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Head of Apollo, Roman marble copy of a Greek original from the 4th century BCE.

Apollo (Attic, Ionic, and Homeric Greek: Ἀπόλλων, Apollōn; Doric: Απέλλων, Apellōn; Arcadocypriot: Απείλων, Apeilōn; Aeolic: Ἄπλουν, Aploun; Latin: Apollō is one of the most important and diverse of the Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology. The ideal of the kouros (a beardless, athletic youth), Apollo has been variously recognized as a god of light and the sun; truth and prophecy; medicine, healing, and plague; 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 worshiped in both ancient Greek and ancient Roman Roman religion, as well as in the modern Neo-pagan Hellenism.

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, yet Apollo was also seen as a god who could bring ill-health and deadly plague. 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 Musegetes) 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 3rd century BCE, as Apollo Helios he became identified among Greeks with Helios, Titan god of the sun, and his sister Artemis similarly equated with Selene, Titan goddess of the moon.[1] In Latin texts, on the other hand, Joseph Fontenrose declared himself unable to find any conflation of Apollo with Sol among the Augustan poets of the 1st 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 3rd century CE.


The etymology of Apollo is uncertain. The spelling Ἀπόλλων had almost superseded all other forms by the beginning of the common era, but the Doric form Απέλλων is more archaic, derived from an earlier *Απέλjων. The name is certainly cognate with the Doric month name Απέλλαιος and the Doric festival Apellai(απελλαι).[3]

Several instances of popular etymology are attested from ancient authors. Thus, the Greeks most often associated Apollo's name with the Greek verb απολλυμι (apollymi), "to destroy".[4] Plato in Cratylus connects the name with "ἀπόλυσις" (apolysis), "redeem", with "ἀπόλουσις" (apolousis), "purification", and with "ἁπλοῦν" (aploun), "simple",[5] in particular in reference to the Thessalian form of the name, "Ἄπλουν", and finally with "Ἀει-βάλλων" (aeiballon), "ever-shooting". Hesychius of Alexandria connects the name Apollo with the Doric απέλλα (apella), which means "assembly", so that Apollo would be the god of political life, and he also gives the explanation σηκος (sekos), "fold", in which case Apollo would be the god of flocks and herds.

Following the tradition of these Ancient Greek folk etymologies, in the Doric dialect the word απέλλα originally meant wall, fence from animals and later assembly within the agora. In the Macedonian dialect "πέλλα" (pella) means stone, and some toponyms are derived from this word: "Πέλλα"Pella), "Πελλήνη" (Pellini).

The form Apaliunas is attested as a god of Wilusa in a treaty between Alaksandu of Wilusa interpreted as "Alexander of Ilios (Troy)",[6] and the Hittite great king Muwatalli II]ca 1280 BCE.[7] The Hittite testimony reflects an early form Apeljōn, which may also be surmised from comparison of Cypriot Απειλων with Doric Απελλων.[8]

A number of non-Greek etymologies have been suggested for the name,[9] among them a Hurrian and Hittite divinity, Aplu, who was widely invoked during the "plague years". Aplu, it is suggested, comes from the kkadian 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.[10] A Luwian etymology suggested for Apaliunas makes Apollo "The One of Entrapment", perhaps in the sense of "Hunter".[11]

Greco-Roman epithets

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 (pronounced: ˈfiːbəs (FEE|bəs); Φοίβος, Phoibos, literally "radiant"), which was very commonly used by both the Greeks and Romans in Apollo's role as the god of light.

