Pursuit, Flight, Longing
The most famous story of Apollo’s failed longings is perhaps that of Daphne, the water nymph. Apollo pursued her until she finally tired of running and cried out to Gaea (or Penteus, in another version), who turned her into a laurel tree at the moment he caught her.
Other stories of the inhabitants of Olympus tell of their follies and maddening pursuits…
Pluto, Ruler of the Underworld, abducting Proserpina (Persephone), faithful 3 headed Cerberus in attendance. The lord of the dead stole Persephone to be his wife and the queen of his realm. Once again Cupid attends the mayhem…
Orestes with his sister Electra returns some years after his mother Clytemnestra has killed her husband and their father Agamemnon, avenging his father’s death by slaying his mother and her lover Aegisthus. Orestes goes mad after the deed and is pursued by the Erinyes (Fates), whose duty it is to punish any violation of the ties of family piety. Orestes takes refuge in the temple of Apollo at Delphi; but, even though Apollo had ordered him to do the deed, he is powerless to protect Orestes from the consequences.
Zeus appeared to Leda in the form of a swan, raping and impregnating her. Leda produced four offspring from two eggs: Castor and Pollux from one egg, and Helen and Clytemnestra from the other. Castor and Clytemnestra were fathered by Tyndareus whereas Pollux and Helen were fathered by Zeus. Confounding.
Homer describes Ganymede as the most beautiful of mortals, which led the gods, or according to some, Zeus in the form of an eagle, to abduct him for service as cup-bearer in Olympus and, in Classical and Hellenistic Greece, as Zeus’s eromenos.
For the etymology of his name, Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths offers ganyesthai + medea, “rejoicing in virility”. The word “catamite” (a boy or youth in a sexual relationship with a man) is derived from Ganymede.
The curse of Apollo, the god of the sun and music, was brought onto him when he insulted the young Eros (Cupid) for playing with bow and arrows.
Apollo was a great warrior and said to him, “What have you to do with warlike weapons, saucy boy? Leave them for hands worthy of them. Behold the conquest I have won by means of them over the vast serpent who stretched his poisonous body over acres of the plain! Be content with your torch, child, and kindle up your flames, as you call them, where you will, but presume not to meddle with my weapons.”
The petulant Eros took two arrows, one of gold and one of lead. The gold one was supposed to incite love, while the lead one was supposed to incite hatred. With the leaden shaft, Eros shot the river nymph Daphne – with the golden one, he shot Apollo through the heart. Apollo was seized with love for the naiad of the Peneios river, Daphne, and she in turn abhorred him.
In fact, she spurned her many potential lovers, preferring instead woodland sports and exploring the woods. Her father, Peneus, demanded that she get married so that she may give him grandchildren. However, she begged her father to let her remain unmarried, like Apollo’s sister, Artemis.
He warned her saying, “Your own face will forbid it.” By saying this he meant that she was too beautiful to keep all her potential lovers away forever.
Apollo continually followed her, begging her to stay, but the nymph continued her flight. They were evenly matched in the race until Eros intervened and helped Apollo gain upon Daphne.
Seeing that Apollo was bound to catch her, she called upon her father, “Help me, Peneus! Open the earth to enclose me, or change my form, which has brought me into this danger!”
Suddenly, her skin turned into bark, her hair became leaves, and her arms were transformed into branches. She stopped running as her feet became rooted to the ground. Apollo embraced the branches, but even the branches shrank away from him.
Since Apollo could no longer take her as his wife, he vowed to tend her as his tree, and promised that her leaves would decorate the heads of leaders as crowns, and that her leaves were also to be depicted on weapons. Apollo also used his powers of eternal youth and immortality to render her ever green. Since then, the leaves of the Bay laurel tree have never known decay. As those who cook know well.