Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Apple Of My Eye

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 15, 2010

The phrase “apple of my eye” is best remembered for its inclusion in Sir Walter Scott‘s popular novel Old Mortality published in 1816 where he wrote:

Poor Richard was to me as an eldest son, the apple of my eye.

Shakespeare used the phrase in his play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in Act III, Scene 2 where Oberon says:

Flower of this purple dye,
Hit with Cupid’s archery,
Sink in apple of his eye.
When his love he doth espy,
Let her shine as gloriously
As the Venus of the sky.
When thou wakest, if she be by,
Beg of her for remedy.

But before Scott and Shakespeare, the phrase appeared in a work published in 885 entitled Gregory’s Pastoral Care which is attributed to King Aelfred the Great of Wessex.   During this era, the pupil of the eye was thought to be a solid object and because an apple was the most common round object around, the pupil was referred to as an apple.

Because one’s eyesight was particularly important, the phrase also took on a figurative sense when speaking of someone the speaker considered as precious to him or her as his or her own eyesight.  That the phrase was used in this way implies that the phrase had been in use for quite some time before it was included in King Aelfred the Great‘s book.

In the end, the phrase “apple of my eye” shows up time and again in the Old Testament of the Bible.

He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.  (Deuteronomy 32:10)

Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings.  (Book of Psalms 17:8)

Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye.  (Proverbs 7:2)

Their heart cried unto the Lord, O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a river day and night: give thyself no rest; let not the apple of thine eye cease.   (Lamentations 2: 18)

For thus saith the LORD of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye.  (Zechariah 2:8)

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