As sun-god and god of light, Apollo was also known by the epithets Aegletes (əˈɡliːtiːz (ə|GLEE|teez); Αἰγλήτης, Aiglētēs, from αἴγλη, "light of the sun"),[12] Helius (ˈhiːliəs (HEE|lee-əs); Ἥλιος, Helios, literally "sun"),[13] Phanaeus (fəˈniːəs (fə|NEE|əs); Φαναῖος, Phanaios, literally "giving or bringing light"), and Lyceus (laɪˈsiːəs (lye|SEE|əs); Λύκειος, Lukeios, from Proto-Greek *λύκη, "light"). The meaning of the epithet "Lyceus" later became associated Apollo's mother Leto, who was the patron goddes of Lycia (Λυκία) and who was identified with the wolf (λύκος),[14] earning him the epithets Lycegenes (laɪˈsɛdʒəniːz (lye|SEJ|ə-neez); Λυκηγενής, Lukēgenēs, literally "born of a wolf" or "born of Lycia") and Lycoctonus (laɪˈkɒktənəs (lye|KOK|tə-nəs); Λυκοκτόνος, Lukoktonos, from λύκος, "wolf", and κτείνειν, "to kill"). As god of the sun, the Romans referred to Apollo as Sol; literally "sun" in Latin.

In association with his birthplace, Mount Cynthus on the island of Delos, Apollo was called Cynthius (ˈsɪnθiəs (SIN|thee-əs); Κύηθιος, Kunthios, literally "Cynthian"), Cynthogenes (sɪnˈθɒdʒɨniːz (sin|THOJ|i-neez); Κύνθογενης, Kunthogenēs, literally "born of Cynthus"), and Delius (ˈdiːliəs (DEE|lee-əs}}; Δήλιος, Delios, literally "Delian"). As Artemis's twin, Apollo had the epithet Didymaeus (dɪdɨˈmiːəs {did-i|MEE|əs); Διδυμαιος, Didumaios, from δίδυμος, "twin").

Apollo was worshipped as Actiacus (ækˈtaɪ.əkəs (ak|TYE|ə-kəs); Ἄκτιακός, Aktiakos, literally "Actian"), Delphinius (dɛlˈfɪniəs (del|FIN|ee-əs); Δελφίνιος, Delphinios, literally "Delphic"), and Pythius (ˈpɪθiəs (PITH|ee-əs); Πύθιος, Puthios, from Πυθώ, Pūthō, the area around Delphi), after Actium (Ἄκτιον) and Delphi (Δελφοί) respectively, two of his principal places of worship.[15][16] An etiology in the Homeric hymns associated the epithet "Delphinius" with dolphins. He was worshipped as Acraephius (əˈkriːfiəs (ə|KREE|fee-əs); Ἀκραιφιος, Akraiphios, literally "Acraephian") or Acraephiaeus (əˌkriːfiˈiːəs (ə|KREE|fee|EE|əs); Ἀκραιφιαίος, Akraiphiaios, literally "Acraephian") in the Boeotian town of Acraephia (Ἀκραιφία), reputedly founded by his son Acraepheus; and as Smintheus (ˈsmɪnθiəs (SMIN|thee-əs); Σμινθεύς, Smintheus, either "Sminthian") in the Troad town of Sminthos (or mouse-killer - from σμίνθος).[17] The epithet "Smintheus" has historically been confused with σμίνθος, "mouse", in association with Apollo's role as a god of disease. For this he was also known as Parnopius (pɑrˈnoʊpiəs (par|NOH|pee-əs); Παρνόπιος, Parnopios, from πάρνοψ, "locust") and to the Romans as Culicarius (ˌkjuːlɨˈkæriəs (KEW|li|KARR|ee-əs); from Latin culicārius, "of midges").

In Apollo's role as a healer, his appellations included Acesius (əˈsiːʃəs (ə|SEE|shəs); Ἀκέσιος, Akesios, from ἄκεσις, "healing"), Acestor (əˈsɛstər (ə|SES|tər); Ἀκέστωρ, Akestōr, literally "healer"), Paean (ˈpiːən (PEE|ən); Παιάν, Paiān, from παίειν, "to touch"), and Iatrus (aɪˈætrəs (eye|AT|rəs); Ἰατρός, Iātros, literally "physician").[18] Acesius was the epithet of Apollo worshipped in Elis, where he had a temple in the agora.[19] The Romans referred to Apollo as Medicus (ˈmɛdɨkəs (MED|i-kəs); literally "physician" in Latin) in this respect. A temple was dedicated to Apollo Medicus in Rome, probably next to the temple of Bellona.

