The "Apple of Eris" is a contemporary work inspired by Greek mythology, and the form derives from a first century BC statue representing Aphrodite, the goddess of love. The Hellenic original was discovered by a local farmer in 1820 on the Greek island of Milos, and the marble statue was found in two sections along with smaller fragments including a left hand holding a fruit. A purchase was arranged by the French ambassador to Turkey and despite a local dispute with the Ottoman representative and local people, the statue was boarded onto a French vessel and brought to France. The statue was presented to the Louvre museum, Paris, in 1821. In modern times the "Venus de Milos" is arguably the most emblematic example of Hellenic sculpture.
The allure of the "Venus de Milos" is as an icon of an ancient world and the distinctive silhouette of the disarmed figure corresponds well with a modern aesthetic for the enigmatic fragment. Adversely the coincidental damage to the arms and crucially to the hands has disabled the statue from an expression of original content. The symbolism offered by the fruit bearing left hand is an important clue and the related mythologies of Aphrodite provide a narrative.
In an epic poem, known as the Illyad, attributed to the ancient greek poet Homer, the mythical Trojan war is related. The initial cause of the conflict is the exclusion of Eris, goddess of discord, from a wedding party. In revenge, Eris throws down a golden fruit, inscribed "to the fairest one", amongst a group of goddesses, which include Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. When Aphrodite is awarded the "apple of discord" by the Trojan prince, Paris, the two other enraged goddesses arrange the abduction of Hellen and the war is initiated.
Narrative and symbolism were key components within the iconography of Hellenic statuary and would have been essential to an ancient Greek publics appraisal of a deities representation. Polychromatic effects would have provided an expressive and emotive content, and a specific attribute associated with a deity would augment the context and desired function of a public statue.
The "apple of Eris" is described as a golden fruit, and for the ancient Greeks it was not the apple but the quince which was a ritual offering at weddings and was sacred to Aphrodite. The conjecture as to which fruit Aphrodite held in her left hand adds to the enigmatic nature of not only the "Venus de Milos" but most ancient and fragmented statues and attests to the complexity and intent inherent in the genre.
An apple or a quince ?