(Ficus carica) It was probably domesticated in southern Arabia, but its importance and value to the Israelites is illustrated by the fact that the prophets often threatened that the vine and fig crops would be destroyed unless they fell into line. "To sit under one's vine and one's own fig tree" became a proverbial expression among the Jews to denote peace and prosperity. An old tradition says that when Mary sought shelter for the infant Jesus from Herod's soldiers, a fig tree opened its trunk so that they could enter and hide (Moldenke & Moldenke). Figs appear widely in classical mythology, especially in cnnection with Dionysus/Bacchue; in fact one story says that the fig was created by Bacchus. During the bacchanalian feasts, Roman women wore collars of figs as symbols of fecundity, and the men carried statues of Priapus carved from fig-wood (Moldenke & Moldenke). Not only does a fig, like a pomegranate, also used as a fertility symbol, carry a large number of seeds, but it is pointed out that it resembles the womb in shape (Maple). Later, it was used as a symbol of lust (Ferguson). Bearing all this in mind, the choice of a fig-leaf for Adam and Eve was natural, figs being the fruit of the tree of life (Simons). And the traditional apron used by sculptors on their statues of the human figure is a fig-leaf. The fertility aspect of figs has been carried into recent folklore. For example, Bulgarian brides would be presented with dried figs as a promise of many children (M Baker. 1980), and Dutch folk medicine claims that a daily craving for figs during pregnancy ensures that the child will be born quickly and easily (van Andel).
But a certain mistrust of fig trees is evident; to this day, Greeks have a fear of sleeping under one (Kere-nyi), and on the island of Chios they say that the shadows of both the fig and the hazel are "heavy", and it is not safe to sleep under either of them. There was a tradition in the south of France that St John the Baptist was beheaded under one of these trees. That is why branches break off so easily, particularly on St John's Day, when anyone who climbs the tree risks a dangerous fall. Similarly, in Sicily, the mistrust lies in the belief that Judas hanged himself on a fig tree (Porteous).
Applying a hot fig (to the tooth or on the cheek?) used to be a Cumbrian remedy for toothache (Newman & Wilson), and the juice of the leaf is sometimes used in East Anglia to put on warts (Hatfield), and boils are treated in Indiana home medicine by splitting a fig and applying it to the boil as a poultice (Tyler). They used to say in Alabama that to remove a birthmark you should put a fig leaf poultice on the part marked (R B Browne).
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