Mythman's Apollo


Alyana's Apollo




I will remember and not be unmindful of Apollo who shoots afar. As he goes through the house of Zeus, the gods tremble before him and all spring up from their seats when he draws near, as he bends his bright bow.

But Leto alone stays by the side of Zeus who delights in thunder; and then she unstrings his bow, and closes his quiver, and takes his archery from his strong shoulders in her hands and hangs them on a golden peg against a pillar of his father's house.

Then she leads him to a seat and makes him sit: and the Father gives him nectar in a golden cup welcoming his dear son, while the other gods make him sit down there, and queenly Leto rejoices because she bear a mighty son and an archer.

Rejoice, blessed Leto, for you bear glorious children, the lord Apollo and Artemis who delights in arrows...


Apollo and his twin sister Artemis were the children of Zeus and the Titaness Leto. He was born in the little island of Delos and has been called "the most Greek of all the gods". Apollo is one of the most important deities of both the Greek and Roman religion, immortalized throughout the centuries by countless poets, writers and artists.

Prophecy, Archery, Light and Music were his domains, and he was unsurpassed in those areas. He is a beautiful figure in Greek poetry, the master musician who, along with his "choir", the Nine Muses, delights the gods of Olympus with his golden lyre at their royal banquets.

He is the Archer-god, master of the silver bow, Apollo the Far-Shooter, who can rain down death with his deadly arrows. But he is also the god of Light - In all the Olympian gods, like in mortal men, there is a continuous struggle between good and evil, their light and dark sides, whatever the proportion of one to the other might be; it must be noted that in Apollo there was almost no darkness at all, his primitive and cruel side was shown only briefly and in very few myths, such as the Flaying of Marsyas.

He is also the god of Truth - legend has it that no false word ever fell from his lips, and he foretold the future with the same unerring accuracy as that of his arrows. Because of this his oracle at Delphi was very important to people, serving as a link between men and gods. It's interesting to note how Apollo's famous seat at Delphi came to be:

When Apollo was only four days old (Greek gods sure grew up fast!) he gained revenge by killing Python, the terrible earth-serpent sent by Hera to torment his mother. Python was an offspring of Gaea, Mother Earth, and issued revelations through a fissure in the rock at Delphi, named after the mate of Python, the monster Delphyne. The priestess called Pythia would interpret these utterances, and give cryptic answers to any questions asked.

Themis the Titaness fed him on nectar and ambrosia and on the fourth day of his birth Apollo called for bows and arrows, which were at once provided him by Hephaestus, the god of smiths and the forge. He came upon the beast at Parnassus and managed to wound it with his arrows, then followed it to Delphi, where he killed Python in the shrine. By slaying the monster he captured Delphi, even though he had to do penance in the region of Thessaly for the killing. Twice Zeus forced Apollo to be the slave of a mortal man to pay for his crime (see more on Python below).

He was also the Healer-god, who first taught men medicine and the art of healing. Apollo's interest in healing suggests an ancient association with plague and its control. His son, Asclepius, was also identified with healing - indeed, so accomplished was Asclepius in medicine that an enraged Zeus killed him with a thunderbolt for daring to bring a mortal back to life.

One of Apollo’s great deeds for humans was his killing of the serpent Python, who lived in the caves of Parnassus - because of this he was sometimes called Pythian. He killed this monster, a favorite of the goddess Hera, to avenge its harassment of his mother Leto while she was pregnant and looking for a place to deliver her twins. Incredibly, Apollo slew this feared snake when he was only four days old, as we saw above.

Mother Earth reported this murder to Zeus, who was outraged. Apollo didn't care - He disregarded Zeus's command to visit Tempe and be purified, instead choosing to travel to Crete, where King Carmanor performed the purification ceremony. Upon returning to Greece, Apollo sought out Pan and coaxed him to reveal the art of prophecy. Next he seized the Delphic Oracle and retained its priestess, called the Pythoness, in his own service. That's how Apollo's worship at Delphi came to be.

Marsyas was another of Apollo's victims, meeting a fate most gruesome. The story goes that the goddess Athena had crafted a double-flute from the bones of a stag, and with it had entertained the gods at a banquet. Athena couldn't figure out why Hera and Aphrodite were snickering and trying to hold back their laughter, even though the sound from the double-flute was wonderful.

Later she went down to a stream and played the flute, watching her reflected image in the water. Sure enough, she discovered that blowing on the flute gave her a bluish face and swollen cheeks, and that's what was making the other goddesses laugh. In disgust, Athena hurled away the flute and laid a curse on anyone who picked it up.

