THE BIRTH OF APOLLO
Zeus mated with LETO [lee'toh] (LATONA), who conceived the twin gods ARTEMIS [ar'te-mis] (DIANA)
and APOLLO [a-pol'loh]. The lengthy Hymn to Apollo tells in its first part (To Delian Apollo) of Apollos
birth; no mention is made of Artemis.
Leto roamed far and wide in her search for a refuge where she might give birth, but the many places she
approached were afraid to receive her. Finally the island of Delos accepted her, but only after she assured
the island (which is personified in the Hymn) with a great oath that a sacred precinct of Apollo would be
built there and that it would become a place of prosperity, wealth, and prestige.
When Leto had endured nine days and nights of labor, Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, was
summoned by Iris from Olympus to help in the delivery. Goddesses present at the birth attended to the
newborn child, and as soon as Apollo had been nursed on nectar and ambrosia, he miraculously became a
mighty god who declared that the curved bow and the lyre were his and that he would prophesy to
mortals the unerring will of Zeus. Leto was delighted with her son, and all of Delos blossomed with joy.
In the conclusion of this part of the hymn, the poet (sometimes erroneously believed to be Homer)
describes the great festival of Apollo at Delos with its famous chorus of maidens who can sing in all
dialects and identifies himself as a blind man from Chios, whose songs are the best forevermore. Bards,
who are archetypally blind, see the Muses truth.
THE SANCTUARY OF APOLLO AT DELPHI
The second part of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo (To Pythian Apollo) tells how Apollo travelled in Greece
until he found the proper place for the foundation of his oracle, Crisa, under Mt. PARNASSUS [par-
nas'sus], or PARNASSOS, where he laid out his temple. Then he slew a dragon named PYTHO [peye'thoh],
or PYTHON, and thus the site was called Pytho, Apollo was given the epithet PYTHIAN [pith'ee-an], and a
prophetess of Apollo received the name of PYTHIA [pith'ee-a]. Originally at this site there had probably
been an oracle of the great mother-goddess Gaia, and the slaying of the dragon may symbolize conquest
by the Hellenes and their god Apollo, who thus becomes yet another to add to our list of dragon slayers.
The OMPHALOS [om'fa-los], navel, an archaic stone shaped like an egg with two birds perched on either
side, was thought to designate the location of the sanctuary at the center of the world. According to
legend, Zeus released two eagles from opposite ends of the earth and they met exactly at the spot of
Apollo's sanctuary, which came to be known universally by the name of DELPHI [del'feye], or DELPHOI,
for the following reason.
After Apollo had established his sanctuary, he needed to recruit attendants. He spotted a ship sailing from
Crete and he sprang aboard in the form of a dolphin. The crew was awed into submission and followed a
course that led the ship to Crisa. Here Apollo revealed himself as a god and initiated them to his service,
with directions to pray to him as Apollo DELPHINIUS [del-fin'ee-us], or DELPHINOS, a word meaning
dolphin, from which Crisa or Pytho received its new name of Delphi. THE PANHELLENIC SANCTUARY AT DELPHI
The Panhellenic sanctuary of Apollo is in many ways representative of Panhellenic
sites elsewhere, for example, the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia (see MLS, Chapter
5). Yet the sacred area and the temple built on the lower slopes of Mt. Parnassus
are particulary awe-inspiring, and the many dedications made to the god remind us
of how Greek religion was responsible for the development of great and universal
literature, poetry, drama, sculpture, and architecture. The Pythian games,
celebrated every four years, included both physical and intellectual competitions
and the worship of the god.
The Oracle and Pythia at Delphi.The Panhellenic sanctuary at Delphi was the
most important oracle in the Greek world. People in general and representatives of
states in particular came from all over the Greek world and beyond to ask Apollo
questions of every sort. The Pythia, the prophetess of Apollo, uttered the responses
of the god as she sat on a tripod. Her answers came in incoherent ravings, which Apollo Belvedere.
were transcribed by a nearby priest into intelligible prose or verse. In Roman marble copy
Platos Apology we are told that Socrates learned from the Delphic oracle that he of earlier Greek
was the wisest of men, a response that this great philosopher took very seriously. bronze.
FOUR OF APOLLOS LOVES
The Cumaean Sibyl. The general designation for a prophetess was SIBYL [sib'il], or SIBYLLA [si-bil'la]; a
Sibyl at Delphi, however, was called specifically the Pythia, as we have noted.
