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2nd century AD Roman statue of Apollo depicting the god's attributes - the lyre and the snake Python
2nd century AD Roman statue of Apollo depicting the god's attributes - the lyre and the snake Python
God of music, poetry and oracles
Parents Zeus and Leto
Siblings Artemis
Children Asclepius, Troilus, Aristaeus
Roman equivalent Apollo
Primary polis Delphi

Ancient Greek Religion

Main doctrines
Polytheism · Mythology · Hubris
Orthopraxy · Reciprocity · Virtue

Amphidromia · Iatromantis
Pharmakos · Temples
Votive Offerings · Animal sacrifice

Twelve Olympians:
Ares · Artemis · Aphrodite · Apollo
Athena · Hestia · Hades · Hera ·
Hermes · Hephaestus · Poseidon · Zeus
Primordial deities:
Aether · Chaos · Cronos · Erebus
Gaia · Hemera · Nyx · Tartarus · Oranos
Lesser gods:
Eros · Hebe · Hecate · Helios
Herakles · Hestia · Iris · Selene · Pan · Nike
Iliad · Odyssey
Theogony · Works and Days
See also:
Decline of Hellenistic polytheism
Hellenic Polytheistic Reconstructionism
Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes

Ancient Roman Religion
Bacchian rite, from the Gay Bumming

Main doctrines
Imperial Cult · Festivals

Temples ·
Votive Offerings · Animal sacrifice

Ceres · Diana · Juno
Jupiter · Mars · Mercury ·
Neptune · Venus · Vulcan
Sol Invictus · Vesta
The Lares
Lesser deities
Adranus · Averrunci · Averruncus
Bellona · Bona Dea · Bromius
Caelus · Castor and Pollux · Clitunno
Cupid · Dis Pater · Faunus · Glycon
Inuus · Lupercus
Sibylline Books · Sibylline oracles
Aeneid · Metamorphoses
The Golden Ass
See also:
Persecution · Nova Roma
Greek polytheism

In Greek and Roman mythology, Apollo (in Greek, ἈπόλλωνApóllōn or ἈπέλλωνApellōn), is one of the most important and many-sided of the Olympian deities. The ideal of the kouros (a beardless youth), Apollo has been variously recognized as a god of light and the sun; truth and prophecy; archery; medicine and healing; music, poetry, and the arts; and more. Apollo is the son of Zeus and Leto, and has a twin sister, the chaste huntress Artemis. Apollo is known in Greek-influenced Etruscan mythology as Apulu. Apollo was worshipped in both ancient Greek and Roman religion, as well as in the modern Hellenic neopaganism.

As the patron of Delphi (Pythian Apollo), Apollo was an oracular god — the prophetic deity of the Delphic Oracle. Medicine and healing were associated with Apollo, whether through the god himself or mediated through his son Asclepius. Apollo was also seen as a god who could bring ill-health and deadly plague as well as one who had the ability to cure. Amongst the god's custodial charges, Apollo became associated with dominion over colonists, and as the patron defender of herds and flocks. As the leader of the Muses (Apollon Musagetes) and director of their choir, Apollo functioned as the patron god of music and poetry. Hermes created the lyre for him, and the instrument became a common attribute of Apollo. Hymns sung to Apollo were called paeans.

In Hellenistic times, especially during the third century BCE, as Apollo Helios he became identified among Greeks with Helios, god of the sun, and his sister Artemis similarly equated with Selene, goddess of the moon.[1] In Latin texts, however, Joseph Fontenrose declared himself unable to find any conflation of Apollo with Sol among the Augustan poets of the first century, not even in the conjurations of Aeneas and Latinus in Aeneid XII (161-215).[2] Apollo and Helios/Sol remained separate beings in literary and mythological texts until the third century CE.



