When we hear the name Cupid, images of Valentine’s Day, cubby winged babies, and true love come to mind. However, in the story of Daphne and Apollo, Cupid plays a much more sinister role.
While Cupid is not the star of the Apollo and Daphne story (as he is in the story of Cupid and Psyche) this story would not exist without him.
Greek and Roman mythology touches so many areas of our modern day lives. It lives in the etymology of words, and also the meanings behind many of our favorite items.
The Daphne and Apollo story is one of the more well known Greek and Roman myths. Keep reading to learn the story, and some fun facts about Apollo and Daphne.
A note on Greek and Roman mythology
While there are many similarities between Greek and Roman mythology, there are some points where they diverge. Greek mythology predates Roman mythology. When Roman mythology emerged, it reimagined some of the details of Greek mythology.
In the two types of mythology, names are often changed, and sometimes plot points differ. However, the story of Daphne and Apollo is largely the same in both Greek and Roman mythology.
The one major difference between the two styles of mythology in the story of Apollo and Daphne is the name of the god who shot Daphne and Apollo with his arrows. In Greek mythology, his name is Eros. In Roman mythology, his name is Cupid.
Who is Daphne Greek mythology?
Before we dive into the Daphne and Apollo story, let’s go over a little bit of background information on Daphne. She is a minor figure in Greek and Roman mythology.
Daphne is a naiad nymph. Naiad nymphs are associated with freshwater. They can be found near rivers brooks, streams, and even in fountains and wells. Daphne’s association with freshwater makes ancestral sense, because her father is a river god named Peneus.
The symbol of Daphne is laurel. It is an evergreen shrub that is native to the Mediterranean region. The leaves it produces are called both laurel leaves and bay leaves. If you’ve ever used bay leaves in cooking, you’ve been using laurel!
The shrub goes by the names laurel, bay laurel, sweet bay and true laurel. Ancient Greeks also called the plant Daphne, making this nymph’s name synonymous with the shrub. In Greco-Roman history, laurel was used to make wreaths and crowns.
Laurel wreathes were a symbol of victory. In ancient Greece they were given as awards in the Pythian Games, and in ancient Rome they represented military victory.
Even today, we honor those who have made outstanding intellectual or creative achievements as laureates, which is derived from the word laurel (e.g. Nobel Prize winners are called Nobel laureates).
Be sure to check out our video on YouTube that shows how to grow bay laurel.
Who is Apollo Greek mythology?
Before we dive into the story of Apollo and Daphne, let’s go over a little bit of background information on Apollo. In both Greek and Roman mythology he is named Apollo. This is unusual, as he is one of the only gods to retain his name across both styles of mythology.
Apollo is a god, more specifically he is one of the twelve Olympians. These deities are called the Olympians because they live on Mount Olympus. The gods that make the twelve Olympians have different names in Greek and Roman mythology – with the exception of Apollo, as mentioned above.
The twelve Olympians are listed as follows, as “Greek name (Roman name)”: Aphrodite (Venus), Apollo (Apollo), Ares (Mars), Artemis (Diana), Athena (Minerva), Demeter (Ceres), Dionysus (Liber), Hephaestus (Vulcan), Hera (Juno), Hermes (Mercury), Poseidon (Neptune) and Zeus (Jupiter).
Apollo’s father is Zeus (Jupiter), the god of sky and thunder. His mother is Leto (Latona), the goddess of motherhood. Apollo has a twin sister who shares his passion for archery, named Artemis (Diana), who is observed as the goddess of the hunt.
What are the symbols of Apollo and what is Apollo the god of?
Apollo is a major figure in Greek and Roman mythology and is identified as a god of many things. Apollo is a god of archery, music, arts, poetry, truth, knowledge, prophecy, healing and plague.
Several of the things Apollo presides over are reflected in the symbols associated with him. The symbols of Apollo are the bow and arrow, the laurel wreath, the lyre, and the Python.
The bow and arrow are one the symbols of Apollo because he is heralded as a god of archery. He defeated Python (one of his other symbols) with a bow and arrow.
Apollo is a god of music, so it makes sense that he would have the lyre (a stringed instrument resembling a small U shaped harp) as one of his symbols. Hermes (Mercury) invented the lyre from a tortoise shell and gave it Apollo as a trade for Apollo’s cattle, which Hermes had stolen.
The laurel wreath is one of the Apollo’s symbols because of its importance in the Daphne and Apollo story.
The story of Daphne and Apollo
The story of Daphne and Apollo begins with a battle between Python and Apollo. Python (also called Pytho) was a serpent-like creature, sometimes depicted as a medieval dragon, that terrorized mankind.
Apollo traveled to Python’s home of Delphi, to fight the creature. Apollo shot Python with 1,000 arrows, wounding and killing him.
Apollo then came across Eros (referred to in Roman mythology as Cupid), who had his own bow and quiver of arrows. Apollo, drunk with arrogance, began to taunt Eros. Apollo thought himself superior and teased Eros to leave the archery to the real archers.
This enraged Eros. He told Apollo that even though the arrows Apollo shot would be the downfall of a great many beasts, Eros himself had the arrow that would be Apollo’s downfall.
Standing atop the rock of Mount Parnassus, Eros reached into his quiver of arrows, and pulled out a golden arrow with a pointed tip. He shot this arrow at Apollo.
