God of Music, Truth and Prophecy, Healing, Light, Plague and Poetry
The epitome of youth and beauty, source of life and healing, patron of the civilized arts, and as bright and powerful as the sun itself, Phoebus Apollo was, arguably, the most loved of all the Greek gods.
BIRTH AND FAMILY
Son of Zeus and Leto, and twin brother to Artemis, Apollo was born on the island of Delos (in Hesiod's account clutching a golden sword). At his first taste of ambrosia he was said to have immediately transformed from babe to man.
Sanctuaries were built in his honour throughout the Greek world, notably at Delos and Rhodes. Indeed, in antiquity, the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was a huge representation of Apollo. As with the other major divinities, Apollo had many children; perhaps the most famous are Orpheus, Ion, and Asclepius (to whom he gave his knowledge of healing and medicine).
Objects traditionally associated with the god include: a silver bow (symbolic of his prowess as an archer), a Kithara or a lyre made from the shell of a tortoise (a gift from Hermes after a quarrel over his theft of Apollo's cattle, symbolic of his ability in music and leader of the chorus of the nine Muses), a laurel branch (symbolic of the fate of Daphne who, after the god's amorous pursuit of her, led her father, the river god Phineus, to transform her into a laurel tree), the omphalos (symbol of Delphi's position as the navel of the world), and a palm tree (which Leto gripped when she gave birth to her son).
Although he was associated with many positive aspects of the human condition such as music, poetry, and medicine, the god also had his darker side as the bringer of plague and divine retribution, most famously as the remorseless slayer of Niobe’s six (or in some accounts seven) sons as punishment for her boasting and as the flayer of Marsyas after his presumptuous claim to be more musically gifted than Apollo himself.
IN THE TROJAN WAR
Apollo is a significant protagonist in Homer's account of the Trojan War in the Iliad. On the side of the Trojans, he gives particular assistance to the Trojan heroes Hektor, Aeneas, and Glaukos, saving their lives on more than one occasion with his divine intervention. He brought plague to the Achaeans, led the entire Trojan army (holding Zeus' fearsome aegis) in an attack which destroyed the Achaean defensive walls, and was also responsible for guiding Paris’ arrow to the heel of Achilles, killing the seemingly invincible Achaean hero.
Apollo is most frequently described by Homer and Hesiod as the "far-shooter", the "far-worker", the "rouser of armies", and "Phoebus Apollo".
Apollo's most direct presence amongst the Greeks was manifested in his oracle at Delphi, the most important in the Greek world. Apollo, wishing to reveal to man the intentions of his father Zeus, created the oracle on the site where he killed the serpent (or dragon) Python. The Panhellenic Pythian games were begun at the site in order to commemorate the death of this divine creature. Tripods and laurel wreaths were given as prizes to the victors at the games.
REPRESENTATION IN GREEK ART
Apollo appears frequently in all media of ancient Greek art, most often as a beautiful, beardless youth. He is easily identified with either a Kithara or a lyre, a bronze tripod (signifying his oracle at Delphi), a deer (which he often fights over with Herakles), and a bow and quiver. He is also, on occasion, portrayed riding a chariot pulled by lions or swans. Perhaps the most celebrated representation of Apollo in ancient Greek art is the statue which dominated the centre of the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (ca. 460 BCE).
His tree is the laurel, his bird is the crow and his animal is the dolphin.
The Loves of God Apollo
Apollo was one of the foremost gods of Olympus and supremely handsome. Like all the gods and goddesses, Apollo had many loves, not all of them happy:
The nymph Daphne fled from the god and turned herself into a laurel tree rather than submit to him. Apollo made the laurel tree his sacred tree and emblem.
With Coronis Apollo begat Asclepius, god of healing and medicine, but Coronis deserted Apollo for love of Ischyus. Apollo’s sister, Artemis, killed Coronis with her arrows. Apollo snatched the infant Asclepius from the funeral pyre and gave him to Hermes, or, some say to Chiron, the gentle Centaur.
Apollo fell in love with Cassandra the daughter of King Priam . He conferred on her the gift of prophecy, but Cassandra was untrue to Apollo who then breathed a kiss into her mouth that took away her powers of persuasion. From then on, no one believed the prophecies of Cassandra.
With the nymph Cyrene Apollo begot Aristaeus,who was worshiped as a protector of flocks and crops and especially of the art of beekeeping. Among Apollo’s male loves was Hyacinthus a beautiful young man after whom the spring flower hyacinth is named.
Facts about Apollo
Apollo was the son of Leto and Zeus. He was born on the island of Delos.
He and his twin sister Artemis, also an Olympian, shared an aptitude for archery.
His forename, Phoebus, means "bright" or "pure" and connects him to his grandmother, the Titan Phoebe.
Apollo, a masterful magician, was known for delighting Olympus with tunes played on his golden lyre. His lyre, a stringed instrument that resembles a small harp, was made by Hermes.
The nine Muses were companions of his; they were goddesses known for inspiring art and music.
Apollo taught men the art of medicine, so he is often referred to as “The Healer.”
Apollo is alternately referred to as the God of Light and the God of Truth.
Apollo served as an intermediary between the gods and men.
Because of his truthfulness and integrity, he was granted the gift of prophecy and oracles.
Apollo defended the oracle at Delphi against Hercules, who was angry at the priestess for having denied him a prophecy.
Apollo killed a serpent named Python as a result of a contest; it was conquered by a single arrow.
According to Homer's Illiad, Apollo played a major part in the Trojan War. He infected the Greek encampment with a plague and aided Paris in killing Achilles.
Ironically, Apollo was also a purifier, able to cleanse even those stained with the blood of their relatives.
The dolphin and swan were the animals sacred to him.
The laurel, used in Greece as a status symbol, was Apollo’s tree.
Apollo accidentally killed his dearest companion, Hyacinthus, in a discus throwing contest.
Apollo is credited with killing the Cyclops in retaliation for arming Zeus with the thunderbolt.
He had many love affairs with both mortals and goddesses. Perhaps the most famous of these women was a mortal named Hecuba, who was married to the King of Troy. The union between Apollo and Hecuba produced a son named Troilus.
Apollo’s affections were rejected by Cassandra, yet another mortal, so he punished her by arranging it so that her prophecies would never be believed.
Asclepius is probably Apollo’s most well-known son, although he had many offspring.
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