proliferated in South America, planted by Spanish and Portuguese explorers and colonists. Apples became so common and vigorous that by the time Charles Darwin landed in Chile in 1835, he found apple trees growing all along the coast, virtually obscuring the Chilean port of Valdivia.

Dutchman Jan van Riebeeck, founder of the Netherlands East India Company trading post at Cape Town, took apples to South Africa in 1654. Riebeeck made fruit-growing a requirement among settlers so they could both feed themselves and supply trading boats heading east. Apples remained a minor agricultural industry until the late nineteenth century, when an infestation of the root louse known as phylloxera destroyed the Cape's grape vineyards. Cecil Rhodes, founder of the British state of South Africa, turned to apples as an alternative. Rhodes purchased several farms in the 1890s, many of them bankrupt vineyards, and combined them under the name Rhodes Fruit Farms to prove that fruit could grow well and profitably in South Africa. Working closely with California fruit-growers, Rhodes helped to build the fruit industry that flourishes there today.

Australia got its first apples when Captain Arthur Phillip established the English settlement of Port Jackson (today's Sydney) in 1788. How many of these apples survived that original planting is not known. That same year, the infamous Captain Bligh anchored his ship, the Bounty, off the coast of Tasmania. The ship's botanist planted three apple seedlings and several apple and pear seeds, laying the foundations for the island's later moniker as the ‘Apple Isle’. As settlement in Australia and New Zealand took off, so too did its orchards, so much so that the fruit-growing area around Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, became known as the ‘Apple Bowl’. The seasonal opposition of the southern and northern hemispheres helped the apple industries in Australia and New Zealand to boom, allowing them to supply fruit to apple-loving Americans, Canadians and Europeans in the winter months.

Over thousands of years, apples have followed the westward course of empire, traveling from Central Asia to the ancient world to Europe, and then on to the Americas with the explorers and colonists. In an 1862 essay in praise of wild apples, Henry David Thoreau wrote that the apple ‘emulates man's independence and enterprise. It is not simply carried . but, like him, to some extent, it has migrated to this New World, and is even, here and there, making is way amid the aboriginal trees.’ Along the way, the apple has accumulated a vast store of genes that has allowed it to thrive nearly everywhere in the temperate world.

Excerpted with permission from "Apple: A Global History," The University of Chicago Press.

Erika Janik lives in Madison, Wis., and works as a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.


Gardens of Pompeii as Roman Legacy

Roman wallpainting from the House of the Golden Bracelets, Pompeii (Image courtesy of The Telegraph and British Museum)

By Cher Stone Beall –

Gardens are a vital part of urban Pompeii as perhaps the best known Roman city. From a distance the location of some of the gardens in Pompeii must have revealed themselves with treetops rising above walls encircling them. The gardens of Pompeii were spread throughout the ancient city, not unlike other urban areas, and are part of the landscape architecture and urban planning. About one third of the houses in the city had some variation of a garden. By 79 CE, the Roman urban garden, while still maintaining its functional role for providing added food, was transformed under the influence of Greek aesthetics into “pleasure garden”, a place of relaxation and even luxury. While city gardens can be associated with public spaces, most were found in private homes. Very often, and certainly most desirably, the gardens of Pompeii were the heart of the home. Gardens had a very important place in the life of the Pompeii’s people. Whether large or small, the garden could provide light, air and a place to work, play, entertain, eat (as in the House of Actaeon) and even worship when household shrines were present. [1]

A large house or villa might have several gardens including an elite viridarium – a place of greenery, often large – as seen in the House of the Faun or the Vettii or a more prosaic, courtyard hortus as seen in the House of the Surgeon, the House of the Golden Amorini or the House of the Silver Wedding. Whether with or without a colonnaded peristyle, Gardens were not confined to the rich. Many simpler houses had a smaller inner garden, a xystus (“garden walk” or green terrace) with a few trees like cypress, laurel or fig and “framing” plants like boxwood or herbs like rosemary, saffron and thyme to be used for the kitchen or similar functions. These Pompeian gardens differed greatly not only in size, design, function and plantings, but also with respect to the role of water, sculpture and garden furniture.[2]

The Pompeian garden was essentially hybrid. “The domestic garden was transformed, like other areas of the house, by blending the Roman and Greek ideas and concepts. The Greeks introduced the colonnaded courtyard or peristyle (from the Greek word peri “all around” and styloi “columns”) to their public buildings and houses. The Romans later introduced the peristyle into their public architecture in the great forums and temple precinct of Rome, and from the second century BC it began to appear in houses.” [3] (Roberts, 148). Even the Greek paradeisos imported after Alexander’s influence in places like Alexandria (paradeisos from Persian pairi-daeza) were cosmopolitan gardens. [4] The Romans inventively used the peristyle as a setting for their gardens. This green space at the center of their home was, for some Romans, “a link with their agrarian roots and simpler times.” [5]