The etymology of Apollo is uncertain. Several instances of popular etymology are attested from ancient authors. Thus, Plato in Cratylus connects the name with ἀπόλυσις "redeem", with ἀπόλουσις "purification", and with ἁπλοῦν "simple",[3] in particular in reference to the Thessalian form of the name, Ἄπλουν, and finally with Ἀει-βάλλων "ever-shooting". 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. It is also possible[4] that apellai derives from an old form of Apollo which can be equated with Appaliunas, an Anatolian god whose name possibly means "father lion" or "father light". The Greeks later associated Apollo's name with the Greek verb απολλυμι (apollymi) meaning "to destroy".[5]

It has also been suggested[6][7] that Apollo comes from the Hurrian and Hittite divinity, Aplu, who was widely evoked during the "plague years". Aplu, it is suggested, comes from the Akkadian Aplu Enlil, meaning "the son of Enlil", a title that was given to the god Nergal, who was linked to Shamash, Babylonian god of the sun.

Origins of cult

It appears that both Greek and Etruscan Apollo came to the Aegean during the Iron Age (i.e. from c.1100 BCE to c. 800 BCE) from Anatolia. Homer pictures him on the side of the Trojans, against the Achaeans, during the Trojan War and he has close affiliations with a Luwian deity, Apaliunas, who in turn seems to have traveled west from further east. The Late Bronze Age (from 1700–1200 BCE) Hittite and Hurrian Aplu,[8] like the Homeric Apollo, was a god of plagues, and resembles the mouse god Apollo Smintheus. Here we have an apotropaic situation, where a god originally bringing the plague was invoked to end it, merging over time through fusion with the Mycenaean healer-god Paieon (PA-JA-WO in Linear B); Paean, in Homer's Iliad, was the Greek healer of the wounded gods Ares and Hades. In other writers, the word becomes a mere epithet of Apollo in his capacity as a god of healing, but it is now known from Linear B that Paean was originally a separate deity.

Homer illustrated Paieon the god as well as the song both of apotropaic thanksgiving or triumph,[9] and Hesiod also separated the two; in later poetry Paean was invoked independently as a god of healing. It is equally difficult to separate Paean or Paeon in the sense of "healer" from Paean in the sense of "song."

Such songs were originally addressed to Apollo, and afterwards to other gods, Dionysus, Helios, Asclepius.. About the fourth century BCE, the paean became merely a formula of adulation; its object was either to implore protection against disease and misfortune, or to offer thanks after such protection had been rendered. It was in this way that Apollo had become recognised as the god of music. Apollo's role as the slayer of the Python led to his association with battle and victory; hence it became the Roman custom for a paean to be sung by an army on the march and before entering into battle, when a fleet left the harbour, and also after a victory had been won.

Apollo's links with oracles again seem to be associated with wishing to know the outcome of an illness. He is a god of music and the lyre. Healing belongs to his realm: he was the father of Asclepius, the god of medicine. The Muses are part of his retinue, so that music, history, poetry and dance all belong to him.

Cult sites

Unusually 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 might both have shrines in the same locality.[10] Theophoric names such as Apollodorus or Apollonios and cities named Apollonia are met with throughout the Greek world. Apollo's cult was already fully established when written sources commenced, about 650 BCE.

Oracular shrines

Apollo had a famous oracle in Delphi, and other notable ones in Clarus and Branchidae. His oracular shrine in Abae in Phocis, where he bore the toponymic epithet Abaeus (Ἀπόλλων Ἀβαῖος, Apollon Abaios) was important enough to be consulted by Croesus (Herodotus, 1.46). His oracular shrines include:

  • In Didyma, an oracle on the coast of Anatolia, south west of Lydian (Luwian) Sardis, in which priests from the lineage of the Branchidae received inspiration by drinking from a healing spring located in the temple.
  • In Hierapolis Bambyce, Syria (modern Manbij), according to the treatise De Dea Syria, the sanctuary of the Syrian Goddess contained a robed and bearded image of Apollo. Divination was based on spontaneous movements of this image.[11]
  • In Delos, there was an oracle to the Delian Apollo, during summer. The Hieron (Sanctuary) of Apollo adjacent to the Sacred Lake, was the place where the god was said to have been born.
  • In Corinth, the Oracle of Corinth came from the town of Tenea, from prisoners supposedly taken in the Trojan War
  • In Bassae in the Peloponnese
  • In Abae in Phocis
  • In Delphi, the Pythia became filled with the pneuma of Apollo, said to come from a spring inside the Adyton.
  • At Patara, in Lycia, there was a seasonal winter oracle of Apollo, said to have been the place where the god went from Delos. As at Delphi the oracle at Patara was a woman.
  • At Clarus, on the west coast of Asia Minor; as at Delphi a holy spring which gave off a pneuma, from which the priests drank.
  • In Segesta in Sicily

Oracles were also given by sons of Apollo.

