apples and pomegranates montage

East London Line


Apples and pomegranates in literature and legend

'Apples and pomegranates,' said Miranda.

'An apple goes right back to the beginning,' said Quintin. 'The Garden of Eden. It was an apple that got us all thrown out of it.'

'An apple and a snake. But the Eleusinian Mysteries go back in time as far as the Hebrew Bible does, and Persephone is tricked into eating a pomegranate seed, which means that she has to go back to Hades for three months every year.'

'Rather than being immortal and staying in the sunlight all the time.'

'Yes, so in a sense, she gets kicked out of Paradise as well, for eating a fruit.'

'An Icelandic saga speaks of the apples of Hell orchard.'

'So the afterlife has an orchard in it, and if you eat its fruit, you have to return to Earth.'

'So it seems.'

'Which would explain a lot,' said Miranda. 'Like all the Irish myths. When Oisín crosses the sea with a daughter of the god Manannan towards the Land of Youth, they see a lady riding across the waves carrying an apple. Bran encounters a strange woman carrying an apple bough full of blossom, who instructs him to cross the sea to a myriad of islands with a Land of Women amongst them, which turns out to be a very similar trip to the one that Oisín took to the Land of Youth. A land of regained youth, perhaps.

'And the mythical Irish hero Connla is given an apple by a mysterious woman, before leaving for the Otherworld,' she continued, warming to her theme. 'The Middle English Breton lai Sir Orfeo has Orfeo's wife abducted into the Otherworld while she is sitting in an orchard. He rescues her from this Otherworld where dead people are living and brings her back to Winchester. And a king in an Icelandic saga called the Saga of the Volsungs is given an apple as he sits on a mound. Perhaps a grave mound. Perhaps his grave mound.'

'There are more apples than that in Norse mythology,' said Quintin. 'The apples of the goddess Idun kept the Norse gods young and healthy. Loki stole them once and all the gods became old. And very cross.'

'And what about that Middle English verse narrative where the women on an Isle of Ladies are sustained by magic apples which are gathered from another island in the sea?' suggested Miranda. 'The principal lady goes to collect them every seven years, and it keeps them all free of illness and death.'

'Well, did you know that the name Avalon may come from the Welsh word Abellon, meaning 'apple'?' asked Quintin. 'Apples. 'So in that case, a journey to Avalon, to be healed of your wounds like King Arthur, would be a journey to an Isle of Apples.

'Yet some men say in many parts of England that King Arthur is not dead,' quoted Miranda from Sir Thomas Malory, 'but rather I would say: here in thys worlde he chaunged hys lyff.'

apple blossom

Take a quick tour

The East London Line passes through a succession of places in time and location where apples or pomegranates are to be found in literature, legend or mythology. Click or tap on the circles and tunnel markers to dive deeper into the discoveries that Quintin and Miranda have made. Alternatively, click or tap on the large orange button for a quick journey through the summaries. Click or tap on any summary to dive deeper.


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Scandinavian Mythology

Snorri Sturluson: The Prose Edda

13th century, Icelandic: numerous copies in Iceland, Copenhagen.

Whenever any god or goddess felt old age creeping upon them, Idun would give them one of her apples to eat, and they would find themselves back in the prime of their youth.

Medieval English Poetry

The Isle of Ladies

15th century, Middle English: 16th century manuscript copies at the British Library and Longleat House, Wiltshire, England.

Apples that grow on a rock in an enchanted sea prevent all illness and death for seven years to those who possess them.

Medieval Icelandic Sagas

The Story of the Heath Slayings

13th century, Old Norse.

'She who dishes out the ale in the evening would rather that I ate the apples of hell-orchard!'

Medieval Icelandic Sagas

The Saga of the Volsungs

13th century, Old Norse, from much older oral tradition.

Odin sends a wish-maiden in the form of a crow who carries an apple down to Earth.

Old Welsh Poetry

Apple Tree

14th/15th century, Old Welsh, Four Ancient Books of Wales.

