An Introduction to Apollo

Apollo is the son of Zeus and Leto and the twin brother of Artemis; some of his special interests are archery, music (particularly the lyre) and art, prophecy, and health and healing, as well as being god of plagues. He is known as a god of reason and intellect. Just as his sister was the protector of young girls, Apollo was the protector of young boys. His association with the sun came late to Greece.

Among Apollo’s children was the healing god Asklepios.

Myths and Stories

Apollo’s first story is of his birth, along with that of his twin Artemis; son of Zeus by Leto, his mother drew the wrath of Hera, who kept away the birth goddess Eileithuia so that Leto could not give birth. Finally the gods sent their messenger Iris, who let Eileithuia know that she was needed and promised her a golden necklace if she would come (possibly to induce her to risk Hera’s anger); she did so, and Leto bore her children.

Another story of Apollo tells how he acquired the oracle at Delphi. There are several versions of this myth, but all tell how he killed the snake Python who had occupied the spot beforehand; in some stories Apollo is then punished for that act.

Apollo is also known for a series of unfortunate love affairs with nymphs and mortal women, many of whom were far from eager to have a god for a lover; in one such tale, for example, he pursued the nymph Daphne, but she so feared him that she prayed to Zeus, who turned her into a laurel tree. The laurel is thus sacred to Apollo

Another of Apollo’s lost loves was the mortal Hyakinthos, killed while playing discus with the god; Apollo transformed the young man into the flower that bears his name.

Names and Epithets

Like many of the gods, Apollo was addressed under different names or epithets at different times and under different circumstances.

Apollo Paean (Apollo the Healer). This epithet was used when calling on Apollo in his role as a healer or savior from other ills. “Paean” is also the name of a type of hymn sung to Apollo.

Apollo Pythios. Pythios refers to Apollo’s connection with the oracle at Delphi, known in ancient times as Pytho.

Apollo Musagetes (Apollo of the Muses). Refers to Apollo’s role as leader of the Muses, the goddess who inspire the works of artists and scientists.

Phoebus Apollo (Bright Apollo). Refers to Apollo’s late identification with the sun.

Apollo Agyieus Apollo Agyieus was a protector of cities and homes, and was represented in the form of a pillar or obelisk placed before the threshold of many houses.

Festivals

Apollo, while honored throughout Greece, had particularly strong centers of worship in Delos (his birthplace) and Delphi (the site of his oracle). He was celebrated in a number of festivals throughout the Hellenic world, including the following:

Thargelia, a festival in which Apollo received first-fruits offerings; this festival also featured a purification ritual involving Pharmakoi, human scapegoats who were run out of town, symbolically taking all the ills of the city with them.

Pyanepsia, a fertility ritual including the Eirisione, an olive branch wrapped in wool and decorated with various objects, which bands of boys brought to the houses of the city in exchange for gifts, the bough bringing good fortune and fertility to the house.

Boedromia, a festival of gratitude to Apollo for military victories achieved by his might and will.

Delia, a great festival of Apollo held at his birthplace of Delos.

He was also honored on the seventh day of each month.

Symbols

Some of Apollo’s attributes are the bow and arrow, the lyre, and the laurel wreath. He is also associated with thw wolf and the raven.

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