In Greek and Roman mythology, Apollo (Ancient Greek Ἀπόλλων, Apóllōn; or Ἀπέλλων, Apellōn) was the god of light, truth, archery, music, medicine and healing but also the bringer of deathly plague. The mythological son of Zeus and Leto, he was the twin brother of Artemis (goddess of the moon).
As one of the most popular of the Olympian deities and the patron of the ancient Oracle at Delphi, Apollo was considered to have dominion over medicine (through his son Asclepius), over colonists, was the defender of herds and flocks and the patron of music and poetry. More importantly, he was eventually identified with the Sun god Helios usurping the latter god's place in the Greek pantheon. However, Apollo and Helios remained separate beings in literary and mythological texts.
In literary contexts, Apollo represents harmony, order, and reason —characteristics contrasted with those of Dionysus, god of wine, who represents ecstasy and disorder. The contrast between the roles of these gods is reflected in the adjectives Apollonian and Dionysian. However, the Greeks thought of these two qualities as complementary: the two gods are brothers, and when Apollo at winter left for Hyperborea, he would leave the Delphic oracle to Dionysus. This contrast is visually represented in the Bourghese Vase.
The etymology of the theonym is uncertain, to the extent that Farnell's majesterial study states that "none of the various etymological theories and guesses are worth mentioning." This rather dire conclusion is echoed by Rose, who argues that "since his name apparently is not Greek, or at least, no reasonably certain Greek etymology has yet been found for it, we may suppose that the invaders, on their way into Greece, found and adopted him, no one can say where or when, but certainly before they reached Greece proper; and we may also not improbably suppose that, once in Greece, they identified the god they had made their own with local deities of somewhat similar character."
However, several instances of popular etymology are attested in the works of ancient authors. For example, Plato in Cratylus connects the name with ἀπόλυσις "redeem," with ἀπόλουσις "purification," and with ἁπλοῦν "simple," in particular in reference to the Thessalian form of the name, Ἄπλουν, and finally with Ἀει-βάλλων "ever-shooting."  The ἁπλοῦν suggestion is repeated by Plutarch in Moralia in the sense of "unity". Hesychius connects the name Apollo with the Doric απελλα, which means "assembly," so that Apollo would be the god of political life, and he also gives the explanation σηκος ("fold"), in which case Apollo would be the god of flocks and herds.
After one of Zeus's frequent sexual exploits, Leto (the soon-to-be mother of Apollo and Artemis) found herself pregnant. When the jealous Hera became aware of the titaness's state, she vengefully banned Leto from giving birth on "terra firma," or the mainland, or any island. Condemned by the Queen of the Gods to wander the earth, Leto fortuitously found the newly created floating island of Delos, which was neither mainland nor a real island, which allowed her to circumvent Hera's fiat and give birth there. Afterwards, Zeus, who may have been involved in the orchestration of such a geological improbability, secured Delos to the bottom of the ocean. This island later became sacred to Apollo.
In a parallel account, it is suggested that Hera kidnapped Ilithyia (the goddess of childbirth) in order to prevent Leto from going into labor. The other gods, sympathetic to her plight, tricked Hera into releasing the birthing-god by offering her an enormous amber necklace. Mythographers posit that Artemis was born first and then assisted with the birth of Apollo, or that Artemis was born one day before Apollo on the island of Ortygia, and that she assisted her mother in crossing the sea to Delos the next day to birth her twin. Apollo was born on the seventh day (ἡβδομαγενης) of the month Thargelion —according to Delian tradition— or of the month Bysios— according to Delphian tradition. The seventh and twentieth, the days of the new and full moon, were ever afterwards held sacred to him.
Though Apollo came to be associated with music, magic and medicine, his youth was filled with violence and bloodshed. For instance, Apollo, while still a youth, killed the chthonic dragon Python that lived in Delphi beside the Castalian Spring. The young god was motivated by his prey's attempt to rape Leto (his mother) while she was pregnant. Though successful in combat, Apollo had to be punished for his victory, since Python was a child of Gaia.
More blatantly, the young Apollo was occasionally famed for his wanton cruelty. In one case, he ordered the flesh flayed from Marsyas, a satyr, who dared challenge him to a music contest. He also afflicted men with his arrows of plague, infecting the Greeks (who had dishonored his priest Chryses) and, in particular, Niobe, who had disparaged Apollo's mother, Leto, for having only two children (Apollo and Artemis) compared to her own brood of (12 or) 14. In the latter case, Apollo and his sister also cold-bloodedly slay all of her children as well.
After a feud with Zeus (culminating in Zeus' murder of Asclepius and Apollo's retaliatory killing of the Cyclops), Apollo was threatened with permanent banishment to the darkness of Tartarus. Fortunately for the god of light, his mother intervened on his behalf, and convinced the King of the Gods to accept one year of hard labor as an alternate punishment. During this time, Apollo served as shepherd for King Admetus of Pherae (in Thessaly). Admetus treated Apollo well, and, in return, the god conferred great benefits on him. Specifically, Apollo helped Admetus win Alcestis, the daughter of King Pelias and later convinced the Fates to let Admetus live past his time if another took his place.