  • In Oropus, north of Athens, the oracle Amphiaraus, was said to be the son of Apollo; Oropus also had a sacred spring.
  • in Labadea, 20 miles (32 km) east of Delphi, Trophonius, another son of Apollo, killed his brother and fled to the cave where he was also afterwards consulted as an oracle.


The chief Apollonian festivals were the Boedromia, Carneia, Carpiae, Daphnephoria, Delia, Hyacinthia, Metageitnia, Pyanepsia, Pythia and Thargelia.

Attributes and symbols

Apollo Citharoedus ("Apollo with a kithara"), Musei Capitolini, Rome

Apollo's most common attributes were the bow and arrow. Other attributes of his included the kithara (an advanced version of the common lyre), the plectrum and the sword. Another common emblem was the sacrificial tripod, representing his prophetic powers. The Pythian Games were held in Apollo's honor every four years at Delphi. The bay laurel plant was used in expiatory sacrifices and in making the crown of victory at these games. The palm was also sacred to Apollo because he had been born under one in Delos. Animals sacred to Apollo included wolves, dolphins, roe deer, swans, cicadas (symbolizing music and song), hawks, ravens, crows, snakes (referencing Apollo's function as the god of prophecy), mice and griffins, mythical eagle-lion hybrids of Eastern origin.

As god of colonization, Apollo gave oracular guidance on colonies, especially during the height of colonization, 750–550 BCE. According to Greek tradition, he helped Cretan or Arcadian colonists found the city of Troy. However, this story may reflect a cultural influence which had the reverse direction: Hittite cuneiform texts mention a Minor Asian god called Appaliunas or Apalunas in connection with the city of Wilusa attested in Hittite inscriptions, which is now generally regarded as being identical with the Greek Ilion by most scholars. In this interpretation, Apollo’s title of Lykegenes can simply be read as "born in Lycia", which effectively severs the god's supposed link with wolves (possibly a folk etymology).

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 the 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 appears to be shown on the two sides of the Borghese Vase.

Apollo is often associated with the Golden Mean. This is the Greek ideal of moderation and a virtue that opposes gluttony.

Roman Apollo

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. There was a tradition that the Delphic oracle was consulted as early as the period of the kings of Rome during the reign of Tarquinius Superbus.[12] On the occasion of a pestilence in the 430s BC, Apollo's first temple at Rome was established in the Flaminian fields, replacing an older cult site there known as the "Apollinare".[13] During the Second Punic War in 212 BC, the Ludi Apollinares ("Apollonian Games") were instituted in his honor, on the instructions of a prophecy attributed to one Marcius.[14] In the time of Augustus, who considered himself under the special protection of Apollo and was even said to be his son, his worship developed and he became one of the chief gods of Rome.[15] After the battle of Actium, which was fought near a sanctuary of Apollo, Augustus enlarged Apollo's temple, dedicated a portion of the spoils to him, and instituted quinquennial games in his honour.[16] He also erected a new temple to the god on the Palatine hill.[17] Sacrifices and prayers on the Palatine to Apollo and Diana formed the culmination of the Secular Games, held in 17 BCE to celebrate the dawn of a new era.[18]

In art

Apollo (the "Adonis" of Centocelle), Roman after a Greek original (Ashmolean Museum)

In art, Apollo is depicted as a handsome beardless young man, often with a kithara (as Apollo Citharoedus) or bow in his hand, or reclining on a tree (the Lycian Apollo and Apollo Sauroctonos types). The Apollo Belvedere is a marble sculpture that was rediscovered in the late 15th century; for centuries it epitomized the ideals of Classical Antiquity for Europeans, from the Renaissance through the nineteenth century. The marble is a Hellenistic or Roman copy of a bronze original by the Greek sculptor Leochares, made between 350 and 325 BC.