"Sweet apple tree, and a tree of crimson hue… They sought for their fruit, it will be in vain…"

Middle English Breton Lais

Sir Orfeo

14th century, Middle English: National Library of Scotland, British Library, Bodleian Library Oxford.

Beneath an apple tree, as she sleeps in an orchard, Eurydice is visited by the King of the Otherworld.

Breton lais

Marie de France and the Isle of Avalon

Marie de France, 12th century, Old French, British Library, Bibliothèque Nationale Paris | Sir Thomas Malory, 15th century, late Medieval English, numerous printed copies.

Collins English Dictionary defines 'Avalon' as 'an island paradise in the western seas' and derives it from the Old Welsh word 'Aballon': Apple.

Bronze Age Mediterranean

Minoan Crete: Pomegranate seeds and the Ring of Minos

Late Minoan I, Knossos, Crete. c. 1500 BC.

Apples and pomegranates have been cultivated in southern Europe for millennia.

Bronze Age Mediterranean

Rings from Crete and Myceneae

Second millenneum BC: Late Minoan I, Mochlos, Crete | Mycenaean civilisation, southern Greece

Perhaps it is difficult to depict a pomegranate tree unambiguously on a tiny funerary ring, unless you stylize it a bit.


The Garden of Eden

Holy Bible, Genesis, compiled c. 500 BC, Hebrew, Middle East.

"But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."

Medieval English Hagiography

Saint Kenelm

9th century English saint | 14th century, Middle English, British Museum, London, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

'This tree was fair and noble enough, and shone bright enough, full of blossom and fruit and with many a rich bough.'

Classical mythology and religion

The Eleusinian Mysteries: Demeter and her daughter Percephone

Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th century BC, Ancient Greece.

Hades secretly gave Percephone a pomegranate seed to eat before Hermes could bring her to the surface, forcing her perpetual return.

Ancient Greek Mythology

Hesiod's Theogony and the Garden of the Hesperides

8th century BC, Hesiod, Ancient Greek, composed (reputedly) at the base of Mount Helicon, Boeotia, Greece.

'And the Hesperides, who, out beyond the famous stream of Oceanus, tend the lovely golden apples, and their trees.'

Irish Mythology

Tuatha de Danaan: The Land of Youth

pre-12th century–present. Old Irish | Modern Irish, folklore.

On the way to the Land of Youth, riding across the sea, Oisin sees a lady riding over the waves carrying an apple in her hand.

Irish Mythology

Connla and the Land of Youth

pre-12th century–present. Old Irish | Modern Irish, folklore.

Connla took no nourishment except for a mysterious apple, and when a month had passed, the Otherworldly woman appeared again.

Irish Mythology

The Voyage of Maeldun

12th century, Old Irish, Lebor na hUidre (Book of the Dun Cow). Royal Irish Academy, Dublin.

Maeldun came to an island with sheer cliffs over which hung the boughs of apple trees.

Irish Mythology

The Tuatha de Danaan

pre-12th century–present. Old Irish | Modern Irish, folklore.

Golden apples on trees in the Gardens in the East of the World will heal any wound and cure any sickness.

Irish Mythology and Ancient Gaul

Bran mac Febal and Diana Nemetona

1st century BC–4th century AD | 12th century–present, Irish folklore

Bran mac Febal became enraptured by beautiful music that came from a silver bough filled with white apple-blossom that had mysteriously appeared outside his fortress.

Norse mythology Isle of Ladies Icelandic saga Welsh mythology Breton lais Bronze Age Religion Classical mythology Irish mythology Norse mythology English poetry Icelandic saga Icelandic saga Old Welsh poetry Breton lais Breton lais Bronze Age Mediterranean Bronze Age Mediterranean The Bible Saint Kenelm Ancient Greek religion Ancient Greek mythology Irish mythology Irish mythology Irish mythology Irish mythology Irish mythology