A god of the second generation of Olympians, son of Zeus and Leto and brother of the goddess Artemis. Hera, in her jealousy of Leto, had pursued the young woman all round the world. Wearied by her wanderings Leto searched for a place where she could give birth to the children with whom she was pregnant; and the whole world refused to welcome her for fear of Hera's wrath. Only a bare, floating island called Ortygia (the Island of Quails) or later Asteria agreed to shelter the unhappy Leto. That was where Apollo was born; in gratitude the god laid it down as the centre of the Greek world and named it Delos the brilliant. There, at the foot of a palm, the only tree on the island, Leto waited nine days and nights for the birth to take place. Hera kept back with her on Olympus Eilithyia, the goddess who presided over happy deliveries. All the goddesses, and especially Athena, were close to Leto but could do nothing to help her without Hera's agreement. Eventually they decided to send Iris to ask Hera for permission for the birth to take place, offering her, to assuage her wrath, a necklace of gold and amber, nine cubits thick. This gift was large enough for Hera to agree to Eilithyia's coming down from Olympus and going to Delos. Leto knelt at the foot of the palm tree and gave birth first to Artemis and then, with Eilithyia's help, to Apollo. At the moment of the god's birth, sacred swans came and flew round the island seven times in succession, for it was the seventh day of the month. Zeus at once gave his son gifts - a golden mitre, a lyre and a chariot drawn by swans - and bade him to go at once to Delphi. But the swans first took Apollo to their own country, on the shores of the Ocean, beyond the country of the North Wind, to the land of the Hyperboreans. There the god spent a year, receiving the respects of the Hyperboreans, then he returned to Greece and made his way to Delphi at midsummer among feasting and song. Even Nature was in festive mood for him: cicadas and nightingales sang to honour him, and the springs were clearer. Each year at Delphi the arrival of the god was celebrated with hecatombs.

At Delphi Apollo slew a dragon, sometimes called Python, and sometimes Delphyne, which had the task of protecting an ancient oracle of Themis, but which had given itself over to every kind of theft in the countryside, muddying the springs and the streams, carrying off the flocks and the villagers, laying waste the fertile plain of Crissa and terrorizing the Nymphs. This monster had issued from Earth and there is also a story that Hera had bidden it to pursue Leto before Apollo and Artemis were born. Apollo rid the country of it but, in memory of his exploit (or perhaps to calm down the monster's anger after its death), he founded funerary games in its honour, which took the name of the Pythian Games and were held at Delphi. After that he took possession of the oracle of Themis and dedicated a tripod in the shrine. The tripod is one of Apollo's symbols and the Pythian was seated on one when her oracles were uttered. The inhabitants of Delphi celebrated the god's victory and his taking possession of the shrine with songs of triumph. For the first time they sang the Paean, which is essentially a hymn in honour of Apollo. But Apollo himself had to go to the Vale of Tempe, in Thessaly, to cleanse himself of the pollution resulting from the slaying of the dragon. Every eight years a solemn festival was held at Delphi in memory of the killing of the Python and the purification of Apollo. There is a story that the god had once again to defend his oracle, this time against Heracles, who had come to question it and, when it refused to give him any answer, tried to ransack the temple, carry off the tripod and establish an oracle of his own elsewhere. Apollo engaged him in conflict which remained indecisive since Zeus separated the opponents (who were both his sons) by hurling a thunderbolt between them. But the oracle remained at Delphi.

Apollo was depicted as a god of extreme beauty and great stature, especially distinguished for his long curling, black hair with tinges of blue like the petals of a viola. He also had a great many love affairs, with both Nymphs and mortal women.

He fell in love with the Nymph Daphne, daughter of the river god Peneus in Thessaly. His love for her had been fired by the malice of Eros, angered in turn by the taunts of Apollo who had derided him for practising archery (the bow was in fact Apollo's special weapon). Daphne remained unmoved by his advances. She fled into the mountains and when she was pursued by the god and on the point of being captured she uttered a prayer to her father, begging him to change her so that she might escape from Apollo's embrace. Her father did as she wished and turned her into a laurel, the tree secred to Apollo.