Enter poor Marsyas. Finding the double-flute, he no sooner placed it to his lips than it played a sweet melody on its own, inspired by the memory of Athena's music. Amazed and filled with wonder, Marsyas travelled from town to town playing the flute, and soon he was hailed as a musician surpassing even the great Apollo. Marsyas didn't bother to correct them, which aroused the wrath of Apollo. He challenged him to a contest, with the loser being at the complete mercy of the victor. The Muses were to be judge.

The two musicians played equally well, until finally Apollo turned his lyre upside down and demanded that Marsyas do the same, singing and playing at the same time. This was impossible to do with a flute and Marsyas lost the contest. Then, the otherwise sweet and bright Apollo showed a rare dark side, flaying Marsyas alive and nailing his skin to a pine tree. This myth was meant to serve as an example for mortals not to compete with the gods.

Apollo is usually shown as a manly, beardless youth of great beauty, his head crowned with laurel leaves, either the bow or his lyre in his hand. His tree was the laurel (read the story of Apollo and Daphne below to find out why.) Many creatures were sacred to him, chief among them the dolphin and the crow.

One of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, the Colossus of Rhodes, was actually a statue of Apollo (or Helios). The people of Rhodes were particularly fond of him and every year the Rhodians threw into the sea a chariot and four horses for the use of the Sun, apparently supposing that after riding a whole year across the sky his old chariot and horses must be quite worn out.

The ancient writer Pindar calls Rhodes the Bride of the Sun, because it was the great seat of the worship of the Sun in ancient Greece. A Rhodian inscription of about 220 B.C. records public prayers offered by the priests "to the Sun and Rhodos and all the other gods and goddesses and founders and heroes who have the city and the land of the Rhodians in their keeping."

Many festivals were held in his honor, the most famous of which were the Pythian Games, celebrated at Delphi every three years.


Here's the story of Apollo and Daphne,
in the immortal words of Thomas Bullfinch

Daphne was Apollo's first love. It was not brought about by accident, but by the malice of Cupid (Eros). Apollo saw the boy playing with his bow and arrows; and being himself elated with his recent victory over Python, he said to him, "What have you to do with warlike weapons, saucy boy? Leave them for hands worthy of them, Behold the conquest I have won by means of them over the vast serpent who stretched his poisonous body over acres of the plain! Be content with your torch, child, and kindle up your flames, as you call them, where you will, but presume not to meddle with my weapons."

Venus's boy heard these words, and rejoined, "Your arrows may strike all things else, Apollo, but mine shall strike you." So saying, he took his stand on a rock of Parnassus, and drew from his quiver two arrows of different
workmanship, one to excite love, the other to repel it. The former was of gold and ship pointed, the latter blunt and tipped with lead.

With the leaden shaft he struck the nymph Daphne, the daughter of the river god Peneus [river in Thessaly], and with the golden one Apollo, through the heart. Forthwith the god was seized with love for the maiden, and she abhorred the thought of loving.

Her delight was in woodland sports and in the spoils of the chase. lovers sought her, but she spurned them all, ranging the woods, and taking no thought of Cupid nor of
Hymen. Her father often said to her, "Daughter, you owe me a son-in-law; you owe me grandchildren." She, hating the thought of marriage as a crime, with her beautiful face tinged all over with blushes, threw her arms around her father's neck, and said, "Dearest father, grant me this favour, that I may always remain unmarried, like Diana (Artemis)." He consented, but at the same time said, "Your own face will forbid it."

Apollo loved her, and longed to obtain her; and he who gives oracles to all the world was not wise enough to look into his own fortunes. He saw her hair flung loose over her shoulders, and said, "If so charming, in disorder, what would it be if arranged?" He saw her eyes bright as stars; he saw her lips, and was not satisfied with only seeing them. He admired her hands and arms, naked to the shoulder, and whatever was hidden from view he imagined more beautiful still.

He followed her; she fled, swifter than the wind, and delayed not a moment at his entreaties. "Stay," said he, "daughter of Peneus; I am not a foe. Do not fly me as a lamb flies the wolf, or a dove the hawk. It is for love I pursue you. You make me miserable, for fear you should fall and hurt yourself on these stones, and I should be the cause. Pray run slower, and I will follow slower. I am no clown, no rude peasant. Jupiter (Zeus) is my father, and I am lord of Delphos and Tenedos, and know all things, present and future. I am the god of song and the lyre . My arrows fly true to the mark; but, alas! an arrow more fatal than mine has pierced my heart! I am the god of medicine, and know the virtues of all healing plants. Alas! I suffer a malady that no balm can cure!"