Though Apollo was not a central player in the events surrounding the Trojan war, his intervention was decisive in turning the tide of battle on more than one occasion. In one case, the invading Greeks captured Chryseis (the daughter of Chryses, a priest of Apollo) and refused to release her. The grief-stricken priest prayed to his patron, who responded by launching volley upon volley of plague arrows into the Greek encampment, decimating many of the invaders. Responding to this, Agamemnon agreed to return the girl to her father, but then confiscated Briseis (the prize of Achilles) to be his own. This singular act spawned the storied wrath of the slighted warrior, who then refused to fight for the Greek army, thus yielding one of the central events of the Iliad.
Despite the god's physical beauty, he was often depicted as tremendously unlucky in love. This theme was particularly well-developed in materials from the later classical period.
In a typical account, Apollo's advances on the the nymph Daphne, daughter of Peneus, were unilaterally rebuffed. Though the god did not know it, his infatuation had been caused by an arrow from Eros, who was piqued with Apollo for mocking his archery skills. To further savor his revenge, had also shot a lead (hate) arrow into Daphne, which caused her feelings of intense repulsion. Following a spirited chase, Daphne prayed to Mother Earth (or alternatively to her father, a river god) to help her, and she was transformed into a laurel tree, which thereafter became sacred to Apollo.
The catalogue of failed romances continues with Marpessa, who chose Idas (a mortal) over Apollo; Castilia, a nymph fled into a mountain spring rather than accept his advances; Cassandra, who he offered the gift of prophecy, rejected him anyway (and was resultantly cursed); Coronis, the human princess who bore the god's son Asclepius, cuckolded him with a human prince. However, and in spite of his numerous romantic disasters, the god did succeed in fathering several children, including Troilius, Asclepius, Aristaeus (the patron god of cattle), and Ion.
Apollo had the most conspicuous male relationships of all the Greek Gods. He was the god of the palaestra, the athletic gathering place for youth (who, not incidentally, competed in the nude), and his male lovers were all younger than him. Hyacinthus, a Spartan prince, was one of these male lovers—beautiful and athletic. It is said the pair were practicing throwing the discus when Hyacinthus was struck in the head by a discus blown off course by Zephyrus, who was jealous of Apollo and loved Hyacinthus as well. When Hyacinthus died, Apollo is said to have been so filled with grief that he cursed his own immortality, wishing to join his lover in mortal death. Further, he transformed Zephyrus into the wind so that he could never truly touch or speak to anyone again. Out of the blood of his slain lover, it is said Apollo created the hyacinth flower as a memorial to his death, and his tears stained the flower petals with άί άί, meaning alas. The Festival of Hyacinthus, which commemorated these event, was an important celebration in Spartan religious life.
Another male lover was Cyparissus, a descendant of Heracles. Apollo gave the boy a tame deer as a companion, but Cyparissus accidentally killed it with a javelin as it lay asleep in the undergrowth. Cyparissus asked Apollo to let his tears fall forever. Apollo turned the despondent boy into a cypress tree, which is associated with grief because the droplets of sap that form upon the trunk have the appearance of amber tears.
Apollo was also the first victim of Hermes, the god of thieves and tricksters. When the latter deity was born on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia, he was hidden in cave by his mother, Maia, who feared the wrath of Hera if she discovered the paternity of the new-born god. Thus, she wrapped the infant in blankets and stowed him away, but the clever Hermes escaped while she was asleep. Thereafter, Hermes ran to Thessaly, where Apollo was grazing his cattle. The infant Hermes stole a number of his cows and took them to a cave in the woods near Pylos, covering their tracks. In the cave, he found a tortoise and killed it, then removed the entrails. He used the cow's intestines and the tortoise shell to make the first lyre. Apollo complained to Maia that her son had stolen his cattle, but Hermes had already replaced himself in the blankets she had wrapped him in, so Maia refused to believe the elder god's accusation. Zeus intervened and—claiming to have seen the events—sided with Apollo. Before the god of music could demand restitution, Hermes began to play music on the lyre he had invented. Apollo immediately fell in love with the instrument and offered to simply exchange: the cattle for the lyre, and proceeded to forgive the young god for his transgression. Hence, Apollo became a master of the lyre and Hermes invented a kind of pipes-instrument called a syrinx.
Once Pan had the audacity to compare his music with that of Apollo, thus challenging Apollo—the god of the lyre—to a trial of skill. Tmolus, the mountain-god, was chosen to umpire. Pan blew on his pipes, and with his rustic melody gave great satisfaction to himself and his faithful follower, Midas, who happened to be present. Then Apollo struck the strings of his lyre. Tmolus at once awarded the victory to Apollo, and all but Midas agreed with the judgment. The ill-fated monarch dissented, questioning the justice of the award. Affronted, Apollo decided that he would not suffer such a depraved pair of ears any longer, and caused them to transform into the ears of a donkey.