The lifesize so-called "Adonis" (shown at left) found in 1780 on the site of a villa suburbana near the Via Labicana in the Roman suburb of Centocelle and now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, is identified as an Apollo by modern scholars. It was probably never intended as a cult object, but was a pastiche of several fourth-century and later Hellenistic model types, intended to please a Roman connoisseur of the second century AD, and to be displayed in his villa.

Apollo with a radiant halo in a Roman floor mosaic, El Djem, Tunisia, late 2nd century

In the late second century CE floor mosaic from El Djem, Roman Thysdrus (right), he is identifiable as Apollo Helios by his effulgent halo, though now even a god's divine nakedness is concealed by his cloak, a mark of increasing conventions of modesty in the later Empire. Another haloed Apollo in mosaic, from Hadrumentum, is in the museum at Sousse.[19] The conventions of this representation, head tilted, lips slightly parted, large-eyed, curling hair cut in locks grazing the neck, were developed in the third century BCE to depict Alexander the Great (Bieber 1964, Yalouris 1980). Some time after this mosaic was executed, the earliest depictions of Christ will be beardless and haloed.



When Hera discovered that Leto was pregnant and that Zeus was the father, she banned Leto from giving birth on "terra firma", or the mainland, or any island. In her wanderings, Leto found the newly created floating island of Delos, which was neither mainland nor a real island, and she gave birth there. The island was surrounded by swans. Afterwards, Zeus secured Delos to the bottom of the ocean. This island later became sacred to Apollo.

It is also stated that Hera kidnapped Ilithyia, the goddess of childbirth, to prevent Leto from going into labor. The other gods tricked Hera into letting her go by offering her a necklace, nine yards (8 m) long, of amber. Mythographers agree 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 helped Leto cross the sea to Delos the next day to give birth to Apollo. 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.


Four days after his birth, Apollo killed the chthonic dragon Python, which lived in Delphi beside the Castalian Spring. This was the spring which emitted vapors that caused the oracle at Delphi to give her prophesies. Hera sent the serpent to hunt Leto to her death across the world. In order to protect his mother, Apollo begged Hephaestus for a bow and arrows. After receiving them, Apollo cornered Python in the sacred cave at Delphi.[20] Apollo killed Python but had to be punished for it, since Python was a child of Gaia.

Hera then sent the giant Tityos to kill Leto. This time Apollo was aided by his sister Artemis in protecting their mother. During the battle Zeus finally relented his aid and hurled Tityos down to Tartarus. There he was pegged to the rock floor, covering an area of 9 acres (36,000 m2), where a pair of vultures feasted daily on his liver.


When Zeus struck down Apollo's son Asclepius, with a lightning bolt for resurrecting Hippolytus from the dead (transgressing Themis by stealing Hades's subjects), Apollo in revenge killed the Cyclops, who had fashioned the bolt for Zeus. Apollo would have been banished to Tartarus forever, but was instead sentenced to one year of hard labor as punishment, thanks to the intercession of his mother, Leto. During this time he served as shepherd for King Admetus of Pherae in Thessaly. Admetus treated Apollo well, and, in return, the god conferred great benefits on Admetus.

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. But when it came time for Admetus to die, his parents, whom he had assumed would gladly die for him, refused to cooperate. Instead, Alcestis took his place, but Heracles managed to "persuade" Thanatos, the god of death, to return her to the world of the living.

Trojan War

Apollo shot arrows infected with the plague into the Greek encampment during the Trojan War in retribution for Agamemnon's insult to Chryses, a priest of Apollo whose daughter Chryseis had been captured. He demanded her return, and the Achaeans complied, indirectly causing the anger of Achilles, which is the theme of the Iliad.

When Diomedes injured Aeneas (Iliad), Apollo rescued him. First, Aphrodite tried to rescue Aeneas but Diomedes injured her as well. Aeneas was then enveloped in a cloud by Apollo, who took him to Pergamos, a sacred spot in Troy.

Apollo aided Paris in the killing of Achilles by guiding the arrow of his bow into Achilles' heel. One interpretation of his motive is that it was in revenge for Achilles' sacrilege in murdering Troilus, the god's own son by Hecuba, on the very altar of the god's own temple.