The nymph continued her flight, and left his plea half uttered. And even as she fled she charmed him. The wind blew her garments, and her unbound hair streamed loose behind her. The god grew impatient to find his wooing thrown away, and, sped by Cupid, gained upon her in the race

 It was like a hound pursuing a hare, with open jaws ready to seize, while the feebler animal darts forward, slipping from the very grasp. So flew the god and the virgin- he on the wings of love, and she on those of fear. The pursuer is the more rapid, however, and gains upon her, and his panting breath blows upon her hair.

Her strength begins to fail, and, ready to sink, she calls upon her father, the river god: "Help me, Peneus! open the earth to enclose me, or change my form, which has brought me into this danger!" Scarcely had she spoken, when a stiffness seized all her limbs; her bosom began to be enclosed in a tender bark; her hair became leaves; her arms became branches; her foot stuck fast in the ground, as a root; her face became a tree-top, retaining nothing of its former self but its beauty, Apollo stood amazed.

He touched the stem, and felt the flesh tremble under the new bark. He embraced the branches, and lavished kisses on the wood. The branches shrank from his lips. "Since you cannot be my wife," said he, "you shall assuredly be my tree. I will wear you for my crown; I will decorate with you my harp and my quiver; and when the great Roman conquerors lead up the triumphal pomp to the Capitol, you shall be woven into wreaths for their brows. And, as eternal youth is mine, you also shall be always green, and your leaf know no decay." The nymph, now changed into a Laurel tree, bowed its head in grateful acknowledgment.

That Apollo should be the god both of music and poetry will not appear strange, but that medicine should also be assigned to his province, may. The poet Armstrong, himself a physician, thus accounts for it:

"Music exalts each joy, allays each grief,
Expels diseases, softens every pain;
And hence the wise of ancient days adored
One power of physic, melody, and song."

The story of Apollo and Daphne is often alluded to by the poets. Waller applies it to the case of one whose amatory verses, though they did not soften the heart of his mistress, yet won for the poet wide-spread fame:

"Yet what he sung in his immortal strain,
Though unsuccessful, was not sung in vain.
All but the nymph that should redress his wrong,
Attend his passion and approve his song.
Like Phoebus thus, acquiring unsought praise,
He caught at love and filled his arms with bays."
[The Story of Phoebus and Daphne, Applied]

The following stanza from Shelley's "Adonais" alludes to Byron's early quarrel with the reviewers:

"The herded wolves, bold only to pursue;
The obscene ravens, clamorous o'er the dead;
The vultures, to the conqueror's banner true,
Who feed where Desolation first has fed,
And whose wings rain contagion: how they fled,
When like Apollo, from his golden bow,
The Pythian of the age one arrow sped
And smiled! The spoilers tempt no second blow;
They fawn on the proud feet that spurn them as they go."

(in the words of Thomas Bullfinch)

Apollo was passionately fond of a youth named Hyacinthus. He accompanied him in his sports, carried the nets when he went fishing, led the dogs when he went to hunt, followed him in his excursions in the mountains, and neglected for him his lyre and his arrows.

One day they played a game of quoits together, and Apollo, heaving aloft the discus, with strength mingled with skill, sent it high and far. Hyacinthus watched it as it flew, and excited with the sport ran forward to seize it, eager to make his throw, when the quoit bounded from the earth and struck him in the forehead. He fainted and fell.

The god, as pale as himself, raised him and tried all his art to stanch the wound and retain the flitting life, but all in vain; the hurt was past the power of medicine. As when one has broken the stem of a lily in the garden it hangs its head and turns its flowers to the earth, so the head of the dying boy, as if too heavy for his neck, fell over on his shoulder.

"Thou diest, Hyacinth," so spoke Phoebus, "robbed of thy youth by me. Thine is the suffering, mine the crime. Would that I could die for thee! But since that may not be, thou shalt live with me in memory and in song. My lyre shall celebrate thee, my song shall tell thy fate, and thou shalt become a flower inscribed with my regrets."

While Apollo spoke, behold the blood which had flowed on the ground and stained the herbage ceased to be blood; but a flower of hue more beautiful than the Tyrian sprang up, resembling the lily, if it were not that this is purple and that silvery white. And this was not enough for Phoebus; but to confer still greater honour, he marked the petals with his sorrow, and inscribed "Ah! ah!" upon them, as we see to this day.

The flower bears the name of Hyacinthus, and with every returning spring revives the memory of his fate. It was said that Zephyrus (the West wind), who was also fond of Hyacinthus and jealous of his preference of Apollo, blew the quoit out of its course to make it strike Hyacinthus.

Apollo and Daphne

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