In Greek mythology the god Apollo ruled over many aspects of everyday life. Though primarily associated with the sun and its daily trek across the morning sky, he was also known as the god of music, poetry, healing, divination and truth.
Apollo was the son of Zeus and Leto and was also the twin brother of the goddess Artemis . He was worshipped at Delphi, a town at the base of Mount Parnassus where many came to seek his guidance through the priestess of the oracle. It it said that once a question was presented to the Pythia, she would become filled with the essence of the god and give her reply in a string of gibberish that could only be deciphered by the sacred priests.
There have been countless stories told about the god and his sundry of adventures. Below are a few of my favorites.
Daphne was the daughter of the Thessalian river god Peneus and the nymph Creusa. Though Daphne had many admirers, the beautiful young maiden showed no interest in men or family matters. Instead, she chose to live her life in the service of Gaia the Earth Mother.
This made Peneus very unhappy, for the old man greatly desired the company of a grandchild. In spite of all his match making attempts Daphne was determined to remain a virgin. Much to his dismay, she was contented to spend her days emulating the ways of the goddess Artemis, enjoying the freedom of the woods and the challenge of the hunt.
One day as Aphrodite's young son Eros was busy polishing his golden arrows, Apollo curtly remarked that the little god should lay down his bow and leave the sport of archery to the men.
Taking Apollo's insolent comment very much to heart, Eros reached into his satchel and armed his bow with one of the magical darts. Carefully he pulled back the bowstring, took aim and shot the arrogant sun god directly through his heart.
Just as the gilded spear's tip pierced his flesh, Apollo caught sight of Daphne and her companions running happily through the woods. Instantly he became flushed with desire, for anyone struck by Eros' golden arrow was destined to fall hopelessly in love with the first to cross their path.
Eros then reloaded his bow but this time he chose a leaden tip to prick the heart of the lovely young nymph. Though the golden spike caused Apollo to burn with passion, the tip of lead worked the opposite magic on Daphne. To the displeasure of the god, her heart had been turned to stone.
Frantically Apollo ran through the woods, looking everywhere for his new love. When he finally caught sight of Daphne he opened his arms and raced towards her as if to whisk her away in a mad embrace. Daphne took one look at the crazed god and fled in terror.
Apollo followed after her, desperately calling her name and shouting out promises of love. Faster and Faster they dashed through the forest green until Daphne fearfully pleaded with Mother Gaia to come to her aid.
In an instant the maiden's long legs became rooted to the ground and her once smooth body began to sprout leaves. Apollo arrived just as the last piece of bark attached itself to Daphne's lovely face. Much to the god's dismay, Gaia had transformed her virtuous servant into a laurel tree.
Heartbroken, Apollo cut off one of the branches and like a crown placed it upon his head. He then honored Daphne with the gift of eternal youth and that is why to this day the leaves of the laurel tree remain green forever.
Hyacinthus was a Spartan prince, who was known throughout Greece for his outstanding beauty. The youth had many admirers, including the sun god Apollo himself.
One day as the god was teaching Hyacinthus the art of discus throwing, Zephyrus, the West Wind became very jealous, for he too desired the young man's affection.
Zephyrus watched as Apollo cast the disk into the air, and then in a fit of envy blew the heavy quoit off its course and into the side of the prince's head.
Apollo watched in horror as the blood of his wounded lover seeped into the earth. Refusing to allow Hades to deliver the young man to the underworld, the anguished god transformed his body into the beautful hyacinth flower.
A common element found in many of the tales of Apollo is his involvement in musical contests against satyrs and other woodland creatures. This one in particular involves an old satyr named Marsyas.
One day the goddess Athena fashioned a double-piped flute from the bones of a stag and eager to show off her new instrument decided to play a few tunes at the gods upcoming dinner banquet. The music sounded delightful, but all the while she played the goddess noticed that Hera and Aphrodite could not control their laughter.
Disgusted by the pair's rude behavior, Athena took her instrument which she had named the aulos and headed into the Phrygian woods. She sat herself down comfortably by the edge of a stream and began to pipe out a song when suddenly she caught a glimpse of herself in the water.
Ashamed of how silly her puffy blue cheeks looked as she blew into the mouthpiece, the flustered goddess cast the flute aside and cursed anyone who dared to pick it up.
Just then a satyr named Marsyas came along and found the disgarded aulos lying hidden in the weeds. Curious, he placed the instrument to his lips and much to his surprise the flute began to play on its own.
Unaware that his new find was still charmed with the music of a goddess, Marsyas proudly paraded across Phrygia, entertaining the peasants and making quite a name for himself. Crowds gathered to hear the sweet pipings and before long all were in agreement that finer music could not be made, even by Apollo himself.
When the news of Marsyas' skill reached Apollo, the god was so humilated that he challenged his rival to a musical contest. It was agreed that the winner would be awarded the privledge of inflicting the punishment of his choice upon the loser.
Marsyas readily accepted the proposition. With the Muses acting as the jury, the battle began with Marsyas picking up his aulos and entertaining his audience with an winsome melody.
When he finished all eyes turned to gaze at Apollo. Not wanting to be outdone by his opponent the god quickly reached for his instrument. He then carefully began to pluck the strings of his lyre, filling the air with an enchanting tune of his own. The Muses all listened intently, but when the contest was over they found each musican to be of equal talent.
Refusing to settle for a tie, Apollo insisted upon a rematch. He invited Marsyas to take part in another competition, but this time the rules would be just a little bit different. The god suggested that both turn their instruments upside down and to make things more interesting each would sing a song to accompany their playing.
Without giving the situation a second thought, Marsyas pretentiously accepted the dare. He had grown so accustomed to the aura of success that surrounded him that the naive satyr actually believed he could triumph over Apollo.
Marsyas quickly realized the gravity of his mistake, for when he inverted his flute he found it was impossible to blow a note. However, Apollo not only reversed his lyre but also sang tribute to his fellow gods while playing it. The Muses had no other choice but to declare Apollo the winner. The god promptly had Marsyas flayed alive and his skin nailed firmly to a pine tree. No one knows the reason why Apollo chose such a harsh punishment for his rival. Was it to show that arrogance to the gods would not be tolerated, or did this act of merciless cruelty serve as a way for Apollo to restore his own shattered ego?
It was not long before Apollo found himself once again involved in a musical contest, this time with the woodland god Pan. Both presentations were critiqued by the river god Tmolus, who after giving the matter some thought proudly proclaimed Apollo the winner.
Standing among the crowd that day was none other than King Midas of Phrygia. Unfortunately the king made the mistake of loudly expressing his dissapointment with the decision, stating that it was obvious to all but a fool that Pan had given the better performance.
As payment for his insensitive remarks, Apollo caused the outspoken king's ears to be changed into those of an ass. This caused the king a great deal of embarrassment, so much that he would never let himself be seen without a Phrygian cap pulled down tightly over his head.
Though Midas was always careful to keep this infliction to himself, there was one person who knew his secret; his barber. Feeling that he could no longer keep this private information to himself the garrulous coiffeur ran to a deserted meadow and dug a hole into which he whispered "King Midas has the ears of an ass!"
The loose-lipped young man then replaced the dirt and hurried on his way, feeling as though a great weight had just been lifted from his shoulders. Unfortunately for him a nearby bed of reeds overheard the revelation and repeated it out loud for all to hear. When Midas realized that his secret had been revealed he swiftly condemned the barber to death and then took his own life by drinking a cup of bull's blood.
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