Plan of House of Faun, Pompeii (+50k sq ft), note two largest interior spaces are garden areas (Image courtesy of Michael Grant and Rachel Kitzinger, 1988

The most popular style of garden during this time was the peristlye with its colonnades where one could walk in the shade in the heat of the day. Ideally this type of garden had colonnades on all four sides. There are many examples of these, however, also examples where space was more limited where the colonnade is on two or three sides only. A colonnaded peristyle was a status symbol, indicating wealth and culture. “ In the garden, as in the atrium, columns (the more the better) transported family and guests to a world of luxury and monumentality.” [6]

Water for the garden

Late in the late first century BCE the emperor Augustus built an aqueduct to bring fresh water to the settlements around the bay of Naples. Surprisingly, this private water supply was not directed to kitchens or toilets, but was largely reserved for the atrium, domestic bath and the garden. This caused a revolution in garden design, and fountains became a major feature. This ornamental use of water became a display of wealth and status. It also showed the benefits of the new imperial order and the first emperor, as other ordinary citizens still used wells and pumps. In some houses there were actually stops and valves that allowed water to be switched from one function to another. [7]

In the famous garden of The House of Decimus Octavius Quartio (also known as the House of Loreius Tiburtinus), there was an extensive water system that included pools, and channels used as a cooling backdrop for the outdoor dining area, and then also an extensive watercourse running the length of the large garden. Pergolas for vines can also be seen at the above House of Loreius Tiburtinus. Ornamental fountains and spouts made of bronze and marble came in many shapes and sizes. There were elegant and simple basins. Water sprayed from the mouth of a peacock, a rabbit and many mythological creatures.

Not all fountains were made of stone or bronze. Several spouts were found that were made in a bluish glazed pottery like material known as faience, including the crocodile and the frog. Faience ornaments were made in Egypt, an indicator of the thriving trading circles of the time. In addition to the status of these elements, they also add an element of playfulness and humor to the garden’s area of rest, play and beauty. Other ornamental and even philosophic elements were added via sculpture. Even oscilla ornaments suspended on garlands between columns added garden decoration. Formal gardens of the elite in Pompeii feature many practical and beautiful objects in addition to fountains, including beautiful benches and bronze and marble sculpture. The sculptures were usually statues of gods, poets, philosophers, and historical figures typically from the Greek world.

Wall paintings or mural frescoes

One of the most interesting and memorable aspects of the Pompeii gardens was their common use of painted murals (wallpaintings are often frescoes) as a backdrop on the walls behind. They are often gorgeous focal points that draw the eye and transport the viewer to perhaps another place and time. Sometimes they also extended the view, making the garden feel larger.

“The strongest impression given by Roman wall painting when seen on the spot at Pompeii is an unexpected lavishness. After the reserve of the street façade, the painted interiors had a palatial air, all the most striking for the sparseness of the furnishings and beyond in the courtyard, more bright, bold scenes and decorations stretched round the walls behind the colonnade although now broken and faded, these must have been splendidly effective when fresh and seen in combination with garden, fountains, statuary, sunlight and people.” [8] Sometimes these wall paintings are even of imaginary gardens.

Detail of Roman garden wallpainting from the House of the Golden Bracelets, Pompeii (Image in public domain)

A number of the paintings show their intense interest in nature – especially surrounded by urban life – as well as historic events set in landscapes. Particularly memorable are the large paintings that often plaster the whole back walls of garden areas. Traces of the painted foliage and other garden features on the wall of one home, merges the real and imaginary. Sometimes a painted fence, fountain, fish, birds, often too large for the actual garden, would be painted. These paintings can also contain information about what plants and animals might have populated ancient gardens. Some were idealized and intended only as fantasy that does not diminish their beauty or lessen their impact but instead underscores the sophistication of Roman aesthetics.

The many gardens of Pompeii had never been fully studied botanically until the work of Wilhelmina Jashemski in the 1960’s and 1970’s. [9] Jashemski, was a Maryland professor of ancient history and a Pompeian archeologist, who helped establish the academic field of garden archaeology. Although Roman law was her specialty, she was interested in Roman gardens, in part because she was a gardener herself. (Her own home was surrounded by hundreds of azaleas and other flowering plants and trees.) [10] She made plaster casts of root cavities to identify plants, examined soil contours to reveal planting beds and irrigation channels, and analyzed floral and faunal remains. [11] She discovered that gardens were an integral part of everyday life in the ancient town and with a bit of green space, families could grow figs, olives, cherries and other fruits and vegetables. The range of plants that could be grown with success increased dramatically with time and the increase in water availability.

