Apollo, sometimes known as Phoebus Apollo, was a major god in ancient Greek mythology and was one of the Twelve Olympians. He was the god of music, poetry, archery, healing, the sun, and prophecy, as well as patron of the arts and the oracle. During the time of the ancient Greeks, Apollo was one of the most important and widely worshipped gods. According to The World Book Encyclopedia, "Only Zeus was more widely worshipped than Apollo." (Philips 566). Today, he is still remembered as one of the most famous gods in Greek mythology.
Apollo was a god with various realms. He was the god of music, and he was thought to be a better musician than any other god or man. He was the god of poetry, and was able to recite eloquent lyric poems while masterfully playing the lyre. He was also the god of healing, and was attributed with giving the knowledge of medicine to mortals. When taking the Hippocratic Oath, Ancient Greek doctors would swear by "...Apollo, Asclepius, Hygeia (Health) and all the powers of healing..." (Grant 144). Although he was the god of healing, he was also known to bring the plague.
Apollo was the god of archery as well, and both him and his sister Artemis were excellent with a bow and arrow. Later during the Hellenistic period, Apollo replaced Helios and was regarded as the god of the sun. According to The Encyclopedia of Greco-Roman Mythology, "In later writers Apollo was identified with the sun god, the result of Egyptian influences, at which time his sister, Artemis, was identified with the moon." (Dixon-Kennedy 40). Apollo was even patron of the arts. As said by Philip Matyszak in The Greek and Roman Myths, "Apollo took his job as patron of the arts very seriously.
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He took the muses into his charge, and even today, many towns and cities have multiple shrines to Apollo in Odeons - originally temples where music and drama were celebrated." (Matyszak 83). But most importantly, Apollo was the god of prophecy and patron of the oracle. As noted by Mike Dixon-Kennedy, "As the god of prophecy Apollo could confer that gift to gods and mortals alike, and of all the centers of worship, Delphi was the most famous." (Dixon-Kennedy 39). The oracle of Delphi was visited by those seeking advice not only from Greece, but from all over the ancient world.
At the oracle of Delphi, "The prophetess of Delphi, often called the Pythia, sat on a large three-legged stand or tripod. In a state of ecstacy inspired by Apollo, she frequently uttered his oracles in a strange and puzzling form." (Hamilton 814). There, a priest would interpret the oracles and share them with the public. The oracle's importance to the ancient Greeks could not be understated. For the Greeks, the prophecies that Apollo made through the oracle could determine the future of everything.
Like his realms, Apollo had a personality that varied. Philip Matyszak describes him as "...the most human of the gods, being both gifted and unfortunate, civilized yet capable of dark barbarism." (Matyszak 83). On one hand, Apollo was
Appearance-wise, Apollo was thought to be the epitome of male youth and beauty.
Apollo, like most other gods in Greek mythology, had an intricate family tree. His father was Zeus, ruler of the gods. His mother was the Titaness Leto, who after giving birth to Apollo and his twin sister Artemis, became the goddess of motherhood. Apollo's sister Artemis was goddess of the hunt, the moon, the wilderness, and childbirth. Apollo's grandparents were Titans Cronus and Rhea, Zeus's parents, and the Titans Coeus and Phoebe, Leto's parents.
Apollo had a numerous amount of half-siblings, like Ares, god of war, Athena, goddess of warfare and wisdom, Dionysus, god of wine, Persephone, goddess of springtime and flowers, and Hermes, god of trade, thieves, and travel. Apollo had many children of his own, including Asclepius, minor god of healing, and the legendary Greek heroes Orpheus, Aristaeus, and Troilus.
Apollo had many symbols. One symbol of his was the bow and arrow because he was the god of archery. The most famous of his symbols was the lyre, which is "...an ancient stringed musical instrument that resembles a small harp." (Loft 537). One reason why this was one of his symbols is because he was the god of music. Another reason is due to an ancient Greek myth that Diane Harris Cline mentions in The Greeks, saying:
Zeus lay with Maia in a mountain cave, to hide from Hera, his wife. At dawn Maia gave birth to a precious infant, the god Hermes. An hour later the baby crawled out of the cave and saw a tortoise. Inspired, he cut the creature from its shell. He attached arms and a crosspiece, added strings of sheep gut, inventing the seven-string lyre, the first tuned instrument. By noon he was performing hymns.
The next time Hermes left the cave, he stole 50 of Apollo's cattle, walking them backward and wearing huge sandals to fool investigators. He crawled back into his crib, playing the innocent baby when Apollo came asking questions. Apollo had his suspicions, so he took Hermes to court. Zeus let the boy off. Apollo heard Hermes play the lyre and asked for it as compensation for the cattle. Hermes handed it over. (Cline 173)
Another one of Apollo's symbols was the laurel tree, and he was often depicted wearing a crown of laurel leaves. The reason for this is because of the myth of Apollo and Daphne, which is explained in The Greek and Roman Myths:
If Apollo was not lightly mocked, nor was Eros, another archer god. For criticizing the feeble arrows of the matchmaker, Apollo was shot through the heart by an arrow of Eros that was tipped with gold. This caused him to fall desperately in love with the nymph Daphne (Laurel).
Yet Daphne had been shot with a lead-tipped arrow of Eros, which caused her to flee Apollo's advances until, unable to flee further, she changed herself into a tree which now bears her name (bay laurel). Still Apollo would have her, using the wood for his lyre and his bow, while the leaves of the tree were used for the wreath which crowned the victors in competition… (Matyszak 84)
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