Apollo's most common attributes were the bow and arrow, the kithara (an advanced version of the common lyre), the plectrum and the sword. Other well-established emblems were the sacrificial tripod representing his prophetic powers, and the Golden Mean. Animals sacred to Apollo included wolves, dolphins, roe deer, swans, grasshoppers (symbolizing music and song), hawks, ravens, crows, snakes (in reference to Apollo's function as the god of prophecy), mice and griffins (mythical eagle-lion hybrids of Eastern origin).
The Pythian Games that were held every four years at Delphi, were conducted in the god's honor. It was at these games that the laurel bay plant, generally used in expiatory sacrifices, was used to construct the crown of victory.
Apollo, like other Greek deities, had a number of epithets applied to him, reflecting the variety of roles, duties, and aspects ascribed to him. However, while Apollo had a great number of appellations in Greek myth, only a few occurred in Latin literature, chief among them Phoebus ("shining one"), which was very commonly used by both the Greeks and Romans to denote Apollo's role as the god of light.
In Apollo's role as healer, his appellations included Akesios and Iatros, meaning "healer." He was also called Alexikakos ("restrainer of evil") and Apotropaeus ("he who averts evil"), and was referred to by the Romans as Averruncus ("averter of evils"). As a plague god and defender against rats and locusts, Apollo was known as Smintheus ("mouse-catcher") and Parnopius ("grasshopper"). The Romans also called Apollo Culicarius ("driving away midges"). In his healing aspect, the Romans referred to Apollo as Medicus ("the Physician"), and a temple was dedicated to Apollo Medicus at Rome, probably next to the temple of Bellona.
As a god of archery, Apollo was known as Aphetoros ("god of the bow") and Argurotoxos ("with the silver bow"). The Romans referred to Apollo as Articenens ("carrying the bow") as well. As a pastoral shepherd-god, Apollo was known as Nomios ("wandering").
Apollo was also known as Archegetes ("director of the foundation"), who oversaw colonies. He was known as Klarios, from the Doric klaros ("allotment of land"), for his supervision over cities and colonies.
He was known as Delphinios ("Delphinian"), meaning "of the womb," for his association with the temple at Delphoi (Delphi). At Delphi itself, he was also known as Pythios ("Pythian"). Kynthios, another common epithet, stemmed from his birth on Mt. Cynthus. He was also known as Lyceios or Lykegenes, which either meant "wolfish" or "of Lycia," Lycia being the place where some postulate that his cult originated.
In his role as god of a prophecy, Apollo was known as Loxias ("the obscure"). He was also known as Coelispex ("he who watches the heavens") to the Romans. Apollo was attributed the epithet Musagetes as the leader of the muses, and Nymphegetes as "nymph-leader."
Acesius was a surname of Apollo, under which he was worshipped in Elis, where he had a temple in the agora. This surname, which has the same meaning as akestor and alezikakos, characterized the god as the averter of evil.
Unusual among the Olympic deities, Apollo had two cult sites that had widespread influence: Delos and Delphi. In cult practice, Delian Apollo and Pythian Apollo (the Apollo of Delphi) were so distinct that they both had shrines in some localities. The expansiveness of the god's cult is demonstrated by the incidence of theophoric names (such as Apollodorus or Apollonios) and toponyms (such as Apollonia), which were common in the Greek world. Apollo's cult was already fully established at the beginning of the historical period of Greek civilization (about 650 B.C.E.). Further, as Farnell summarizes, Apollo was "a Panhellenic god [who] survived almost down to the close of paganism as a brilliant and clearly-outlined figure of the genuinely national religion: and in reviewing his cults one is surveying the career of a people in its transition from the lower barbarism into the highest social and intellectual life."
One of his most important temples dedicated to the Pythian Apollo is described in a Homeric Hymn:
The most famous oracular shrine in the Greek world, located at Delphi, was dedicated to Apollo. Other notable temples could be found in Clarus and Branchidae. In addition, his oracular shrine in Abea (Phocis), was considered to be important enough that is was consulted by Croesus.
The following is an annotated list of the various oracular shrines dedicated to Apollo throughout the Hellenic world:
The Roman worship of Apollo was adopted from the Greeks. As a quintessentially Greek god, Apollo had no direct Roman equivalent, although later Roman poets often referred to him as Phoebus. Regardless, the Delphic oracle was consulted as early as the period of the Roman Kingdom, during the reign of Tarquinius Superbus. In 430 B.C.E., a Roman temple was dedicated to Apollo Medicus on the occasion of a pestilence. This structure was located outside the heart of Rome, past "the porta Carmentalis between the Forum Holitorium and the Circus Flaminius." During the Second Punic War in 212 B.C.E., the Ludi Apollinares ("Apollonian Games") were also instituted in the god's honor.
In the time of Augustus, who considered himself to be under the special protection of Apollo and was even said to be his son, the worship of Apollo developed and he became one of the chief gods of Rome. After the battle of Actium, Augustus enlarged the Temple of Apollo Sosianus (the selfsame temple of Apollo Medicus described above), dedicated a portion of the spoils to the god, and instituted quinquennial games in his honour. He also erected the Temple of Apollo in Palatine Hill, Rome, and rededicated the secular games, for which Horace composed his Carmen Saeculare, to Apollo and Diana.
All links retrieved October 23, 2012.
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