One of the twelve senior gods of ancient Greece and Rome and the only one who would keep his name after being added to the Roman pantheon. The parents of Apollo and his twin sister, Artemis were Zeus and the goddess Leto. Artemis was the firstborn of the two. The duality of Artemis, moon goddess and Apollo, sun god, stands as one of the clearest archetypes in Greek myth.
Apollo and his sister were born on the island of Delos in the northern Cyclades. The story behind this is that the powerful Hera, as usual insanely jealous of Zeus' escapades, forbade all land to shelter Leto for the birth of her children and thus condemned her to roam the world, chased by the fearsome serpent Python, looking for a place to have them. What she finally found was the island of Delos, a creation of Poseidon floating freely on the ocean with nothing but a palm tree on it. This would become the birthplace of the twin gods and later one of the most sacred places of antiquity. Hera though, still had to be bribed into letting Ilythia, midwife of the gods, attend the birth but, vain goddess that she was, caved in on the ninth day of Leto's labour and upon being offered a necklace of gold and amber. Thus it came to be that the barren island of Delos was blessed by Zeus.
Both children were endowed by their father with bows and the mastery of archery. Apollo's arrows were fiery and sharp, signifying the solar power he would come to represent. He was a god of everything solar--day, truth, revelation, energy--analogous to Attis, Ra and other sun gods but more powerful and all-encompassing. He would even find his way into the Celtic pantheon as an equivalent to Mabon and Grannus. Many of his attributes would become a model for the Greek notion of the Christ in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the sun god who would succeed him. In fact he's portrayed as less involved in the petty squabblings of Olympus and indeed aloof and more, well, god-like.
Apollo's greatest centre of worship was Delphi, Oracle of the Sibyls. Like every god, he needed such a centre and such was his ambition (or self-realisation) that nothing but the Hub of the World would suffice. The Oracle, before Apollo took over, was guarded by the same dragon Python who had chased Leto after hearing that her son would be his undoing. Apollo rode to the slopes of Mount Parnassus, where he challenged Python and killed him in a hail of a thousand golden arrows. The Oracle at Delphi was his and the Sibyls prophesied in his name.
The slaying of the black-blooded dragon was an act typical of a young sun god and stands for his victory over the forces of Darkness. He would forever be the god of light and truthsaying. His arrows are deadly to falsehood. Apollo normally stands above everything but his retaliation when offended and his response when provoked is swift and deadly. Homer's Iliad begins with a terrible plague sent by the otherwise neutral Apollo in retaliation for the humiliation of one of his priests by Agamemnon. The boastful Niobe would suffer the death of all her children at hands of the god and his sister. Even the servants of Zeus were not immune from his fury--the Cyclops who fashioned the thunderbolt that killed Asclepius would also die at the god's hands. This poor form resulted in a year's penance as servant of a mortal.
During his tenure as plain shepherd, he made the acquaintance of the newborn Hermes who, thieving little git that he was, rustled Apollo's herd. Instead of recovering the cattle though, Apollo traded the animals for the lyre that Hermes had invented. A flute followed and the caduceus also changed hands to become a symbol of Hermes. While he was in the doghouse with Zeus, he nonetheless managed to become one of the very few mortals or gods on good terms with the Fates and used his influence to gain favours for his earthly master.
Apollo was related to healing, himself being the father of Asclepius, god of medicine, and was patron of the arts through his followers, the Muses. Being the greatest lyre player (another of his symbols) he struck down anyone who challenged him and lost; he is also said to have been the teacher of Orpheus. His defeats were few, the most noted one being his pursuit of the nymph Daphne who ended up a shrub in order to escape his attention... this shrub, the laurel, became another one of his trademarks. Saying no to this god was not a good idea. His many consorts included Calliope, Arsinoe and Cyrene. He did not actually ride the golden chariot of the sun as some sources say; that was Helios. Apollo did have a chariot of his own but that was drawn by white swans. His most sacred sites were located at Delphi, Delos and the island of Tenedos.
Apollo's association with mysticism is expressed in the tales of his journeys to the land of the hyperboreans in the uncharted far north, which may have meant the British Isles. These stories are much more apocryphal than most Greek myths. He was said to receive offerings from that land every year, visit it for three months a year and appear in person for his nineteen-yearly feast. Delos and Delphi lie on a ley line that extends to Brittany, Cornwall and Mount Carmel and there is one story about the British druid Abaris and Pythagoras travelling along this line and visiting each other. The story of this ley line, associated with miraculous sites and solar divinities such as Apollo, Jehova and Michael, belongs in another node. This is consistent with the extensive magickal powers attributed to the god. Altogether, Apollo figures in a surprising number of apocryphal myths where his transformations, words and divine actions seem to be much more significant than the party tricks of other gods.
If there is a single god of ancient Greece who still commands respect like he did in ancient times, Apollo is the one.