A queen of Thebes and wife of Amphion, Niobe boasted of her superiority to Leto because she had fourteen children (Niobids), seven male and seven female, while Leto had only two. Apollo killed her sons as they practiced athletics, with the last begging for his life, and Artemis her daughters. Apollo and Artemis used poisoned arrows to kill them, though according to some versions of the myth, a number of the Niobids were spared (Chloris, usually). Amphion, at the sight of his dead sons, either killed himself or was killed by Apollo after swearing revenge. A devastated Niobe fled to Mount Sipylos in Asia Minor and turned into stone as she wept. Her tears formed the river Achelous. Zeus had turned all the people of Thebes to stone and so no one buried the Niobids until the ninth day after their death, when the gods themselves entombed them.

Consorts and children

Love affairs ascribed to Apollo are a late development in Greek mythology.[21] Their vivid anecdotal qualities have made some of them favourites of painters since the Renaissance, so that they stand out more prominently in the modern imagination.

Female lovers

In explanation of the connection of Apollon with daphne, the Laurel whose leaves his priestess employed at Delphi, it was told by Libanius, a fourth-century CE teacher of rhetoric,[22] that Apollo chased a nymph, Daphne, daughter of Peneus, who had scorned him. In Ovid's telling for a Roman audience, Phoebus Apollo chaffs Cupid for toying with a man's weapon suited to a man, whereupon Cupid wounds him with an arrow with a golden dart; simultaneously, however, Eros had shot a leaden arrow into Daphne, causing her to be repulsed by Apollo. Following a spirited chase by Apollo, Daphne prayed to Mother Earth, or, alternatively, her father — a river god — to help her and he changed her into the Laurel tree, sacred to Apollo.

Apollo had an affair with a human princess named Leucothea, daughter of Orchamus and sister of Clytia. Leucothea loved Apollo who disguised himself as Leucothea's mother to gain entrance to her chambers. Clytia, jealous of her sister because she wanted Apollo for herself, told Orchamus the truth, betraying her sister's trust and confidence in her. Enraged, Orchamus ordered Leucothea to be buried alive. Apollo refused to forgive Clytia for betraying his beloved, and a grieving Clytia wilted and slowly died. Apollo changed her into an incense plant, either heliotrope or sunflower, which follows the sun every day.

Marpessa was kidnapped by Idas but was loved by Apollo as well. Zeus made her choose between them, and she chose Idas on the grounds that Apollo, being immortal, would tire of her when she grew old.

Castalia was a nymph whom Apollo loved. She fled from him and dived into the spring at Delphi, at the base of Mt. Parnassos, which was then named after her. Water from this spring was sacred; it was used to clean the Delphian temples and inspire poets.

By Cyrene, Apollo had a son named Aristaeus, who became the patron god of cattle, fruit trees, hunting, husbandry and bee-keeping. He was also a culture-hero and taught humanity dairy skills and the use of nets and traps in hunting, as well as how to cultivate olives.

With Hecuba, wife of King Priam of Troy, Apollo had a son named Troilus. An oracle prophesied that Troy would not be defeated as long as Troilus reached the age of twenty alive. He was ambushed and killed by Achilles.

Apollo also fell in love with Cassandra, daughter of Hecuba and Priam, and Troilus' half-sister. He promised Cassandra the gift of prophecy to seduce her, but she rejected him afterwards. Enraged, Apollo indeed gifted her with the ability to know the future, with a curse that she could only see the future tragedies and that no one would ever believe her.

Coronis, daughter of Phlegyas, King of the Lapiths, was another of Apollo's liaisons. Pregnant with Asclepius, Coronis fell in love with Ischys, son of Elatus. A crow informed Apollo of the affair. When first informed he disbelieved the crow and turned all crows black (where they were previously white) as a punishment for spreading untruths. When he found out the truth he sent his sister, Artemis, to kill Coronis (in other stories, Apollo himself had killed Coronis). As a result he also made the crow sacred and gave them the task of announcing important deaths. Apollo rescued the baby and gave it to the centaur Chiron to raise. Phlegyas was irate after the death of his daughter and burned the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Apollo then killed him for what he did.

