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A man of Ancient Greece proposed to his beloved by throwing an apple at her, a custom inspired by a fateful fight over which goddess was fairest

Magda Origjanska
 Photo by: Jastrow (2007) CC BY 2.5
Photo by: Jastrow (2007) CC BY 2.5

We often read or talk about the institution of marriage in our modern society, and it seems that more than ever before, people find it unnecessary, an obligation. Some people believe that the disintegration of marriage is a result of younger generations’ unrealistic aspirations or the rapid tempo of today’s living.

This, however, doesn’t mean wedding planners or bridal gown designers have given up. There are still a great many of people who dream of their “I do” moment and consider proposing marriage to their beloved a very special moment. Many of the proposers like to spice up this occasion. They might say “Will you marry me?” by inscribing the question on a billboard, arrange scuba divers to sneak up in a tank at a marine aquarium and pop up with the question in front of their intended mate, or all manner of other quirky ideas.

What wouldn’t people do for love, right? You may be surprised to find out that even our predecessors enjoyed some showing off when proposing. The Ancient Greeks did so by proposing to their darlings in a really extraordinary way–by throwing an apple at their chosen wife. If the woman caught the apple, she accepted the marriage proposal.

The origin of this wedding custom, like most other Greek traditions, can be found in Greek mythology. This specific myth begins with the wedding of Thetis, the goddess of water, and the mortal Peleus, son of Aeacus, king of the island of Aegina.

Hippomène by Guillaume Coustou, Jardin des Tuileries, Paris.Author:c ouscouschocolat CC BY 2.0

Hippomène by Guillaume Coustou, Jardin des Tuileries, Paris.Author:c ouscouschocolat CC BY 2.0

The wedding party was on, and all the gods, goddesses, nymphs and other mythic creatures were having a great time except one: Eris, the goddess of conflicts, who didn’t get a wedding invitation. Eris was deeply insulted and hungry for revenge, so she crashed the party and threw a golden apple at three goddesses, Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera, who were chit-chatting together. The apple was carved with the words “to the most beautiful one.”

The conversation soon turned into a quarrel over whom the apple had been thrown to. The rest of the guests and the newlyweds tried to calm them down and save the party, but the three ladies just didn’t give up, each of them defending their looks and charms as the fairest of them all.

When the guests came to the end of their tether, the great Zeus ordered Hermes to call for Paris of Troy, the famous prince, and let him decide who was the rightful owner of the apple.

Atalanta and Hippomenes

Atalanta and Hippomenes

Each of the three goddesses tried to bribe Paris to choose her as the most beautiful. As far as Aphrodite was concerned, she couldn’t imagine anyone fairer than her, not even her half-sister Helen, a great beauty who was married to the King of Sparta. Paris was handsome but also very foolish, and he told the goddesses that his decision would be made according to their best offer. Aphrodite came up with one: she promised that she would make Helen fall in love with him. Paris loved the idea! Aphrodite won the apple and kept her promise. The love match she created marked the beginning of the Trojan War and, consequently, the end of Troy.

The central object in this intriguing story and marital custom, the apple, is also known as the “apple of discord,” referring to the dissidence caused by Eris. But although this story depicted the apple as a symbol of discord, vanity, and temptation, the Greek myths and ancestors considered it a fruit that signified love, women’s beauty, sexuality, and fertility.

The judgment of Paris by Sandro Botticelli, c. 1485–1488

The judgment of Paris by Sandro Botticelli, c. 1485–1488

Obviously, the positive attributes of the apple outweighed the discord due to the fact that an apple served many purposes in the realm of love in ancient Greece.

Related story from us: J.R.R. Tolkien proposed to his wife by mail, not knowing she was engaged to another man

Historical records have shown that along with apple-throwing as a sign of love and admiration, apples were thrown at the newlywed couple, much the same as we throw rice and birdseed today. The apple’s association with marriage in those days also introduced the tradition of the newlyweds sharing an apple on their first wedding night to ensure fruitful union and marital prosperity.