Apollo, (Gr. Απολλων; Lat. Apollo) one of the main divinities of Greek mythology was the god of Light, Arts, and Divination. He is one of the twelve Olympians Greek gods.
Apollo is the son of Zeus and Leto, born on the barren island of Ortigia (the quail island) which later became known as Delos, where his mother, pursued by Hera’s jealousy, had finally found refuge.
What is Apollo the greek god of?
Its functions are very varied:
- He is the god of Light, and sometimes drives the chariot of the Sun (Helios). From the 5th century BC onwards, the Greeks increasingly tended to identify him with Helios (the Sun).
- He is also an agricultural god.
- He is the god of Purifications, the avenging god who unleashes epidemics, the protective god, the doctor-god before his son Asclepius.
- He is the god of archers whose arrows made by Hephaestus and shot by his silver bow are formidable.
- He is the god of the arts, especially poetry and music. As god of song and music, he tries to bring happiness to Men through music, especially through the phorminx. A tradition attributes the invention of the flute to him, but this tradition has nothing ancient about it.
Callimachus attributes to him the invention of the seven-stringed lyre; while, according to the common tradition, Hermes invented it and would have made it present to Apollo after having stolen his oxen.
At the birth of Apollo, the swans of Meanie turned seven times around Delos, greeting the birth of Leto so many times in their song, and in memory of this song, Apollo gave (or had given) seven strings to the lyre.
When he built the walls of Troy, it was to the sound of his lyre that the stones moved by themselves. This knowledge of music has led to certain rivalries that have led to musical struggles with Pan, Midas, and Marsya.
According to Homer, Apollo has nothing to do with the Muses. The Iliad shows us him playing the phorminx lyre at the banquets of the gods, and in the Odyssey he appears as the instructor of the elders. Moreover, it is not him, but always the Muse, that the epic singers invoke. Later he appeared as the leader and conductor of the Muses.
Apollo is the god of divination and the god of oracles. The past and the future are known to him, and he makes them known to men. He announces the will of Zeus, he is, as Aeschylus calls him, the “prophet of Zeus”. He received this gift of divination from Zeus; and he then communicated it to Hermes, and to several others; thus to Branchos, Calchas, Cassander, Iamos etc. He seized the oracle of Delphi (the ancient oracle of Gaia or Themis), after killing its guardian, the snake Python. He is the god who enlightens the spirit; however, his answers are often obscure and abstruse, because it is not appropriate for the future to be revealed too clearly to men.
Symbols of Apollo
The lyre, bow and arrow, tripod are the most common symbols of Apollo. It is also necessary to add the trees and animals that were dedicated to him, mainly laurel, and also palm and olive trees. These sacred trees told in their own way of his birth and the origins of his worship; the animals expressed the essence and genius of the god in a living and symbolic form.
The swan was dedicated to him, as a songbird or as an emblem of the sun. The swan, which passed among the elders as endowed with an untiring flight, was the companion of Apollo’s journeys; the god returned from the land of the Hyperboreans in a chariot dragged by swans, or a swan carried him to Delos. Another bird dedicated to Apollo as a luminous emblem was the rooster.
They are also divinatory animals that were dedicated to Apollo-like the rat and the snake: the rat is the symbol of Sminthian Apollo who carries it in his hand on medals; the snake, symbol of Pythian Apollo, had its place in Delphi under the tripod of the Pythia. These animals were supposed to have a prophetic vision by breathing the exhalations of the earth. The dolphin was the emblem of Apollo Delphi; in the Homeric hymn, Apollo took the form of it to bring Cretan priests to the port of Delphi.
Birth of Apollo
Faced with Hera’s jealousy, Leto, daughter of Coios and Phoebe, had great difficulty finding a refuge to give birth to the twins Apollo and Artemis. And even after the birth, their mother was persecuted.
One tradition gives his birth in Lycia, another in Delos, another in the sacred woods of Ortygia, near Ephesus; another in Tegyra in Beotia, and another in Zoster in Attica.
The Homeric anthem gave birth to them on Mount Cynthus, not far from the Inopos River. According to the ephemeral legend, reported by Tacitus, Apollo and his sister were born in the sacred woods of Ortygia, near Ephesus; the Inopos was replaced by the Cenchrius and the palm tree by an olive tree.