“Formal gardens were essentially green gardens, planted with evergreens beautiful year round: laurel, acanthus, myrtle, oleander, box, ivy and rosemary.” [12] This strikes me as very similar to what we plan in our Mediterranean gardens, in a similar climate here on the Newport Beach California Coast today. These gardens usually had carefully arranged geometric flowerbeds, and footpaths running in between them. The beds were bordered with fences made of reed, and were planted with cypress bushes and roses, with other ornamental and flowering plants along the edges. Perhaps even a few onions, herbs and cabbages were tucked in between the formality. [13] Flowers in season added accent such as roses, lilies and violets. Many gardens, less formal in nature, were planted with trees (hazel, fig and peach) and vines and herbs. “Some plant species we recognize as ornamental also represented a sort of ”home pharmacy“ Wormwood, Juniper, Roses and the garland plants, which were used to make wreaths for the gods, were also medicinal plants.” [14] Ancient Pompeii was apparently famous for it’s flower culture, as it still is today: commercial growers produce cut flowers and seed. [15] “In antiquity, flowers were grown for making garlands and perfume or ointment.” [16] Sometimes these gardens were also the homes of small pets including the popular turtle, dog and doves.

As interesting and different as life in 79 CE must have been from our own today, it was surprising to find how similar the gardens of then are to those of Mediterranean style today. Even though I think they may have focused more on their gardens at that ancient time in history, we in southern, California, unlike other parts of the country, have this similar mindset. The Pompeian garden historian, Wilhelmina Jashemski says it best in an interview with the Washington Post: “I was struck by the tragedy of Pompeii’s demise but also by life’s continuity, by tools and techniques still in use today. “Life” she said, “is still much the same. Did you know I have never found a garden in Pompeii that did not have a dog?” [17] Jashemski also wrote in her journals, “Vine covered pergolas were not a monopoly of the rich. There were few houses with no garden, but it is touching to discover that a neighbor who had a large garden, at times, cut a window in the wall that separated the two houses so that the poor family might enjoy the view of their neighbor’s spacious garden.” [18]

[1] Wilhelmina Jashemski and F.G. Meyer, eds., The Natural History of Pompeii. Cambridge University Press, 2002, ed. 82-3

[3] Paul Roberts, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Oxford University Press. 2013, 148.

[4] Patrick Hunt, “Pompeii”, Ten Discoveries That Rewrote History. Penguin/Plume, 2007, 113, 129 Patrick Hunt, “Persian Paradise Gardens: Eden and Beyond as Chart-Bagh” in Gifts of Persia, July 11, 2011, Garden Conservancy Event at Ebell Center, Los Angeles, Electrum Magazine, July, 2011.

[8] Nathaniel Harris, History of Ancient Rome. Octopus Publishing Group Limited. 2000, 172

[9] Joanne Berry, The Complete Pompeii. Thames & Hudson Inc. 2007

[10] Joe Holley, “Pompeian Historian Wilhemina Jashemski,” Washington Post. Monday, January 12, 2008.

[12] J. J. Dobbins and Pedar Foss, The World of Pompeii. Routledge, 2008, 496.

[13] Mary Beard. The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found. The Belknap Press of Harvard University. 2008, 87.

[14] Marisa Ranieri Panetta, Pompeii: The History, Life and Art of the Buried City. White Star Publishers. 2004, 310.


The Horn of Plenty

The cornucopia, a curved horn with fruits and flowers spilling from its open mouth, is a common symbol of abundance and the earth's bounty. The symbol's origin lies in Greek mythology. Legend says that Zeus, the king of the gods, was raised by a foster mother named Amalthaea, who was either a goat or a goddess who tended a goat. Either way, she fed the infant god goat's milk. One day one of the goat's horns broke off. Amalthaea filled the horn with fruits and flowers and gave it to Zeus, who graciously placed it in the sky, where it became a constellation.

satyr woodland deity that was part man and part goat or horse

enlightenment in Buddhism, a spiritual state marked by the absence of desire and suffering

early beauty. The cover on a bridal bed is sometimes called a plum blossom blanket. The blossom has another meaning as well. Its five petals represent the five traditional Chinese gods of happiness.

Pomegranate. For thousands of years, the pomegranate, a juicy red fruit with many seeds, has been a source of food and herbal medicines in the Near East and the eastern Mediterranean. Its many seeds made it a symbol of fertility, for out of one fruit could come many more. To the Romans, the pomegranate signified marriage, and brides decked themselves in pomegranate-twig wreaths.

Pomegranate seeds appear in the Greek myth of the goddess Demeter, protector of grain, crops, and the earth's bounty, and her daughter Persephone. One day Persephone was picking flowers when Hades, the king of the underworld, seized her and carried her to his dark realm to be his bride. Grief-stricken, Demeter refused to let crops grow. All of humankind would have starved if Zeus had not ordered Hades to release Persephone. Hades let her go, but first he convinced her to eat some pomegranate seeds. Having once eaten the food of the underworld, Persephone could never be free of the place. She was fated to spend part of each year there. For those months, the world is plunged into barrenness, but when Persephone returns to her mother, the earth again produces flowers, fruit, and grain.

Strawberry. Strawberries have special meaning to the Seneca of the northeastern United States. Because strawberries are the first fruit of the year to ripen, they are associated with spring and rebirth. The Seneca also say that strawberries grow along the path to the heavens and that they can bring good health.


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