In the biblical story, Adam and Eve eat a “forbidden fruit” that gives them knowledge of good and evil and causes them to subsequently be kicked out of Eden, a garden utopia. The book of Genesis never specifically names the type of fruit, but it is almost always depicted as an apple. Scholars believe the association with an apple can be attributed to Greek and Roman culture and symbolism, which European artists adopted.
For the Greeks, an apple symbolized fertility or divine knowledge, depending on how it was cut. An apple slice vertically represented female genitalia and procreation, while an apple sliced horizontally symbolized knowledge and understanding of divine concepts. A golden apple also appears frequently in Greek mythology and Norse folk legends. In Latin, the word for “apple” and “evil” are similar. Moreover, “apple” was used to describe all unfamiliar fruits and vegetables in Europe; it was not a word that indicated a specific fruit until much later. Cucumbers, apples, oranges, potatoes, nuts, and several other things were all called variations of “apple.” Because of this, the jump from a nonspecific “forbidden fruit” to a specific “evil apple” would not have been difficult. For this reason, apples have long symbolized temptation, sin, and desire, as well as knowledge, understanding, and education.
These symbolic meanings are further enhanced by images of school children offering their teacher apples, a beautiful princess being tempted with a poisoned apple, or the three most beautiful goddesses fighting for a coveted golden apple. This isn't all that an apple can symbolize, however. In Swiss culture, apples represent freedom. William Tell, a 14th century Swiss hero, was forced to shoot an arrow through an apple on his son's head. His enemies believed he would fail, killing his own child, but William Tell succeeded and became a beloved champion for the Swiss people. His apple became a symbol liberty and triumph over oppression throughout the country. Contrastingly, Irish and North mythology maintain that the apple is the symbol of immortality and eternal youth, while in China it is represents peace and friendship.
Today, apples still symbolize temptation, sexuality, lust, knowledge, education, and seduction, but they have also gained a few other connotations. The cover of the famous, teen book Twilight shows two hands offer the reader a red apple. Although apples do not play an explicit roll in the story, they have become synonymous with the saga and the seduction and lust of the characters. Likewise, Apple computers have become incredibly popular and Mac brand loyalty is impressive. People hear “apple” and no longer automatically think “delicious fruit,” but might also imagine their beloved laptops, mp3 players, and cellular phones. Symbolism evolves throughout history and over time to include modern variations and contemporary developments. It is important to understand, especially when considering something as permanent as a tattoo, that not everyone will know your apple tattoo symbolizes eternal life or freedom, rather than your love for the Twilight vampire Edward.
Apple tattoos are used as reminders to abstain from sin and overcome temptation, as well as symbols of seduction and sexuality. In art, two men sharing an apple usually implies that the men are lovers, while Christ holding an apple represents the second coming and eternal life in heaven for the faithful. Because apple symbolism is so rich, historically and contemporarily, it is nearly impossible to assume the exact motivation behind someone's apple tattoo. The sole exception to this rule, however, is the Apple logo which is quite recognizable to anyone with knowledge of the Apple brand. If you decide to get an apple tattoo, be prepared to explain the meaning behind the symbol. Don't let that discourage you, though, because a symbol with a rich history and lots of depth makes it more complex and intriguing.