The most widespread tradition is the one that brought him into the world on the island of Delos, which refused at first, fearing that the god would despise him because of the aridity of the soil. Leto swore by the Styx that his son would build his temple there and the island finally accepted. The island of Delos was first called Ortygia. She took the name of Delos (the clear, shiny one), after the birth of floating Apollo and it became fixed, by means of four columns that rose from the bottom of the sea to support it.
Leto, who had been unable to find refuge anywhere for her pregancy, was finally able to finish it and give birth to two twins, first Artemis, who helped his mother to give birth to his younger brother Apollo.
Rhea, Themis, Dione, Amphitrite and the other goddesses came to witness the births; only Hera jealous and Ilithyia, the goddess of childbirth, remained on Olympus.
Apollo was born at seven months, on the seventh day of the month. That is why the number seven was dedicated to him. Hence also the nickname of Heptamenœos, “child born at seven months”, and of Hebdomagenes, “born on the seventh day”, or rather Hebdomagetus, “the one to whom we sacrifice the seventh day of each month”.
Hera, who was still determined to exterminate her rival, sent Python against Leto at the time of Apollo’s birth, but Poseidon concealed Leto’s retreat with waves, which was thus protected, and the snake Python had to return to its lair, on the wooded slopes of Parnassus.
The goddesses bathed the young god and wrapped him in swaddling clothes. Unlike the other children, Apollo was not fed breast milk. Themis placed a sweet nectar on his lips. Immediately the newborn rejected his nappies and was endowed with a virile vigor, which he would use without delay against the Python snake. He said, “I will love the pleasant zither and the curved bow, and I will announce to mortals the true purposes of Zeus. »
Facts and myths about Apollo
Legends about Apollo are relatively few in number compared to his fame and the most important is the legend of his victory over Python.
Victory over Python
Python was a female dragon, who had been born by Gaia to protect his oracle and had served as a nurse for Typhoon. Four days after his birth, Apollo set out in search of a place to establish his sanctuary. Armed with the arrows and bow that Hephaestus had forged for him, he crossed the Pieria, the Evia, the Boeotia, and arrived in the valley of Crissa. Daughter of the river god Termessos, Telphusa was the nymph of a spring located at the foot of a cliff, between Haliartos and Alalcomenes in Boeotia.
On the treacherous advice of the nymph Telphusa, who ruled this region and wanted to keep her privileges, Apollo ventured into a wild gorge in Parnassus, which was used as a den for the snake Python. The latter, seeing the very young god, rushed over him to devour him, but Apollo threw against him his powerful arrow.
Apollo killed the serpent from the first draft and wished it to rot on the spot. In memory of this event, the place where this dramatic encounter took place took the name of Python (gr. πυθειν, rot). As for Telphusa, the god punishes his perfidiously burying her source under a rock.
“This hydra caused countless evils to humans; whoever offered himself to his sight found death, until the mighty Apollo struck it with a terrible arrow. Torn apart by cruel pain, the monster lies, thrilling: he rolls on the sand. He sinks into the forest and twists here and there on the ground, until, in a stinking breath, he exhales his life with waves of blood. Apollo cried out in the joy of his triumph: May your parched body rot on this fertile ground” (Hymns to Apollo)
To purify himself of the stain he had contracted by killing the snake Python, Apollo went into exile in Thessaly, in the Tempe Valley. When the period of atonement was over, he returned to Delphi, the head girded with the sacred laurel, escorted by a procession of priests singing peans, hymns to his glory. This road will become the “Sacred Way”, where processions will take place on the Feast of the Septerion, instituted in memory of its first achievement. He used the monster’s skin to cover the tripod where the Pythia would sit.
Apollo, twice, incurred Zeus’ anger despite all the love his father had for him. For the first time, he took part in the conspiracy woven against Zeus by Hera, which only failed thanks to the intervention of the wise Thetis. Furious, Zeus condemned Apollo and Poseidon to serve Laomedon, the king of Troy, for one year. They were helped in their work by a mortal, Eaque.