In Euripides' play Ion, Apollo fathered Ion by Creusa, wife of Xuthus. Creusa left Ion to die in the wild, but Apollo asked Hermes to save the child and bring him to the oracle at Delphi, where he was raised by a priestess.

One of his other liaisons was with Acantha, the spirit of the acanthus tree. Upon her death, Apollo transformed her into a sun-loving herb.

Male lovers

Apollo and Hyacinthus
Jacopo Caraglio; 16th c. Italian engraving

Apollo, the eternal beardless kouros himself, had the most prominent male relationships of all the Greek Gods. That might be expected from a god who was god of the palaestra, the athletic gathering place for youth who all competed in the nude. Many of Apollo's male lovers suffer tragic deaths resulting from accidents.

Hyacinth (or Hyacinthus) was one of his male lovers. Hyacinthus was a Spartan prince, beautiful and athletic. The pair were practicing throwing the discus when a discus thrown by Apollo was blown off course by the jealous Zephyrus and struck Hyacinthus in the head and killing him instantly. When Hyacinthus died, Apollo is said to be filled with grief and in anger at Zephyrus, transformed him into the wind so that he could never touch or speak to anyone again. Out of Hyacinthus' blood, Apollo created a flower named after him as a memorial to his death, and his tears stained the flower petals with άί άί, meaning alas. The Festival of Hyacinthus was a celebration of Sparta.

Another male lover was Cyparissus, a descendant of Heracles. Apollo gave him 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 granted the request by turning him into the tree named after him, which was said to be a sad tree because the sap forms droplets like tears on the trunk.

Birth of Hermes

Hermes was born on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia. The story is told in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. His mother, Maia, had been secretly impregnated by Zeus. Maia wrapped the infant in blankets but Hermes escaped while she was asleep. 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 insides. He used one of the cow's intestines and the tortoise shell and made 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 Apollo's claim. Zeus intervened and, claiming to have seen the events, sided with Apollo. Hermes then began to play music on the lyre he had invented. Apollo, a god of music, fell in love with the instrument and offered to allow exchange of the cattle for the lyre. Hence, Apollo became a master of the lyre.

Other stories

Apollo gave the order through the Oracle at Delphi, for Orestes to kill his mother, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus. Orestes was punished fiercely by the Erinyes (the Furies, female personifications of vengeance) for this crime. Relentlessly pursued by the Furies, Orestes asked for the intercession of Athena, who decreed that he be tried by a jury of his peers, with Apollo acting as his attorney.

In the Odyssey, Odysseus and his surviving crew landed on an island sacred to Helios the sun god, where he kept sacred cattle. Though Odysseus warned his men not to (as Tiresias and Circe had told him), they killed and ate some of the cattle and Helios had Zeus destroy the ship and all the men, except Odysseus.

Apollo also had a lyre-playing contest with Cinyras, his son, who committed suicide when he lost.

Apollo killed the Aloadae when they attempted to storm Mt. Olympus.

It was also said that Apollo rode on the back of a swan to the land of the Hyperboreans during the winter months, a swan that he also lent to his beloved Hyacinthus to ride.

Apollo turned Cephissus into a sea monster.

Musical contests


Once Pan had the audacity to compare his music with that of Apollo, and to challenge Apollo, the god of the kithara, 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. He dissented, and questioned the justice of the award. Apollo would not suffer such a depraved pair of ears any longer, and caused them to become the ears of a donkey.

The Flaying of Marsyas by Titian, c.1570-76.

Apollo has ominous aspects aside from his plague-bringing, death-dealing arrows: Marsyas was a satyr who challenged Apollo to a contest of music. He had found an aulos on the ground, tossed away after being invented by Athena because it made her cheeks puffy. The contest was judged by the Muses. After they each performed, both were deamed equal until Apollo decreed they play and sing at the same time. As Apollo played the lyre, this was easy to do. Marsyas could not do this as he only knew how to use the flute and could not sing at the same time. Apollo was declared the winner because of this. Apollo flayed Marsyas alive in a cave near Celaenae in Phrygia for his hubris to challenge a god. He then nailed Marsyas' shaggy skin to a nearby pine-tree. Marsyas' blood turned into the river Marsyas.

