The Greek god Apollo was the god of light, order, reason, prophecy, arts and muses. He brings life-giving heat and light to Earth. He was the son of Zeus and Leto and the twin brother of Artemis. He is represented as a young and handsome man, sometimes in a chariot, given to him by his father, Zeus. In that chariot, he brings the sun back and fourth across the sky once a day. The Greek god Apollo was a precocious baby, like his sister. He was only four days old when he followed and killed the Python as a revenge for having given a hard time to his mother.
The Python was the son of the goddess Gaia, so Apollo had to pay for his crime. He had to become king Admetus’ servant for one year. King Admetus treated him well, so Apollo told him that, when time came for him to die, he could continue to live if he could find someone else to die in his place. He was also the god of plague and was worshiped as Smintheus and as Parnopius. He was known as the destroyer of rats and locust. Apollo shot arrows of plague into the Greek camp. Apollo, being the god of religious healing, would give those guilty of murder and other immoral deeds a ritual purification.
Sacred to Apollo are the swan, the wolf and the dolphin. His attributes are the bow and arrows, on his head a laurel crown, and the cithara (or lyre) and plectrum. But his most famous attribute is the tripod, the symbol of his prophetic powers. One day, Niobe, the queen of Thebes, started to laugh at Leto, who only had two children, while the queen had seven girls and seven boys. Leto was offended by all this, so she told her children about it. The revenge was scary: the Greek god Apollo killed with his arrows Niobe’s seven sons, while the goddess Artemis killed the daughters.
When the goddess Hera, the wife of Zeus found out about Leto’s pregnancy, she was outraged with jealousy. Seeking revenge Hera forced Leto to roam the earth in search of a place to give birth. Since Hera had forbidden Leto to stay anywhere on earth, either on terra-ferma or an island at sea, the only place to seek shelter was Delos, being in the center of the Aegean, and also difficult to reach, as there were strong under-currents, because it was said to be a floating island. Because it was a floating island, it was not considered either of Hera’s prohibitions, and so Leto was able to give birth to the divine twins Apollo and Artemis.
As a gesture of thanks Delos was secured to the sea-bed by four columns to give it stability, and from then on it became one of the most important sanctuaries to Apollo. Just like Zeus, his father, he had many love affairs with goddesses and mortals. Apollo’s infatuation for the nymph Daphne, was of great being. She was the beautiful daughter of the river god Ladon, and she was constantly pursued by Apollo. To escape from Apollo’s insistent behavior, she fled to the mountains, but the persistent Apollo followed her. Annoyed by this, she asked the river god Peneus for help, which he did.
As soon as Apollo approached Daphne, he tried to embrace her, but when he stretched out his arms she transformed into a laurel tree. Apollo, distraught by what had happened, made the laurel his sacred tree. Apollo also loved Cyrene, she was another nymph, and she gave birth to a son: Aristaeus, a demi-god, who became a protector of cattle and fruit trees, and a deity of hunting, husbandry and bee-keeping. He taught men dairy skills and the use of nets and traps in hunting. The most famous mortal loves of Apollo was Hecuba, she was the wife of Priam. She gave birth to Troilius, also known as Troy.
Foretold by an oracle, as long as Troilius reached the age of twenty, he could not be defeated. But the hero Achilles ambushed and killed him, when the young prince and his sister Polyxena secretly visited a spring. Also, he fell in love with Cassandra, the sister of Troilius, and daughter of Hecuba and Priam. He seduced Cassandra on the promise that he would teach her the art of prophecy, but having learnt the prophetic art she rejected him. Apollo, being angry of her rejection punished her, by declaring her prophecies never to be accepted or believed.
Apollo also, as did his father Zeus, fall in love with one of his own gender, Hyacinthus, a Spartan prince. He was very handsome and athletic, which inflamed the passions of Apollo. One day while Apollo and Hyacinthus were practicing throwing the discus. Zephyrus, the god of the west wind, who was jealous of Apollo’s amorous affection towards the boy, did something very cruel. Zephyrus made the discus veer off course by blowing an ill wind. The discus, which Apollo had thrown, hit Hyacinthus, smashing his skull. Apollo rushed o him, but he was dead. The god was overcome with grief, but to immortalize the love he had for the beautiful youth, he had a flower grow were his blood had stained the earth. He also loved the young boy Cyparissus, a descendant of Heracles. The impassioned Apollo gave Cyparissus a sacred deer, as a love token. The young deer became tame, and was the constant companion of the boy, until a tragic accident occurred. As the young deer lay sleeping in the shade of the undergrowth, Cyparissus threw his javelin, which by chance hit, and killed the deer.
Grief-stricken by what had happened, Cyparissus wanted to die. He asked Apollo to let his tears fall for all eternity. With apprehension Apollo transformed the boy into a tree, the cypress, which became the symbol of sorrow, as the sap on its trunk forms droplets, like tears. Apollo was worshiped throughout the Greek world, at Delphi every four years they held the Pythian Games in his honor. Being the god of colonists, Apollo influenced his priests at Delphi to give divine guidance, as to where the expedition should proceed.
Apollo’s title was “Archigetes” (leader of colonists). According to one legend, it was Apollo who helped either Cretan or Arcadian colonists found the city of Troy. In art Apollo is at most times depicted as a handsome young man, clean shaven and carrying either a lyre, or his bow and arrows. There are many sculptures of Apollo and one of the most famous is the central figure from the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus, at Olympia, showing Apollo declaring victory in favor of the Lapiths in their struggle against the Centaurs.