During the construction, three snakes attacked the fortifications but only one managed to cross them in the area built by Eaque. Apollo prophesied that these walls would one day be crossed by the descendants of Eaque. However, according to Diodorus of Sicily and Homer, Apollo only looked after the king’s flocks on the slopes and in the wooded gorges of the Ida.
At the end of the year, Laomedon refused to pay the gods the agreed salary and even threatened to cut off their ears. For revenge, Apollo spread the plague in the land, and Poseidon raised a sea monster that killed men in the fields. The second time, Apollo, to avenge the murder of his son Asclepius, struck by Zeus, killed the Cyclops because they had forged the murderous wrath. Zeus punished him by sending him into servitude to Admetus, king of Pherae in Thessaly, where he kept the cavalry and the sheep. He showed himself all devoted to his master whom he helped in his marriage and even saved from death.
- Leto, irritated by Niobe’s excessive pride, charged his children themselves with his revenge. Apollo and Artemis shot almost all the children of Niobe, on Mount Sipyle in Phrygia, with arrows.
- Every autumn, Apollo retired to the Hyperboreans in the far north and returned in the spring.
- One of his tasks was to guard the herds that the gods possessed in Petrie but later he entrusted Hermes with them.
- He fought with the gods of Olympus against the Giants.
- He killed the giant Tityos who had tried to rape his mother.
- He had Marsyas skinned alive, who had competed for a music prize.
Apollo wins against Pan another music competition presided over by King Midas.
- He supported the Trojans during the Trojan War.
- When Agamemnon refused the ransom to deliver Chryses offered by his father, Chryses, priest of the god, Apollo sent the plague on the Greek camp. After nine days the king resigned himself to letting his captive go.
- He intervened to save Aeneas attacked by Diomedes.
- He struck and disarmed Patroclus who was then killed by the Trojans.
- He took care of Hector’s remains so that they would not rot.
- He guided Paris’ hand (or took his appearance) to shoot the deadly arrow at Achilles.
The legendary beauty of Apollo led to many loves, generally quite unhappy, both feminine and masculine, such as Hyacinthos, Hymenaeus or Cyparissa, or Branchos, a young shepherd who later founded the oracle of Apollo in Didymus. When future conquests refused him he did not hesitate to use violence to achieve his goals, which undoubtedly explains his love failures.
Among the goddesses, his first attempt to conquer was the goddess Hestia who rejected her advances. He then turned to the nymphs and some mortals who resisted him:
- Acacallis, the nymph, became the mother of Phylacides and Philandros.
- Acacallis, daughter of Minos, was loved simultaneously by Hermes and Apollo. From the first, she had Cydon and from the second three sons: Naxos, Miletos and Amphithemis.
- Acantha scratched the face of the god who was trying to take it away. To punish it, he transformed it into acanthus, a thorny plant that loves the sun.
- Amphissa or Isse was seduced by Apollo disguised as a shepherd.
- Bolina, a nymph who doesn’t want to preferred to throw herself into the sea rather than give in to it, a courage that the god admired and rewarded by giving her life back and giving her immortality.
- Calliope, the muse of Epic Poetry, gave birth to Linos and Orpheus.
- Cassander, daughter of Priam and Hecuba, asked for the gift of prophecy before giving in to him. Then she changed her mind and he took away her gift of persuasion.
- Callirrhoe, daughter of the river god Achelous. To escape the pursuit of the god, threw herself into a fountain, which took his name and whose waters had the property of giving genius to the poets who drank from it or simply listened to the murmur of its waters.
- Chione, daughter of Daedalion, was loved simultaneously by Hermes and Apollo. She became the father of Autolycus as well as the poet and diviner Philemon.
- Chrysothemis, the wife of Staphylos, gave birth to Parthenos.
- Coronis cheated on her with a simple mortal while she was pregnant with Asclepius.
- Corycia, a naiad of a cave on Mount Parnassus, had a child named Lycoreus or Lycorus.
- Creüse who gave him a son, Ion, ancestor of the Ionians.
- Cyrene was a nymph. Apollo saw her one day on the wooded slopes of Pelion, she was fighting a lion. Charmed by her beauty and courage, he took her on his golden chariot and transported her to Libya, where she gave birth to Aristaeus.