The arrow was armed with the potential to make its target fall in love with the first person he saw. Apollo laid eyes on Daphne, a river nymph, falling madly in love.
Eros reached into his quiver of arrows to grab a second arrow, which he shot at Daphne. However, this arrow had a blunt tip made of lead. It possessed the power to make its target develop a deep hatred and desire to flee the first person its target laid eyes on.
Apollo, overcome with love, ran towards Daphne. She, overcome with hatred, ran away from him. Apollo chased Daphne across all the land, hoping to catch up to her, and profess his love. Daphne, filled with disgust, did everything in her power to stay as far away from Apollo as possible.
Resolution of the Daphne and Apollo story
Daphne, a virgin before Eros’s archery, dedicated herself to remaining a virgin forever. This displeased her father, the river god Peneus. He demanded Daphne get married and give him grandchildren.
Feeling deep hatred for Apollo, she begged her father to understand, and let her remain unmarried, which he eventually agreed to do.
In their chase, Apollo and Daphne were evenly matched. No matter how quickly as he chased her, she ran from him at the same speed. Eros, the mischievous meddler he was, intervened to help Apollo catch up to Daphne.
Overcome with fear of the possibility Apollo might catch her, Daphne called out to her father. She pleaded with him to help her be free of Apollo forever.
Daphne begged for her father to take away her beauty, which Apollo prized, even if it meant changing her form or allowing the earth to swallow her whole.
Peneus answered her pleas by turning Daphne into a laurel tree. Her legs transformed into roots, her arms became branches, and her hair turned into leaves. Apollo, standing at the foot of the bay laurel tree that once was his beloved, vowed to honor her forever.
He used his powers to make the bay laurel tree that was once Daphne, evergreen, rendering her leaves unable to decay. Laurel became became sacred to Apollo, because of its connection Daphne. It is one of the main symbols used to represent both Apollo and Daphne.
Daphne and Apollo facts
Let’s refresh your knowledge of these two figures in Greek and Roman mythology by reviewing the facts about Daphne and Apollo below:
- There is a life sized marble sculpture of Apollo and Daphne in the Borghese Gallery. It was created by the Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini, between 1622 and 1625.
- Surprisingly, Apollo has the same name in both Green and Roman mythology. This is unusual, as most of the names of gods and goddesses were changed.
- The ancient Greeks called the laurel plant “Daphne”, making her name synonymous with the shrub.
- Apollo is considered one of the twelve Olympians, because he resided on Mount Olympus.
- If you’ve used bay leaves in cooking, you have actually been cooking with laurel. Bay leaves and laurel leaves are two names of the same plant.
Apollo and Daphne’s effect on the Pythian Games
The story of Daphne and Apollo influenced many aspects of Greek life. In ancient Greece, there was a tournament called the Pythian Games that would not have existed if not for Apollo.
According to Ovid, a Roman poet, the Pythian games were held every four years to celebrate Apollo killing Python. Though they took place in various different locations, their most revered location was in Delphi, the place where Apollo vanquished Python.
According to Aristotle, the games lasted six to eight days and began with a reenactment of Apollo’s victory over the serpent, followed by a sacrifice.
Then the games began, consisting of various competitions. There were athletic matches, sporting games and also artistic competitions. The athletic games included both equestrian and track sports. The artistic competitions included painting, music, poetry and drama.
The winner of the Pythian Games did not receive money as a prize. Instead they were given a wreath of laurel. With laurel’s importance to Apollo, and its connection to Daphne, this was a special prize.
Facts about Apollo and Daphne story
Did you enjoy learning about these Greek and Roman figures? Let’s solidify your knowledge of the story of Daphne and Apollo by reviewing the main plot points.
- Apollo killed the serpent-like beast Python with 1,000 arrows, in Delphi.
- Cupid is known, in modern times, for being a matchmaker and symbol of true love. However in the story of Daphne and Apollo, Eros (Cupid) is the agent of unrequited love.
- Eros (Cupid) struck Apollo with an arrow of love, and Daphne with an arrow of hatred, to punish Apollo for his arrogance and taunting.
- Apollo chased Daphne as she fled from him. The two were evenly matched until Eros (Cupid) intervened and helped Apollo catch up.
- Daphne’s own father, the river god Peneus, transformed her into a laurel tree.
- Apollo pledged his love for Daphne. He used his powers to make the bay laurel tree, that was once the object of his desires, evergreen.
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- Thanksgiving symbols – Would you believe there’s an item you frequently find on your Thanksgiving dinner table that draws inspiration from ancient Greek mythology?
- Mardi Gras symbols – Learn facts about Mardi Gras, and what the colors of Mardi Gras and how Greek mythology influenced the holiday.
- DIY cornucopia – Ancient Greeks and Romans associated cornucopias with a plentiful harvests, abundance, and prosperity. Get the tutorial to make your own!
- Chinese zodiac – Do you know your zodiac sign, and what it means? 12 animals are featured – such as year of the ox and year of the rabbit. It is fascinating to learn more!
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About the author
Since graduating from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Jess has been living and working in Los Angeles, CA. She is a freelance writer, specializing in content related to fashion, food and drink and film industry topics. Find out more about Jess here.
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