Apollo

Apollo was the god of prophecy and oracles, music, song and poetry, archery, healing, plague and disease, and the protection of the young. He was depicted as a handsome, beardless youth with long hair and attributes such as a wreath and branch of laurel, bow and quiver of arrows, raven, and lyre.

Residence: Mount Olympus
Symbols: Lyre, laurel wreath, python, raven, swan, bow and arrows
Parents: Zeus and Leto
Siblings: Aeacus, Angelos, AphroditeAresArtemisAthenaDionysusIlithyiaEnyoEris, Ersa, Hebe, Helen of Troy, HephaestusHeraclesHermes, Minos, Pandia, Persephone, Perseus, Rhadamanthus, the Graces, the Horae, the Litae, the Muses and the Moirae
Children: Asclepius, Aristaeus, Corybantes, Hymenaeus, Ialemus,  Apollonis, Borysthenis, Cephisso, Agreus, Amphiaraus, Amphissus, Amphithemis, Anius, Apis, Arabus, Centaurus, Ceos, Chaeron, Chios, Chariclo, Chrysorrhoas, Coronus,Cycnus, Cydon, Delphus, Dorus, Dryops, Eleuther, Epidaurus, Eriopis, Erymanthus, Eurydice, Hector, Iamus, Idmon, Ileus, Ismenus, Laodocus, Lapithus, Linus, Linus of Thrace, Lycomedes, Lycorus, Marathus, Melaneus, Melite, Miletus, Mopsus, Naxos, Oaxes, Oncius, Orpheus, Tenes, Troilus, Parthenos, Phagrus, Phemonoe, Philammon, Phylacides, Phylander, Polypoetes, Syrus, Tenerus, Trophonius and Zeuxippus
Roman equivalent: Apollo

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Apollo Belvedere, c. 120–140 AD. Vatican Museum.

Birth

When Zeus‘ wife Hera discovered that Leto was impregnanted by Zeus, she banned Leto from giving birth on terra firma. In her wanderings, Leto sought shelter on many lands, only to be rejected by them. Finally, she saw Delos, a floating island, which was neither a real island nor a mainland. It is said that Apollo, still in Leto‘s womb, had informed his mother about Delos to put an end to her suffering. Leto, when welcomed by Delos, gave birth there, clinging to a palm tree.

Leto holding Apollo, by Lazar Widmann

When Apollo was born clutching a golden sword, the swans circled Delos seven times and the nymphs sang in delight. Soon after he was born, he was washed clean by the goddesses and was covered in a white garment, with golden bands fastened around him. Since Leto was unable to feed the newborn, Themis, the goddess of divine law, fed him the nectar. Upon tasting the divine food, Apollo broke free of the bands fastened onto him and declared that he would be the master of lyre and archery, and interpret the will of Zeus to humankind.

Leto with Apollo and Artemis, by Francesco Pozzi

Apollo’s birth fixed the floating Delos to the earth. Leto was accepted by the people of Delos and she promised them that her son would be always favorable towards the city. According to some, Apollo secured Delos to the bottom of the ocean after some time. This island later became sacred to Apollo.

Python

Python was sent by Hera to hunt down Leto and had attacked her. To avenge the trouble given to his mother, the young Apollo, with his bow and arrows that he had received from Hephaestus, went in search of Python and killed it in the sacred cave at Delphi with his arrows.

Admetus

King Admetus was the king of Pherae who was known for his hospitality. When Apollo was exiled from Mount Olympus for killing Python, he served as a herdsman under Admetus. Apollo is said to have shared a romantic relationship with Admetus during his stay of nine years. After his servitude was over, Apollo went back to Mount Olympus as a god.

Because Admetus treated Apollo well, in return, the god conferred great benefits on him. Apollo’s mere presence is said to have made the cows give birth to twins. Out of love and gratitude, Apollo helped Admetus win Alcestis, the daughter of King Pelias. He was present during their wedding. When Admetus angered the goddess Artemis by neglecting to make her offerings, Apollo came to Admetus’ rescue and calmed his sister. Much later, Apollo convinced or tricked the Fates into letting Admetus live past his time.

Some years later, when Zeus struck down Apollo’s son Asclepius with a lightning bolt for resurrecting the dead, Apollo in revenge killed the Cyclops, who had fashioned the bolt for Zeus. Apollo would have been banished to Tartarus forever for this, but his mother Leto intervened, and reminding Zeus of their old love, pleaded him not to kill their son. Zeus obliged and sentenced Apollo to one year of hard labour once again under Admetus.