The sibyls at Cumae in Italy were famous. Most famous among them was the CUMAEAN [kou-mee'an]
Sibyl, who was Aeneas guide in the Underworld (see MLS, Chapter 15). We learn about this Sibyl from
Ovid. Apollo offered her anything that she wished, if only she would yield to him. She picked up a heap of
sand and asked for as many birthdays as the individual grains but forgot to ask for continuous youth along
with the years. Nevertheless, Apollo would have given her long life and eternal youth, if she agreed to
succumb to him. When she refused him, the god granted her original wish, and she withered away
eventually to become only a voice. This story of the Cumaean Sibyl once again illustrates how our ignorant
wishes may be granted to our woe (cf. Eos and Tithonus, MLS, Chapter 3).
Cassandra. CASSANDRA [kas-san'dra], daughter of the Trojan King Priam (see MLS, Chapter 19) agreed
to give herself to Apollo, who rewarded her with the gift of prophecy. When Cassandra changed her mind
and rejected his advances, Apollo asked for one kiss and spit in her mouth, thus ensuring not only that
Cassandra would keep her gift, but also that her true prophecies would never be believed.
Marpessa. The daughter of Ares son Evenus, called MARPESSA [mar-pes'sa], was wooed by IDAS
[eye'das], one of the Argonauts, who carried her off in his chariot to the anger and dismay of her father,
who commited suicide. Apollo stole Marpessa away from Idas in a similar fashion and the two rivals met
face to face. Zeus ordered that Marpessa chose between her lovers. She chose the mortal Idas because
she feared the immortal Apollo would leave her when she grew old.
Cyrene. Most of Apollos love affairs end tragically. A notable exception is his success with CYRENE [seye-
ree'nee], or KYRENE, an athletic nymph with whom he fell in love when he saw her wrestling with a lion.
He whisked her away in his golden chariot to the city in Libya that would bear her name. They had a son
Aristaeus, who became a keeper of bees (see MLS, Chapters 7 and 16).
APOLLO AND DAPHNE
The story of Apollos love for DAPHNE [daf'nee] (laurel), explaining why the laurel was sacred to him, is
one of the most famous and inspiring of all myths because of Ovids version.
After Apollo had just slain the Python, he boasted to Cupid that the god of love with his bow and arrows
could not compete with his glorious slaying of a dragon. Cupid got even for this slight by shooting at
Daphne, the daughter of the river-god Peneus, a dull, leaden arrow that repels love and piercing Apollos
heart with a bright, short one that arouses passion.Daphne was extraordinarily beautiful but refused her many suitors. She vowed to remain a virgin devoted
to Diana, the forests, and the hunt; both her father and Jupiter respected her wishes. As soon as Apollo
saw her he was inflamed by passion and he desired to marry her, but because of Cupid his hopes were
doomed. Daphne fled in fear as Apollo made his appeals and pursued her. Exhausted, she reached the
waters of Peneus, and her prayer that the power of the river would destroy her too-enticing beauty was
granted. She was transformed into a lovely laurel tree, and the heartbroken Apollo, as he embraced its
trunk and branches, promised that since she could not be his wife, she would be his tree, and from it
would come the laurel wreath, a symbol of love, honor, and glory forever.
APOLLO, CORONIS, AND ASCLEPIUS
In the story of Hyacinthus, we see Apollo acting as a god of medicine, ineffective though he proved to be.
His son Asclepius took over the role of god of medicine and most of the time was more successful than his
Apollo loved a maiden from Thessaly, CORONIS [co-roh'nis], and she was pregnant with his child.
Unfortunately, Apollos bird, the raven, saw Coronis in the arms of another lover and told the god, who in
a quick and violent rage shot her with one of his arrows. As she was dying she told him that their unborn
child would die with her. Apollo too late regretted his anger, but to no avail. He was unable through his
medical arts to revive his beloved. He embraced her in anguish and performed the proper burial rites over
her corpse. As the flames of the funeral pyre were about to engulf her, he saved their baby by snatching it
from her womb and giving it to the wise centaur Chiron to raise. The color of the raven, which had been
white, he now changed to black.
The child grew up to become ASCLEPIUS [as-klee'pee-us], or ASKLEPIOS (AESCULAPIUS for the Romans),
a famous practitioner of medicine, worshiped as both a hero and a god. He had several children, among
them the doctor Machaon [ma-kay'on] (in the Iliad) and more shadowy figures such as HYGEIA [heye-
jee'a] or HYGIEIA (health.)
When Hippolytus died (see MLS, Chap