He fared better with the Nymph Cyrene by whom he begot the demigod Aristaeus. He also had love affairs with the Muses, whose cult was closely linked with his own. He is said to have been, through Thalia, the father of the Corybantes, the demons who formed part of the following of Dionysus. By Urania he is supposed to have begotten the musicians Linus and Orpheus, though other versions ascribe them to Oeagrus and the Muse Calliope. One of his most famous love affairs is that relating to the birth of Asclepius, in which he was the victim of the unfaithfulness of Coronis. He suffered a similar misfortune with Marpessa, the daughter of Evenus. Apollo loved her but she was carried off by Idas, the son of Amphiaraus, in a winged chariot which was a gift from Poseidon. Idas took the girl to Messina, where he and Apollo fought each other, but once again Zeus parted them. Marpessa was given the right to choose between her two suitors and her choice fell on Idas, fearing, so the story goes, that she would be deserted in her old age if she married Apollo. His love for Cassandra, the daughter of Priam, had equally unhappy results. Apollo loved Cassandra and, in order to seduce her, promised to teach her the art of divination. She underwent the lessons but, when she had learned them, she refused to yield to him. Apollo took his revenge by withdrawing from her the gift of inspiring confidence in her divinations, and so the unhappy Cassandra made her most accurate predictions in vain, for no one would believe her.

This may have been about the time when Apollo was loved by Hecuba, Priam's wife and Cassandra's mother, and she presented him with a son, Troilus. Similarly at Colophon, in Asia, Apollo was believed to have had a son by the female soothsayer Manto, in the shape of the seer Mopsus, who overcame the Greek seer Calchas in a contest after the Trojan War. Also in Asia, Apollo had a son called Miletus by a woman variously called Aria, Acacallis or Acalle. This Miletus subsequently founded the town of that name.

In Greece itself Apollo was generally regarded as the lover of Phthia, who gave her name to the eponymous area of Thessaly, and three children were believed to have been born to them - Dorus, Laodocus and Polypoetes, all of whom were killed by Aetolus. Finally by Rhoeo he begot Anius, who ruled over Delos. Tenes, who was killed by Achilles in the island of Tenedos and whose death began the unfolding of the Fates which finally led to the death of Achilles himself, is sometimes siad to be the son of Apollo and sometimes of Cycnus.

Apollo did not confine his love affairs to young women, for he also loved young men. The best known are the heroes Hyacinthus and Cyparissus whose deaths or rather metamorphoses (the former became a martagon lily or a hyacinth, while the second became a cypress) distressed the god very deeply.

There is a story that on two occasions Apollo was put to an unusual test, and had to put himself in the position of a slave in the service of mortal masters. The first occasion followed a conspiracy in which he had joined Poseidon, Hera and Athena to bind Zeus in iron chains and hang him in the sky (see Aegeon). After the failure of this plot Apollo and Poseidon were compelled to work for Laomedon, king of Troy, on the task of building the walls of the city though, according to some writers, Poseidon worked by himself on the walls while Apollo looked after the king's flocks on Mount Ida. When the time of their servitude was up Laomedon refused to pay the two gods their agreed wages. Moreover, when they protested he threatened to cut off their ears and sell them as slaves. When Apollo had regained his divine appearance and power he sent a plague to Troy which laid the land waste. (See Hesione and Heracles.)

The legend of Apollo in the role of a shepherd recurs in the second test which the god underwent. When Apollo's son Asclepius had advanced so far in the art of medicine that he succeeded in bringing corpses back to life Zeus struck him with lightning. This was an appalling blow for Apollo who, since he could not exact revenge from Zeus himself, killed with his arrows the Cyclopes who made the lightning. Zeus for a moment had it in mind to punish him by plunging him down into Tartarus, but in response to Leto's pleas he agreed to inflict a lighter punishment and commanded that Apollo should serve a mortal master as a slave for a year. In compliance Apollo made his way to Pheres, to the court of King Admetus, and served him as an herbsman. Thanks to him the cows produced two calves at a time, and he brought general prosperity to the family (see Alcestis).

Apollo can sometimes be found as a cowherd working for himself. His oxen were stolen by the young Hermes while he was still in swaddling clothes, proof of his precocity. Apollo recovered his possessions on Mount Cyllene. But, so the story goes, the infant Hermes had invented the lyre and Apollo was so delighted with it that in exchange for it he let Hermes keep his cattle. when Hermes subsequently invented the flute Apollo bought it from him for a golden staff (the Caduceus of Hermes) and moreover instructed him in the art of soothsaying.

The story of Marsyas is another legend about Apollo in which the flute plays a part. Marsyas the Satyr, who was the son of Olympus, found a flute which had been thrown away by Athena. (She had tried to play it but had immediately given it up when she had realized how much it put her mouth out of shape and gave her an ugly expression.) When Marsyas found that he could make delightful music with it he challenged Apollo and claimed to make sweeter music with his flute that Apollo with his lyre. Marsyas was the loser and Apollo first hanged him from a pine tree and then flayed him.

