From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The golden apple is an element that appears in various national and ethnic folk legends or fairy tales. Recurring themes depict a hero (i.e. Hercules) retrieving the golden apples hidden or stolen by a monstrous antagonist. Alternatively, they are depicted as divine food and the source of immortality in Norse mythology.
- "After Atalanta participated in the hunt and received the pelt, her father claimed her as his offspring and wanted her to get married. Although a very beautiful maiden, Atalanta did not particularly want to marry after an oracle told her that she will gain bad luck if she marries. In order to get her a husband, her father made a deal with Atalanta that she would marry anybody who could beat her in a foot race. Atalanta happily agreed, as she could run extremely fast.
- She outran many suitors. The one that finally became her husband accomplished this through brains, not speed. Hippomenes (also known as Melanion) knew that he could not win a fair race with Atalanta, so he prayed to Aphrodite for help. The goddess gave him three golden apples (sometimes the fruit was quince instead) and told him to drop them one at a time to distract Atalanta. Sure enough, she quit running long enough to retrieve each golden apple. It took all three apples and all of his speed, but Hippomenes finally succeeded, winning the race and Atalanta's hand. Unfortunately, Hippomenes forgot to thank the Goddess and she turned them into lions"
Atalanta was a virgin huntress who promised to marry the man who could win a foot race against her-- knowing that no men could beat her. Hippomenes drops the golden apples every once in a while so he could out run Atalanta and he finally wins.
The Garden of the Hesperides
The Garden of the Hesperides was Hera's orchard in the east, where either a single tree or a grove of trees bearing immortality-giving golden apples grew. Hera placed in the garden a never-sleeping, hundred-headed, dragon, named Ladon, as an additional safeguard. The eleventh Labor of Hercules was to steal the golden apples from the garden.
The Judgment of Paris
Zeus held a banquet in celebration of the marriage of Peleus and Thetis. Left off the guest list was Eris (goddess of discord), and upon turning up uninvited, she threw or rolled a golden apple into the ceremony, with an inscription that read: καλλίστῃ or, "for the fairest one." Three goddesses claimed the apple: Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. Zeus remembered Paris of Troy as being the most beautiful of mortal men and was aware of the bull-judging contest which was soon to come, in which Paris would be judge. So Zeus sent Ares, who disguised himself as a bull, which was one of his symbols. Ares accepted this duty given by Zeus humorously. Being a god, he appeared perfect in all respects and therefore was awarded the Golden Laurels. Zeus deemed Paris as the judge as he knew that Paris would be a fair and equal judge. He gave the apple to Hermes and told him to deliver it to Paris and tell him that the goddesses would accept his decision without argument, and so the goddesses appeared. Each of the goddesess offered Paris a gift as a bribe in return for the apple. First approached Hera who offered to make him a famous, powerful king; next came Athena, who offered to make him wise, above even some of the gods; and last of all came Aphrodite, who said she would give him the most beautiful woman in the world as his wife, Helen at that time, of Sparta (later to be titled Helen of Troy). Paris chose Aphrodite, which would ultimately lead to the start of the Trojan war. Paris soon went to celebrate the marriage of Helen and Menelaus with his brother. They spent the night there, and Menelaus was called to Agamemnon, and thus Helen and Paris were left alone. In this time they made love, and Helen left Menelaus and sailed to Troy with Paris, thus initiating the Trojan War.