- Daphne would rather be turned into a laurel than give in to her advances.
- Dryope, daughter of the king of Oeta, gave birth to Amphissos after being raped by Apollo turned into a turtle so that she could approach him.
- Evadne, daughter of Poseidon and the nymph Pitane, gave him the diviner Iamos whom she abandoned and who was fed two snakes with honey from the bees in a bush of brambles and violets.
- Hecuba would have had a son, Troile, with Apollo but in general, Priam is his father.
- Leucothea, daughter of Orchame and the tragic loves of Helios (whom he likens to Apollo).
- Melia, the Oceanid, whom he made the mother of Ismenius. His brother Caanthos went looking for him and found the two lovers who did not want to be separated. Furious he set fire to the temple of Apollo who killed him with one of his arrows.
- Psamathe, daughter of the king of Argos, Crotopos, she gave birth to Linos.
- Sinope, daughter of the river god Asopos and Metope, wanted to remain a virgin. She was kidnapped for the first time by Zeus who promised to grant her a wish. She asked him to remain a virgin. The second time she was kidnapped by the river god Halys to whom she made the same wish. Then the story started again with Apollo. However, Diodorus gives a different end since he gives her the mother of Syros, the eponymous hero of the Syrians.
- Syllis, the nymph, gave birth to Zeuxippos, the future king of Sikyon.
- Rheo, daughter of Staphylus and Chrysothemis and her sister Hemithea were in love with Lyrcos but she was made pregnant by Apollo. His father, believing that his seduction was due to a simple mortal, was irritated and he locked his daughter in a chest which was thrown into the sea. But the chest approached the island of Delos or Evia, where she was rescued and gave birth to a male child named Anios. She placed the baby in front of Apollo’s altar, which took him under his protection.
- Thero, a young woman from Beotia, gave him a son named Khairon.
This list is incomplete because in the many descendants of the god, we know the child’s name but not the mother’s.
Trophonius and his brother had the fourth temple of Pythian Apollo at Delphi. The oracle of Trophonios in Livadeia (Beotia), among the best documented in Greece, was active from the archaic period to the third century of notreere. For this oracle, divine revelation was given in the form of a visionary trance, known as a psychic journey or leap of the soul into the world of truth. From the beginning, the cult and legend of Trophonios was located on the border between the “other world” and the present world, and was intimately linked to the religious ceremony which aimed to appease the souls of the dead, by calling them three times by name, divination to cure diseases, and mysteries.
The cult of Apollo was imported to Rome under the Tarquin, with the Sibylline books; a temple was built around 432 BC, during an epidemic. The apollo’s games were celebrated since 212 BC during the Second Punic War. Augustus had a particular veneration for Apollo, who nevertheless remained a foreign god among the Romans.
Apollo in arts
Originally, his representations give Apollo the shape of a simple conical pillar, and the statues of Apollo Agyieus in front of the houses have always kept this shape. After the period of the coarse wooden idols, the xoana, the god was represented by a host of figurines and vases.
Then Canachos (5th century BC) created the type of the Didymene Apollo and Calamis the type of Alexicacos.
Phidias sculpted the Apollo Parnopios, placed on the Acropolis; Scopas fixed the type of the Zitharede, and Praxiteles that of the Sauroctonos (Louvre).
Finally appeared the victorious Apollo, of which the Apollo of Belvedere (Vatican) is a replica. The Musaget Apollo (Vatican), covered with a long garment, holds the lyre. The painted vases represent the various episodes of his legend.
Painters and sculptors have made Apollo the ideal type of young male beauty. They represent him as the oval and unruffled figure, the high forehead, the long and thick hair, tied from behind and raised up by a knot so that some curls fall back on his shoulders. The hair of the Belvedere Apollo floats freely on his back; the hips, compared to the chest, are very narrow. As head of the Muses, he is represented sometimes naked, sometimes dressed, or wearing only a vest.
There are a considerable number of ancient statues of this god; the most famous are the Apollo of Florence and the Belvedere at the Vatican Museum in Rome; this statue was discovered in 1503 in Nettuno.