It was as the god of music and poetry that Apollo was portrayed on Mount Parnassus, where he presided over the pastimes of the Muses. His oracular pronouncements were generally in the form of verse and he was thought to provide inspiration for seers as well as for poets. This office he shared with Dionysus, but inspiration by Apollo differed from that of Dionysus since it was more temperate.

As well as being the god of soothsaying, of music, and of nature, his love affairs with the Nymphs and the young people who became flowers and trees linked him intimately with plant growth and Nature. Apollo was also a warrior god who could, like his sister Artemis, bring a swift and easy death from afar with his bow and arrows. Together they took part in the massacre of Niobe's children to avenge the honour of Leto. Apollo brought down on the Greeks before Troy a plague which decimated their army, in order to compel Agamemnon to return to his priest Chryses the young Chryseis who was still held in captivity. He also slew the Cyclopes, the snake Python and the giant Tityus. He took part, on the side of the Olympians, in their struggle against the Giants (the Gigantomachia). In the Iliad we find him fighting for the Trojans against the Greeks and protecting Paris, and it was said to be his direct or indirect involvement which led to the death of Achilles.

Certain animals were especially dedicated to Apollo: the wolf, which was sometimes sacrificed as an offering to him, and which is often depicted, together with him, on coins; the roebuck or hind which also plays a part in the cult of Artemis; among the birds the swan, the kite, the vulture and the crow, whose flight could convey omens. Among sea creatures there was the dolphin, whose name recalls that of Delphi, home of the main shrine of Apollo. The bay laurel was the plant of Apollo above all others. It was a bay leaf that the Pythia chewed during her prophetic trances.

The roles and symbols of Apollo are multifarious, and their study belongs to the history of religion rather than to mythology. Apollo gradually became the god of the Orphic religion, and with his name was associated a whole system of thought and belief, half religious and half moral, which promised safety and eternal life to its initiates (see Zagreus and Orpheus). Apollo was believed to be the father of Pythagoras, to whose name similar doctrines were often attached. Apollo (and especially Hyperborean Apollo) was often seen as ruling over the Isles of the Blessed, which were the Paradise of Orphism and neo-Pythagoreanism. It is by virtue of this that myths of Apollo are so often to be found on the walls of the Basilica of the Porta Maxima in Rome, as well as on carved Roman sarcophagi. Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, took Apollo as his personal guardian and ascribed to him the naval victory which he had won over Antony and Cleopatra at Actium in 31 B.C. It was the general belief among the populace that Atia, Augustus' mother, had conceived him through the instrument of the god on a night when she had slept in his temple. Augustus built a temple of Apollo beside his own house on the Palatine, and established a private cult in his honour. It was largely in Apollo's honour that the Ludi Saeculares at which the Carmen Saeculare of Horace was sung, were celebrated in 17 B.C. In the Carmen Apollo and his sister Artemis are presented as deities forming a channel between the Roman people and Jupiter, and they are the ones who transmit and spread heavenly blessings.


Table of Sources:
- Callim, Hymns 2 and 4
- Homeric Hymn to Apollo
- Hom. Il. 7, 452ff.; 21, 441ff.; etc.
- Pind. Pyth 3, 8ff. (14ff.) with schol. on 14
- Fr. 33 Snell (78-9 Bowra)
- Aeschylus, Suppl. 260ff.
- Eyripides, IT 1250; Alc. 1ff. with schol.
- Apoll. Rhod. Arg. 2, 707ff.; 4, 616ff.
- Serv. on Virgil, Aen. 3, 73; 8, 300; 6, 617; on Georg. 1, 14
- Strabo 9, 3, 2-12, pp. 417-423
- Plutarch, Quaest. Gr. 12, 293bff.
- Hyg. Fab. 32; 53; 89; 93; 140; 165; 161; 202; 242
- Lucian, Sacrif. 4
- Ovid, Met. 1, 416ff.; 452ff.; 3, 534ff.; 6, 382ff.; 10, 106ff.; Fast. 6, 703ff.
- Aelian, VH 3, 1
- Antoninus Liberalis, Met. 20; 30
- Apollod. Bibl. 1, 4, 1ff.; 1, 9, 15; 1, 3, 4; 1, 7, 6ff.; 2, 5, 9; 2, 5, 2; 3, 1, 2; 3, 10, 1ff.; 3, 12, 5; Epit 6, 3; 3, 8; 3, 25
- Tzetzes on Lyc. Alex. 34
- See R. D. Miller, The Origin and Original Nature of Apollo (1939)
- K. Kerenyi, Apollo, edn 2, (1953)