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Apollo: Greek God of the Sun

Apollo (Apollwn), son of Zeus and Leto and twin to Artemis, goddess of the hunt and Moon, was the later Roman Olympian Sun god. A multi-faceted deity with dominion over light, reason, truth, prophecy, medicine, healing, archery, dance, poetry and the arts, he also led the Muses. The daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (goddess of memory), the Muses were nine water nymphs personifying the arts and inspiring human creativity. They were Calliope, chief Muse and Muse of epic or heroic poetry; Clio, Muse of history; Erato, Muse of lyrics and erotic or love poetry; Euterpe, Muse of music and lyric poetry; Melpomene, Muse of tragedy; Polyhymnia, Muse of oratory, singing and rhetoric; Terpsichore, Muse of dance and choral song; Thalia, Muse of comedy and pastoral poetry; and Urania, Muse of astronomy.

Terpsichore, Muse of Music and Dance, Jean-Marc Nattier, c. 1739.

Madame Boudrey nee Marie-Genevieve Radix sitting as the muses Terpsichore (above) and Thalia (below) was such a great beauty that both "the king and the dauphin coveted her." Upon hearing of this her husband reportedly prized her all the more. During her marriage to Jean-Francois she was romantically linked to one of the most handsome men of the time, Nicolas-Augustin de Malbec de Montjoc, marquis de Briges and captain of the king’s guard, whom she married in 1760 after her husband’s death. Muse is the source of the English words "museum," "amuse," "music," and "musing upon".


Thalia, Muse of Comedy, Jean-Marc Nattier, c. 1739.

Apollo’s attributes were the bow and arrow, the kithara (an advanced version of the common lyre), the sword, and the sacrificial tripod representing his prophetic powers. The bay laurel tree (into which Daphne had been transformed when he pursued her) was used in sacrifices and in making the crown of victory at the Pythian Games, held every four years at Delphi in Apollo’s honor. Apollo’s reason, harmony, order and intellectualism stand in stark contrast to the wine-god Dionysus’ emotion and chaos.

When Zeus’ wife Hera found out that Leto was pregnant with Apollo and that Zeus was the father, she decreed that Leto could not give birth on land or on any island. Searching for a birth sanctuary, Leto discovered the floating island of Delos. There she gave birth, the island surrounded by swans. Later, Zeus attached Delos to the sea floor and it became sacred to Apollo. To keep Leto from going into childbirth, Hera also kidnapped Ilithyia, the goddess of childbirth. But the other goddesses tricked Hera into letting Ilithyia go by offering her a beautiful nine-yard long amber necklace. Apollo’s sister Artemis was supposedly born first—if only by one day—and helped Leto cross the sea to Delos to give birth.

The island of Delphi may derive its name from Apollo’s cult title "Delphinios," meaning dolphin or porpoise. Apollo supposedly first came to Delphi disguised as a dolphin, bringing with him priests from Crete. The mythology associated with Delphi, known as "Pytho," dates back to prehistoric times where there was thought to be a shrine to Gaia. The oracle then was translated from the rustling of the trees and the lapping of the waters, and sung in riddles at Gaia’s shrine by a mythical figure called "Sibyl." Later, the oracle at Delphi was said to gain her prophecies by inhaling the vapors from the nearby Castalian spring.

Now beside this spring lived the dragon Python: protector of Gaia and the sanctuary of Pytho and sent by Hera to pursue Leto across the Earth to her death. To protect his mother Apollo begged a bow and arrows from Hephaestus and at four days old killed Python in a sacred cave at Delphi. Since Python was Gaia’s child, Apollo was punished by serving king Admetus as a cowherd for nine years. Afterwards Apollo returned to Delphi as its ruler, where every nine years his deeds were celebrated in the Septeria festival. In this regard he was known as Pythian Apollo: the oracular patron and prophetic deity of Delphi. The oracle at Delphi who gave Apollo’s inspired prophecy was a priestess known as the Pythia. Established in the 8th century BC, it was the most authoritative oracle in the ancient world for over one thousand years until 393 AD when the emperor Theodosus I banned all pagan temples.

During the Trojan War Apollo shot plague-infected arrows into the Greek camp in response to Agamemnon’s insult to one of his priests whose daughter, Chryses, had been captured by the Greeks. Apollo demanded Chryses’ return; when the Greeks complied, this caused Achilles’ anger, the theme of the Iliad. Apollo later guided Paris’ arrow into Achilles’ heel, killing the Greek hero. This may have been done out of revenge for Achilles’ murdering Apollo’s son Troilus (by Hecuba) on the altar of Apollo’s temple.

Apollo had many female loves: the nymphs Daphne and Castalia, Hecuba Queen of Troy, and Cassandra, daughter of Hecuba and Priam. To seduce Cassandra he promised her the gift of prophecy; but upon her rejection he cursed his gift so that no one would believe her. Of all the gods he also had the most prominent male relationships, not surprisingly since he was the god of the athletic gathering place (the palaestra) for youth competing in the nude. It is curious, however, that many of Apollo’s male lovers suffered tragic accidental deaths.

This Apollo-Helios-Hyperion-Sol-Sun god page and much of this 600-page website are taken from the personalized Fine Art Book You and the Universe.

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