Greek God Apollo: Myths, Powers and Depictions

In Greek mythology, the sun and light god Apollo was unquestionably the most famous and loved god among the second generation of Olympian gods. Due to his immense physical, aesthetic, and mental prowess, mythologists of the past even claimed that he was second only to Zeus himself on Mount Olympus. Born to parents Zeus and the Titan goddess Leto, Apollo was venerated in areas such as music, poetry, healing, oracles, divination, medicine, knowledge, oracles, plagues, order and beauty. His older twin sister is Artemis (Diana in Roman mythology), the goddess of the hunt.

The Birth of Apollo

Apollo Myths and Symbols

Apollo, along with his twin sister Artemis, and his mother Leto.

Apollo was the son of Zeus and Titan goddess Leto. Leto’s parents were the Titans Coeus and Phoebe.

Apollo’s origin story goes on to say that his mother was chased by a mighty python that was sent by Hera, the Greek goddess queen. Hera was raging mad and jealous about her husband Zeus’ unfaithfulness. Hera therefore sought to make the life of Leto a living nightmare. She forbade anyone from giving any sanctuary to the pregnant Leto on any part of the earth where the sun touched. However, the Island of Delos (Ortygia) paid no heed to Hera’s warning. The people of Delos took in the expectant mother and catered for Leto as she delivered Artemis, the goddess of hunt.

Shortly after Artemis’ birth, Artemis sprung to the aid of her mother and helped her in birthing her twin brother, Apollo. He came out of the womb grasping a golden sword.

Apollo takes his revenge on the Python

Greek God Apollo

Depiction of Apollo killing the dragon python.

Apollo only needed a couple of days to grow into a strong and full-grown god. It is believed that his mother fed him with only nectar and ambrosia.

Apollo then set out to Parnassus in order to exact revenge on the python that terrorized his mother. He first approached the god of forge and fire Hephaestus and collected his favorite weapon, the bow, and arrows.

Apollo shot three arrows directly into the python. Bleeding and defeated, the monster fled. The python took refuge at the shrine at Delphi. It hoped that Apollo won’t dare soil the place with blood. However, the python was wrong; Apollo marched straight to Delphi and finished off the python. Feeling remorseful, Apollo took penance with Zeus.

The Oracle of Delphi

After slaying the dragon Python, Apollo was named the patron god of the Oracle of Delphi as well as the patron god of the city of Delphi. His Oracle of Delphi went on to become a famous worship center in ancient Greece. The place was known for helping people see their future.

How Apollo came to love music

Apollo, the god of light and music

The Sun God Apollo playing his favorite musical instrument, the lyre (the kithara).

The circumstances surrounding Apollo’s association with music goes back to the day he was born. It is believed that Greek messenger god, Hermes, rubbed Apollo off his herd of cattle. Upon realizing what a grave mistake that he did, Hermes offered to give Apollo the lyre in exchange for the cattle. This is how Apollo came to be known as the god of music.

Divinities and mortals that suffered the wrath of Apollo

Although Apollo is noted for his wisdom and knowledge of nature, he wasn’t always a level-headed deity. Like many Olympian gods, Apollo sometimes burst into rage and anger, especially when his love interest or family member got insulted. The following are some divinities and mortals who incurred the ire of Apollo:

  • Marsyas paid a heavy price when he challenged Apollo to a contest that involved the aulos (a flute-like musical instrument). Marsyas lost the contest to Apollo because he could not play the flute while singing. As punishment for his hubris, Apollo ordered that Marsyas be hanged and then burned alive. Filled with grief, Apollo, as well as other nymphs and gods, mourned the death of Marsyas. For quite some time, Apollo refused to play his favorite musical instrument, the lyre.
  • Cinyras was the king of Cyprus whose fame as a phenomenal flute player traveled across the world. It even got to a point where Cinyras believed that he could outdo the god of music Apollo. Cinyras made the worst decision of his life by entering into a contest with Apollo. The Cyprian king was resoundingly defeated by Apollo. After Cinyras was killed, all 50 daughters of his crashed into the sea and turned into sea birds.
  • Pan’s challenge to Apollo came in the form of singing. Like all the other mortals that challenged Apollo, Pan was bested by Apollo. In Pan’s case, Apollo decided to take mercy on him. However, Midas, the judge that sat on the case, was severely punished by Apollo. The god of music gave Midas ears similar to a donkey’s ears.

