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What does the image of an apple symbolize? How do we perceive this image? Which image of which apple?


For more than a thousand years, starting in Europe and spreading to the United States and beyond, the image of an apple has symbolized temptation. In considering the symbolic function of the apple in Euro-American culture, there are several ways to think about the audiences for whom the apple came to be represented on the one hand, and the relationship of the apple to new media on the other.


Symbolic value has been assigned to the apple as a result of its use within Christian culture of the Latin west. Its symbolism is based on the narrative of Adam and Eve found in the Hebrew Bible. In the Hebrew version, no specific fruit is mentioned. God tells Adam and Eve not to partake of the fruit of a tree in the Garden. A being of some sort offers Eve a fruit, tempting her to disobey God’s command. In the 6th century, a Latin translation rendered “fruit” as “apple.” In the Latin written text, then, the apple functioned as a metaphor for temptation.


In the Middle Ages, the story of the consequences of disobedience to God’s commands, especially as represented by the Church, was an often-told tale. Images of the story of the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden adorned Latin Christian churches, manuscripts, and religious books. The most common image depicts a serpent offering Eve an apple who in turn offers the apple to Adam. Over the centuries, the nature of the garden, the rendering of Adam and Eve, and the form of the being offering Eve the temptation have varied. What remains in Christian iconography is the appearance of the apple—round, red, succulent, and tempting to taste.


Now think about other uses of the apple to transmit symbolic meaning. Perhaps the best known is the logo of Apple Computer, Inc. Apple’s graphic image of an apple, round and succulent with a substantial bite taken out of its right side, reaches an even greater global audience than any previous image of an apple.


Taking a bite of an apple is to partake of temptation. Taking a bite [or a byte] out of Apple’s apple is to use the electronic tool of knowledge. When we examine images such as this corporate logo, historians pay close attention not only to what we see, but to how what we see calls up powerful associations for the audiences who are intended to see it. At the same time, we take note of the fact that this symbol of an apple is protected by copyright and so has become a commercial commodity. Thus, the apple has now become much more than a symbol of temptation—it is a commodity with tangible value in the marketplace.


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