Another variation is that Apollo played his instrument (the lyre) upside down. Marsyas could not do this with his instrument (the flute), and so Apollo hung him from a tree and flayed him alive.[23]

Graeco-Roman epithets and cult titles

Apollo, like other Greek deities, had a number of epithets applied to him, reflecting the variety of roles, duties, and aspects ascribed to the god. However, while Apollo has a great number of appellations in Greek myth, only a few occur in Latin literature, chief among them Phoebus ("shining one"), which was very commonly used by both the Greeks and Romans in Apollo's role as the god of light.

In Apollo's role as healer, his appellations included Akesios, Iatros, and Acestor[24] meaning "healer". He was also called Alexicacus ("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 sun-god he was worshiped as Aegletes, the radiant god.[25][26]

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"). As the protector of roads and homes he was Agyieus.

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", in his association with Delphoi (Delphi). At Delphi, he was also known as Pythios ("Pythian"). An aitiology in the Homeric hymns connects the epitheton to dolphins. 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.

Specifically as god of 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 the epithet of Apollo 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.[27] Acraephius or Acraephiaeus was his epithet worshipped in the Boeotian town of Acraephia, reputedly founded by his son, Acraepheus. Actiacus was his epithet in Actium, one of the principal places of his worship.[28][29]

Celtic epithets and cult titles

  • Apollo was worshipped throughout the Roman Empire. In the traditionally Celtic lands he was most often seen as a healing and sun god. He was often equated with Celtic gods of similar character. [30]
  • Apollo Cunomaglus ('hound lord'). A title given to Apollo at a shrine in Wiltshire. Apollo Cunomaglus may have been a god of healing. Cunomaglus himself may originally have been an independent healing god. [39]
  • Apollo Maponus. A god known from inscriptions in Britain. This may a local fusion of Apollo and Maponus.
  • Apollo Moritasgus ('masses of sea water'). An epithet for Apollo at Alesia, where he was worshipped as god of healing and, possibly, of physicians. [43]


Apollo has often featured in postclassical art and literature. Percy Bysshe Shelley composed a "Hymn of Apollo" (1820), and the god's instruction of the Muses formed the subject of Igor Stravinsky's Apollon musagète (1927–1928). The name Apollo was given to NASA's Apollo Lunar program in the 1960s.

The statue of Apollo from the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (currently in the Olympia Archaeological Museum) was depicted on the obverse of the Greek 1000 drachmas banknote of 1987-2001.[45]



Further reading

Primary sources

Secondary sources

  • M. Bieber, 1964. Alexander the Great in Greek and Roman Art (Chicago)
  • Walter Burkert, 1985. Greek Religion (Harvard University Press) III.2.5 passim
  • Robert Graves, 1960. The Greek Myths, revised edition (Penguin)
  • Miranda J. Green, Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend, Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1997
  • Karl Kerenyi, Apollon: Studien über Antiken Religion und Humanität rev. ed. 1953.
  • Karl Kerenyi , 1951 The Gods of the Greeks
  • Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft: II, "Apollon". The best repertory of cult sites (Burkert).
  • Pfeiff, K.A., 1943. Apollon: Wandlung seines Bildes in der griechischen Kunst. Traces the changing iconography of Apollo.
  • William Smith (lexicographer), Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 1870, article on Apollo,[46]
  • N. Yalouris, 1980. The Search for Alexander (Boston) Exhibition.