As a protector and founder, Apollo had the epithets Alexicacus (əˌlɛksɨˈkækəs (ə|LEK|si|KAK|əs); Ἀλεξίκακος, Alexikakos, literally "warding off evil"), Apotropaeus (əˌpɒtrəˈpiːəs (ə|POT|rə|PEE|əs); Ἀποτρόπαιος, Apotropaios, from ὰποτρέπειν, "to avert"), and Epicurius (ɛpɨˈkjʊriəs (EP|i|KEWR|ee-əs); Ἐπικούριος, Epikourios, from ἐπικουρέειν, "to aid"),[13] as well as Archegetes (ɑrˈkɛdʒətiːz (ar|KEJ|ə-teez); Ἀρχηγέτης, Arkhēgetēs, literally "founder"), Clarius (ˈklæriəs (KLARR|ee-əs); Κλάριος, Klārios, from Doric κλάρος, "allotted lot"), and Genetor (ˈdʒɛnɨtər (JEN|i-tər); Γεηέτωρ, Genetōr, literally "ancestor").[13] To the Romans, he was known in this capacity as Averruncus (ˌævəˈrʌŋkəs|}} (AV|ər|RUNG|kəs); from Latin āverruncare, "to avert"). He was also called Agyieus (ˌædʒiˈaɪ.əs (AJ|ee|EYE|əs); Ἀγυιεύς, Aguīeus, from ὰγυιά, "street") for his role in protecting roads and homes; and as Nomius (ˈnoʊmiəs (NOH|mee-əs); Νόμιος, Nomios, literally "pastoral") and Nymphegetes (nɪmˈfɛdʒɨtiːz (nim|FEJ|i-teez); Νυμφηγέτης, Numphēgetēs, from Νύμφη, "Nymph", and ἡγέτης, "leader") in his role as a protector of shepherds and pastoral life.

In his role as god of prophecy and truth, Apollo had the epithets Manticus (ˈmæntɨkəs (MAN|ti-kəs); Μαητικός, Mantikos, literally "prophetic"), Leschenorius (ˌlɛskɨˈnɔəriəs (LES|ki|NOHR|ee-əs); Λεσχηνόριος, Leskhēnorios, from λεσχήνωρ, "converser"), and Loxias (lɒkˈsaɪəs (lok|SYE|əs); Λοξίας, Loxias, from λέγειν, "to say").[13] The epithet "Loxias" has historically been associated with λοξός, "ambiguous". In this respect, the Romans called him Coelispex (ˈsɛlɨspɛks (SEL|i-speks); from Latin coelum, "sky", and specere, "to look at"). The epithet Iatromantis (aɪˌætrəˈmæntɪs (eye|AT|rə|MAN|tis); Ἰατρομάητις, Iātromantis, from ὶατρός, "physician", and μάητις, "prophet") refers to both his role as a god of healing and of prophecy. As god of music and arts, Apollo had the epithet Musegetes (mjuːˈsædʒɨtiːz (mew|SAJ|i-teez); Μουσηγέτης, Mousēgetēs, from Μούσα, "Muse", and ἡγέτης, "leader"), Doric Μουσαγέτας, Mousagetas.[20]

