Known as Apollo the bright or brilliant, the ancient Greeks worshiped this beneficial god as the ruler of the sun, a fertility god and a god of healing. Complementing his twin sister Artemis a moon goddess, Apollo’s chief role in the Grecian Olympic pantheon was as the driver of the golden chariot of the sun. He is sometimes known as Apollo the destroyer, so named for his part in many battles, punishment of the wicked and for his unerring shot with his arrows. Apollo, not only a god of healing but a god of plague and disease was credited for every sudden death of males whether from disease, old age or unknown cause. Some scholars relate his worship as worship of an aspect of the god Dionysus, also a fertility god.
Born the son of Olympic god Zeus and Titaness Leto, Apollo and his twin sister came to be two of the twelve major gods of the Greek Olympic pantheon. The roots of his worship can be traced back to at least the Iron Age, coming to the Mediterranean from Asia Minor. Though his name and significance comes chiefly comes from the Greek Olympic Pantheon, his attributes and additional roles come from the transformation he assumed when the Romans incorporated him into their beliefs. It is Romanized forms with which the modern world is most familiar. His worship spread throughout the ancient world and he was worshiped above many ancestral gods in the Celtic regions of the Roman Empire.
Among the many positions assigned to this magnificent, multi talented god were those of protector of boy children, a healer, a protector from evil, god of archery, protector of roads and homes, the god of colonization and construction especially fond of civic and government centers, the god of prophecy and music. He was a Shepard god who protected and tended livestock. He was the god of music and the arts, dance, poetry and other pursuits of an artistic nature. He oversaw the muses without whom human inspiration was not possible. Advancement in music and the arts has always followed with advances in civilization which accounts for his connection to the two themes. He was the patron of all intellectual pursuits and inventor of philosophy, codes of law and organized government.
Sacred items belonging to Apollo include the number 7 because it was believed he was born on the 7th day of the 7th month. In some regions ritual sacrifices were offered to him on the 7th of every month. Other sacred symbols include the laurel leaf, bow and arrow, quiver, lyre, raven, dolphin, wolf, swan, and the cypress tree.
Apollo was a notorious lover. He enjoyed the affections of both male and female companions, mortal as well as divine. In this respect he is likened to his father Zeus, the supreme ruler of the Olympian gods. In many instances he appears to be a younger version of the greater god, boisterous, proud, vengeful as well as benevolent though with a seemingly better temperament. His list of lovers is long, as well as his many divine and human offspring throughout the ancient world. He was a founder of many cities and kingdoms in the mortal world via his offspring and as a god of civilization, is credited with having built or helped to build the famous city of Troy of legend.
The ancient world worshiped and revered Apollo and built temples and shines dedicated to his homage throughout the known civilizations of the world. One of the most famous temples in honor of Apollo, and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world is the temple of the Oracle at Delphi. Though not much remains of it today, in its time it was a place of massive ceremonial pilgrimages.
The priests of Apollo maintained the oracle at the temple. The oracle was a young woman chosen by the priests and inducted into the temple. Using sacred means of divination she would speak for the god to mortals. Her word was revered among all who would seek her advice and prophecy. Her prophecies would influence major world events of the time as people from all walks of life came to consult the oracle on everything from when a country should go to war to who they should marry. No political campaigns were undertaken without seeking her advice.
Apollo was worshiped in a variety of ways by the ancient world. One of the most famous traditions was a series of games and athletic events called the Pythian Games held in Delphi once every four years. These games commemorated Apollo’s athletic and competitive nature. Many of the myths associated with Apollo have to do with competitions among the gods. Often depicted riding upon his golden chariot, Apollo played an important role in the everyday lives of the ancient people’s who worshiped him as the god of the sun, a non dispensable part of an agricultural society.
In contrast to his half brother, the over excessive, chaotic god Dionysus, Apollo represented order, union, harmony and civility. He is often pictured with a laurel wreath on his head, carrying or shooting his infamous bow and arrows and carrying a tripod, the symbol of prophecy or a lyre to symbolize his authority over music and the arts. He is always shown as clean shaven though his hair is not cut and is golden, thick and curly. The perpetual youth, he is idealized as the picture of male hood, perfectly hued and beautiful to the beholder.
Some of the more famous myths of Apollo passed down to us include:
Apollo and the Python: Apollo had recieved as a gift at birth a silver bow with arrows from his father Zeus. At four days old, he struck out on a mission to find and destroy the notorious giant snake named Python that had pursued his mother during her pregnancy in an attempt to devour her and her children at the orders of Queen goddess Hera, which measured over seven acres long. Finding her, he wounded her with his first shot, at which she retreated to her cave in Delphi, which was later to become the center of worship for Apollo. Python turned out to be a great oracle which could answer any question concerning present or future asked of her. He followed her to her cave and killed her with his second shot. Zeus, while proud of his young son, was displeased that Apollo had killed the greatest prophet of all time. To atone for the damage he had done, Apollo returned to Delphi and persuaded the priestess of the temple there to teach him the art of prophecy. Afterwards, the Oracle of Delphi always spoke for Apollo and predicted his visions.
Apollo and Daphne: This myth explains why the laurel and the laurel tree are so sacred to Apollo. One day Apollo caught Eros, the mischievous god of love playing with his arrows and chastised him for it. Eros in spite, shot Apollo with one of his golden tipped arrows, coated with a powerful aphrodisiac which made the victim fall in love with the first person they saw. This just happened to be Daphne, the daughter of a local river god. Seeing his trick was working, Eros struck Daphne with a lead tipped arrow dipped in a potion that made all love seem repugnant to the recipient. Apollo, madly in love with poor Daphne, pursued her to the ends of the earth. Finally having caught her, Daphne plead to the gods to strike her dead or change her form so she would not have to engage in marriage to Apollo. The gods headed her plea and changed her into a Laural tree on the spot. Apollo was naturally heartbroken. He took a branch from the laurel tree and fashioned it into a wreath which he wore on his head. He promised Daphne that she would be forever remembered and honored from that day forward and declared that a Laural wreath was to be used to adorn the heads of kings and victors of wars and competitions.