  1. ^ For the iconography of the Alexander-Helios type, see H. Hoffmann, 1963. "Helios," in Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 2, pp. 117-23; cf. Yalouris 1980, no. 42.
  2. ^ Joseph Fontenrose, "Apollo and Sol in the Latin poets of the first century BC", Transactions of the American Philological Association 30 (1939), pp 439-55; "Apollo and the Sun-God in Ovid", American Journal of Philology 61 (1940) pp 429-44; and "Apollo and Sol in the Oaths of Aeneas and Latinus" Classical Philology 38.2 (April 1943), pp. 137-138.
  3. ^ The ἁπλοῦν suggestion is repeated by Plutarch in Moralia in the sense of "unity".
  4. ^ Burkert so holds; Greek Religion p.144
  5. ^ Behind the Name: Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Apollo
  6. ^ de Grummond, Nancy Thomson (2006) "Etruscan Myth, Sacred History, and Legend". (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology)
  7. ^ Mackenzie, Donald A. (2005) "Myths of Babylonia and Assyria" (Gutenberg)
  8. ^ Croft, John (2003) wrote in the Ancient Near East mail list hosted by the University of Chicago that "Apollo does not have a Greek provenance but an Anatolian one. Luwian Apaliuna seems to have travelled west from further East. Hurrian Aplu was a god of the plague, and resembles the mouse god Apollo Smitheus. Hurrian Aplu itself seems derived from the Babylonian "Aplu" meaning a "son of" — a title that was given to the Babylonian plague God, Nergal (son of Enlil)"
  9. ^ See Paean.
  10. ^ Burkert 1985:143.
  11. ^ Lucian (attrib.), De Dea Syria 35–37.
  12. ^ Livy 1.56.
  13. ^ Livy 3.63.7, 4.25.3.
  14. ^ Livy 25.12.
  15. ^ J. H. W. G. Liebeschuetz (1979). Continuity and Change in Roman Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 82–85. ISBN 0-19-814822-4. 
  16. ^ Suetonius, Augustus 18.2; Cassius Dio 51.1.1–3.
  17. ^ Cassius Dio 53.1.3.
  18. ^ Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae 5050, translated by Mary Beard; John North and Simon Price (1998). Religions of Rome: Volume 2: A Sourcebook. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 5.7b. ISBN 0-521-45015-2 (hbk.); ISBN 0-521-45646-0 (pbk.). 
  19. ^ "http://www.tunisiaonline.com/mosaics/mosaic05b.html". http://www.tunisiaonline.com/mosaics/mosaic05b.html. 
  20. '^ Children of the Gods by Kenneth McLeish, page 32.
  21. ^ ""The love-stories themselves were not told until later." (Karl Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks 1951:140.
  22. ^ Libanius, Narrationes.
  23. ^ Man Myth and Magic by Richard Cavendish
  24. ^ Euripides, Andromache 901
  25. ^ Apollonius of Rhodes, iv. 1730
  26. ^ Apollodorus, i. 9. § 26
  27. ^ "Acesius". Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London, 1880.
  28. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses xiii. 715
  29. ^ Strabo, x. p. 451
  30. ^ Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend, Miranda J. Green, Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1997
  31. ^ Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum XIII, 1863-1986
  32. ^ Pagan Celtic Britain, A. Ross, 1967
  33. ^ The Gods of the Celts, M.J. Green, 1986, London
  34. ^ Fontes Historiae Religionis Celticae, J. Zwicker, 1934-36, Berlin
  35. ^ Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum V, XI, XII, XIII
  36. ^ Le culte de Belenos en Provence occidentale et en Gaule, Ogam (vol 6), J. Gourcest, 1954
  37. ^ Le cheval sacre dans la Gaule de l'Est, Revue archeologique de l'Est et du Centre-Est (vol 2), E. Thevonot, 1951
  38. ^ Temoignages du culte de l'Apollon gaulois dans l'Helvetie romaine, Revue celtique (vol 51), 1934
  39. ^ The Excavation of the Shrine of Apollo at Nettleton, Whilshire 1956-1971, Society of Antiquaries of London
  40. ^ The Celtic Heritage in Hungary, M. Szabo, 1971, Budapest
  41. ^ a b Divinites et sanctuaires de la Gaule, E. Thevonat, 1968, Paris
  42. ^ a b La religion des Celtes, J. de Vries, 1963, Paris
  43. ^ <Alesia, archeologie et histoire, J. Le Gall, 1963, Paris
  44. ^ Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum XIII
  45. ^ Bank of Greece. Drachma Banknotes & Coins: 1000 drachmas. – Retrieved on 27 March 2009.
  46. ^ "http://www.ancientlibrary.com/smith-bio/0239.html". http://www.ancientlibrary.com/smith-bio/0239.html. 

External links

  • Apollo at the Greek Mythology Link, by Carlos Parada

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