Apollo’s Consorts and Love Interests

In Greek mythology, the god Apollo was famous to a sizable number of affairs with gods and humans. Apollo is believed to have had love interests or romantic relationships with Coronis, Cassandra, Cyrene, Daphne, Hyacinthus, and Marpessa. The most famous love interest of Apollo was the nymph Daphne. Time and time again, Apollo pursued Daphne. However, the beautiful nymph blatantly refused Apollo’s advances. In the end, Daphne begged her father Peneus to save her from the relentless Apollo. Daphne was turned into a laurel tree. As a result of this misfortune, Apollo always wore a laurel wreath wherever he went.

Read more about Apollo’s affairs in Apollo’s Consorts and Love Life.

Apollo’s Children

Apollo's son - Asclepius

Apollo’s son – Asclepius, the god of medicine.

In Greek mythology, the god Apollo fathered a number of famous children from different affairs with gods and humans. Examples of these children are Asclepius, Troilus, Aristaeus, and Orpheus. Asclepius inherited his father’s medicinal skills and knowledge; he became the god of medicine. Orpheus, on the other hand, favored his father’s musical traits and grew to become a prolific player of the lyre (kithara).

Apollo and Hermes

Hermes' staff

Apollo’s gift to Hermes – Hermes’ Staff (the caduceus) – had the ability to put people to sleep and at the same time wake people up from sleep, or even the death in some cases. Image source.

Hermes’ staff, the caduceus, was a gift from Apollo. Hermes presented Apollo a lyre in order to atone for the cattle that he stole from Apollo. It is said that after Apollo took receipt of the lyre, he fell greatly in love with this particular musical instrument. He forgave Hermes for stealing the cattle. He also gave Hermes a staff (the caduceus) that had the ability to put people to sleep or wake them up.

Apollo versus Niobe, the queen of Thebes

Queen Niobe of Thebes once got into hot waters after she made a denigrating statement about Leto, Apollo’s mother. She boasted that she had 14 children while the Titan goddess had just 2 children. Apollo, along with his other twin sibling Artemis, killed all Niobe’s fourteen children. Artemis eliminated the daughters while Apollo killed the sons.

After she was grief-struck over the death of her children, Niobe climbed to the top of a mountain and wept for days and days. Zeus took mercy on Queen Niobe and transformed her into a pile of stones. Some believed that the Achelous River was formed out of the tears that continued to ooze out of the stone pile.

Greek God Apollo’s Powers and Abilities

Abilities and Powers of Apollo

Abilities and Powers of Apollo, the sun and music god.

The greatest ability that Apollo was frequently associated it was his divination abilities. Apollo generously bestowed these prophetic gifts on priestesses (Pythia) at the Oracle of Delphi. This allowed them to have foreknown what Zeus’ plans for the race of men were.

Apollo also had the ability to heal people. As a matter of fact, many ancient Greeks frequented the Oracle of Delphi to call on him for healing.

He also had the ability to beseech entire cities or towns with deadly plagues and diseases. For example, Apollo once devastated a small town in ancient Greece (the Achaeans) with a plague. This was during the great Trojan War, a war which saw Apollo favor Troy.

His bow and arrow, forged by the master blacksmith and god Hephaestus, proved to be a very powerful weapon in his arsenal. There were very few deities or humans that could match Apollo’s bow and arrow in a battle.

Depictions and Symbols of Apollo in arts and various cultures

Apollo's symbol

Apollo’s symbol – the bow and arrow, with the wreath in the background.

In most ancient Greek myths, Apollo is considered the epitome of Kouros. This term is used to symbolize athleticism, youthfulness and beardless. He is often depicted with a very curly hair wearing a laurel wreath around his head. Ancient Greeks have always viewed the wreath a sign of victory and athleticism. This was evident in the ancient Olympic Games. Apollo took to carrying the laurel around in order to commemorate his lover, Daphne, who willingly turned into a wreath.

Due to his association with justice and order, Apollo to the Greeks symbolized a great source of morality and virtue. His cult followers at the Oracle of Delphi facilitated the spread of justice and order throughout Greek society. It is also believed that Apollo came to be associated with the palm tree because his mother Leto clutched to a palm tree while giving birth to Apollo.

 

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