As a god of archery, Apollo was known as Aphetor (əˈfiːtər (ə|FEE|tər); Ἀφήτωρ, Aphētōr, from ὰφίημι, "to let loose") or Aphetorus (əˈfɛtərəs (ə|FET|ər-əs); Ἀφητόρος, Aphētoros, of the same origin), Argyrotoxus (ɑrˌdʒɪrəˈtɒksəs (ar|JIRR|ə|TOK|səs); Ἀργυρότοξος, Argurotoxos, literally "with silver bow"), Hecaërgus (ˌhɛkəˈɜrɡəs (HEK|ə|UR|gəs); Ἑκάεργος, Hekaergos, literally "far-shooting"), and Hecebolus (hɨˈsɛbələs (hi|SEB|ə-ləs); Ἑκηβόλος, Hekēbolos, literally "far-shooting"). The Romans referred to Apollo as Articenens (ɑrˈtɪsɨnənz (ar|TISS|i-nənz); "bow-carrying"). Apollo was called (ɪzˈmiːniəs|}} {(iz|MEE|nee-əs); Ἰσμηνιός, Ismēnios, literally "of Ismenus") after Ismenus, the son of Amphion and Niobe, whom he struck with an arrow.

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.[21]

  • As Apollo Atepomarus ("the great horseman" or "possessing a great horse"), Apollo was worshipped at Mauvières (Indre). Horses were, in the Celtic world, closely linked to the sun.[22]
  • Apollo Belenus ('bright' or 'brilliant'). This epithet was given to Apollo in parts of Gaul, North Italy and Noricum (part of modern Austria). Apollo Belenus was a healing and sun god.[23]
  • 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.[24]
  • Apollo Grannus. Grannus was a healing spring god, later equated with Apollo [25][26][27]
  • Apollo Maponus. A god known from inscriptions in Britain. This may be 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.[28]
  • Apollo Vindonnus ('clear light'). Apollo Vindonnus had a temple at Essarois, near Châtillon-sur-Seine in Burgundy. He was a god of healing, especially of the eyes.[26]
  • Apollo Virotutis ('benefactor of mankind?'). Apollo Virotutis was worshipped, among other places, at Fins d'Annecy (Haute-Savoie) and at Jublains (Maine-et-Loire) [27][29]


The cult centers of Apollo in Greece, Delphi and Delos, date from the 8th century BCE. The Delos sanctuary was primarily dedicated to Artemis, Apollo's twin sister. At Delphi, Apollo was venerated as the slayer of Pytho.

A non-Greek origin of Apollo has long been assumed in scholarship, but has not been established conclusively.[3] Walter Burkert[30] discerned three components in the prehistory of Apollo worship, which he termed "a Dorian-northwest Greek component, a Cretan-Minoan component, and a Syro-Hittite component." The connection with Dorians and their initiation festival apellai is reinforced by the month Apellaios in northwest Greek calendars.[31]

Homer pictures Apollo on the side of the Trojans, fighting against the Achaeans, during the Trojan War, a connection seemingly confirmed by the discovery of Apalunias as a tutelary god of Wilusa.[32]

The Greeks gave to Apollo the name αγυιεύς (agyieus) as the protector god who wards off evil.[33] The Late Bronze Age (from 1700–1200 BCE) Hittite and Hurrian Aplu, like the Homeric Apollo, was a god of plagues, and resembles the mouse god Apollo Smintheus. Here we have an apotrope|apotropaic situation, where a god originally bringing the plague was invoked to end it, merging over time through fusion with the Mycenaean healer-god Paeon. Paeon, in Homer's Iliad, was the Greek healer of the wounded gods Ares and Hades. In later writers, the word, usually spelled "Paean", becomes a mere epithet of Apollo in his capacity as a god of healing,[34] but it is now known from Linear B that Paeon was originally a separate deity.

Homer illustrated Paeon the god, as well as the song both of apotropaic thanksgiving or triumph,[35] and Hesiod also separated the two; in later poetry Paeon was invoked independently as a god of healing. It is equally difficult to separate Paeon or Paean in the sense of "healer" from Paean in the sense of "song." Such songs were originally addressed to Apollo, and afterwards to other gods: to Dionysus, to Apollo Helios, to Apollo's son Asclepius the healer. About the 4th 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.