Niobe

Niobe was the queen of Thebes and wife of Amphion. She displayed hubris when she boasted of her superiority to Leto because she had fourteen children, seven male and seven female, while Leto had only two. She further mocked Apollo’s effeminate appearance and Artemis‘ manly appearance. Leto, insulted by this, told her children to punish Niobe. Accordingly, Apollo killed Niobe’s sons, and Artemis her daughters. Apollo and Artemis used poisoned arrows to kill them, though according to some versions of the myth, among the Niobids, Chloris and her brother Amyclas were not killed because they prayed to Leto. Amphion, at the sight of his dead sons, either killed himself or was killed by Apollo after swearing revenge.

Niobe’s children are killed by Apollo and Diana by Pierre-Charles Jombert.

A devastated Niobe fled to Mount Sipylos in Asia Minor and turned into stone as she wept. Her tears formed the river Achelous. Zeus had turned all the people of Thebes to stone and so no one buried the Niobids until the ninth day after their death, when the gods themselves entombed them.

When Chloris married and had children, Apollo granted her son Nestor the years he had taken away from the Niobids. Hence, Nestor was able to live for 3 generations.

Walls of Troy

Poseidon and Apollo, having offended Zeus by their rebellion in Hera‘s scheme, were temporarily stripped of their divine authority and sent to serve King Laomedon of Troy. He had them build huge walls around the city and promised to reward them well, a promise he then refused to fulfill. In vengeance, Poseidon sent a sea monster to attack Troy. The monster was later killed by Heracles.

Contest with Pan

Once Pan had the audacity to compare his music with that of Apollo and to challenge Apollo, the god of music. The mountain-god Tmolus was chosen to umpire. Pan blew on his pipes, and with his rustic melody gave great satisfaction to himself and his faithful follower, Midas, who happened to be present. Then Apollo struck the strings of his lyre. It was so beautiful that Tmolus at once awarded the victory to Apollo, and everyone were pleased with the judgement. Only Midas dissented and questioned the justice of the award. Apollo would not suffer such a depraved pair of ears any longer, and caused them to become the ears of a donkey.

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Competition between Apollo and Pan (c. 1677) by Jacob Jordaens.

Contest with Marsyas

Marsyas was a satyr who was punished by Apollo for his hubris. He had found an aulos on the ground, tossed away after being invented by Athena because it made her cheeks puffy. Athena had also placed a curse upon the instrument, that whoever would pick it up would be severely punished. When Marsyas played the flute, everyone became frenzied with joy. This led Marsyas to think that he was better than Apollo, and he challenged the god to a musical contest. The contest was judged by the Muses, or the nymphs of Nysa. Athena was also present to witness the contest.

Marsyas receiving Apollo’s punishment, İstanbul Archaeology Museum.

After they each had performed, both were deemed equal by the Nysiads. But in the next round, Apollo played and sang with his melodious voice at the same time. Marsyas argued against this, saying that Apollo would have an advantage and accused Apollo of cheating. But Apollo replied that since Marsyas played the flute, which needed air blown from the throat, it was almost the same as singing, and that either they both should get an equal chance to combine their skills or none of them should use their mouths at all. The nymphs decided that Apollo’s arguement was just. Apollo again played his lyre and sang at the same time, mesmerising the audience. Marsyas could not do this. Apollo was declared the winner and angered with Marsyas‘ haughtiness and his accusation, he decided to flay the satyr.

Daphne

Daphne was a nymph, who scorned Apollo’s advances and ran away from him. When Apollo chased her in order to persuade her, she beg for help from Gaia and was changed into a laurel tree. According to one version, the chase was brought about by Eros, who hit Apollo with golden arrow of love and Daphne with leaden arrow of hatred. The myth explains the origin of the laurel and connection of Apollo with the laurel and its leaves, which his priestess employed at Delphi. The leaves became the symbol of victory and laurel wreaths were given to the victors of the Pythian games.

Apollo and Daphne by Bernini in the Galleria Borghese, Rome.

Hyacinthus

Hyacinthus was one of Apollo’s male lovers. He was a Spartan prince, beautiful and athletic. The pair were practicing throwing the discus when a discus thrown by Apollo was blown off course by the jealous Zephyrus and struck Hyacinthus in the head, killing him instantly. Apollo is said to be filled with grief: out of Hyacinthus’ blood and mixed with his tears, Apollo created a flower named after him as a memorial to his death.

Death of Hyacinth, by Alexander Kiselyov.

Cyparissus

Another male lover was Cyparissus, a descendant of Heracles. Apollo gave him a tame deer as a companion but Cyparissus accidentally killed it with a javelin as it lay asleep in the undergrowth. Cyparissus was so saddened by its death that he asked Apollo to let his tears fall forever. Apollo granted the request by turning him into the Cypress named after him, which was said to be a sad tree because the sap forms droplets like tears on the trunk.

Apollo and Cyparissus, by Jean-Pierre Granger (1779–1840).