The apple was wrongly accused.
It might just have been an innocent victim of an ancient slander. Many scholars believe that it was actually a pomegranate and not an apple that tempted Eve and led to her banishment from Eden. The mistake may be understandable, as pomegranate translates roughly as “apple with grain-like seeds.” Eve was not able to resist.
Who can, when the enticement is something so red, tasty and juicy as a pomegranate? And why should you resist, especially during this time of Valentine romance, a fruit that has been associated with love, lust, and fertility?
The pomegranate tree originated in the area of Persia, now Iran, and spread throughout the Mediterranean. Mythology holds that the plant arose from the spilt blood of Dionysus, the god of wine, agriculture and natural fertility. From that tree, Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, planted the seeds on the island of Cyprus and then the fruit spread to the rest of the world.
Aphrodite was in fact spreading not only the seed of love, but also seduction and immortality, all of which are linked with the pomegranate tree. King Tut and other ancient Egyptians had pomegranates placed in their burial tombs to bring them a second life. Newlyweds were advised to throw the seeds of the pomegranate on the floor of the marriage bedroom to encourage a happy and fruitful union. And lore said that a woman who wants to know how many offspring she will have should draw a circle and drop a pomegranate in the center: the number of seeds that are expelled tell her the number of children that she will have in her lifetime.
The number of seeds in the fruit also has religious significance. In Jewish tradition, the pomegranate is a sign of righteousness, and it is said that the 613 seeds per fruit coincide with the 613 mitzvoth or commandments of the Torah. The Bible mentions the pomegranate as one of seven fruits “that Israel was blessed with.”
The pomegranate also plays a role in the mythological origin of the seasons. Persephone was the daughter of Demeter, goddess of the harvest. She was beautiful and adored by all, but it was Hades, god of the underworld, who came to possess her after he abducted her and brought her to his domain. Demeter was despondent without her daughter and the earth became barren, unable to grow anything because of her unhappiness. Persephone too was miserable and went on a hunger strike. She became weak in her famine and ate four pomegranate seeds. Because she had eaten in the underworld, she became tied to Hades and his kingdom.
To restore growth to the earth, Zeus ordered Hades to return Persephone. He agreed, but only on the condition that she spend four months out of every year (the four months that are thus barren winter) with him in the underworld, since she had eaten those four seeds.
If you eat a pomegranate, your fate will not be as terrible as Persephone’s. In Ayuvedic medicine, the pomegranate is called “a complete apothecary in itself.” One serving of the seeds, which with the pulp are called arils, provides 16 per cent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C and is high in antioxidants.
Health claims aside, pomegranates are juicy and delicious and oh so appropriately red for the coming day of adoration. Don’t be afraid of love or pomegranates. Dig in and eat the seeds and surrounding pulp, but not the peel. Share then with family and friends to celebrate love, fruit and ancient traditions.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.