Oracular cult

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.[36] Apollo's cult was already fully established when written sources commenced, about 650 BCE. Apollo became extremely important to the Greek world as an oracular deity in the classical period, and the frequency of theophoric names such as Apollodorus or Apollonios and cities named Apollonia testify to his popularity. Oracular sanctuaries to Apollo were established in other sites, including Didyma and Clarus in Asia Minor. A notable group of oracular pronouncements from Didyma and Clarus, the so-called "theological oracles", date to the 2nd and 3rd century CE. In these, Apollo proclaims that there is only one highest god, of whom the gods of polytheistic religions are mere manifestations or servants. In the 3rd century, Apollo fell silent. Julian the Apostate in the 4th century tried to revive the oracle at Delphi, but failed.[3]

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 Abae in Phocis
  • In Bassae in the Peloponnese
  • 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 Corinth, the Oracle of Corinth came from the town of Tenea, from prisoners supposedly taken in the Trojan War.
  • At Khyrse, in Troad, the temple was built for Apollon Smintheus
  • 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 Delphi, the Pythia became filled with the pneuma of Apollo, said to come from a spring inside the Adyton.
  • 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. Was believed to have been founded by Branchus, son or lover of Apollo.
  • 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.[37]
  • 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.
  • 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'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 tree 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 or Troy 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.[38] 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.[39] On the occasion of a pestilence in the 430s BCE, Apollo's first temple in Rome was established in the Flaminian fields, replacing an older cult site there known as the "Apollinare".[40] During the Second Punic War in 212 BCE, the Ludi Apollinares ("Apollonian Games") were instituted in his honor, on the instructions of a prophecy attributed to one Marcius.[41] 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.[42] 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.[43] He also erected a new temple to the god on the Palatine hill.[44] 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.[45]

In art

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 Apollo Lykeios 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 19th century. The marble is a Hellenistic or Roman copy of a bronze original by the Greek sculptor Leochares, made between 350 and 325 BCE.

The lifesize so-called "Adonis" 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 4th-century and later Hellenistic model types, intended to please a Roman connoisseur of the 2nd century CE, and to be displayed in his villa.

In the late 2nd century CE floor mosaic from El Djem, Roman Thysdrus, 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 Roman Empire. Another haloed Apollo in mosaic, from Hadrumentum, is in the museum at Sousse.[46] The conventions of this representation, head tilted, lips slightly parted, large-eyed, curling hair cut in locks grazing the neck, were developed in the 3rd century BCE to depict Alexander the Great (Bieber 1964, Yalouris 1980). Some time after this mosaic was executed, the earliest depictions of Christ would also 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". In her wanderings, Leto found the newly created floating island of Delos, which was neither mainland nor a real island, so she gave birth there, where she was accepted by the people, offering them her promise that her son will be always favourable toward the city. 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 (eight meters) 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 (ἑβδομαγενής) [47]) 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.[48] 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 Cyclopes, who had fashioned the bolt for Zeus.[49] Apollo would have been banished to Tartarus forever, but was instead sentenced to one year of hard labor as punishment, due 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. However, 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.


The 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.[50] Their vivid anecdotal qualities have made favorites some of them of painters since the Renaissance, so that they stand out more prominently in the modern imagination.

Female lovers

In explanation of the connection of Apollo with δάφνη (daphnē), the laurel whose leaves his priestess employed at Delphi, it is told[51] that Apollo chased a nymph, Daphne, daughter of the river god Peneus, who had scorned him. In Ovid's telling for a Roman audience, Phoebus Apollo chaffs Cupid for toying with a weapon more suited to a man, whereupon Cupid wounds him with a golden dart; simultaneously, however, Cupid shoots a leaden arrow into Daphne, causing her to be repulsed by Apollo. Following a spirited chase by Apollo, Daphne prays to her father, Peneus, for help, and he changes 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 Mount 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.

According to the Biblioteca, or "library" of mythology mis-attributed to Apollodorus, he fathered the Corybantes on the Muse Thalia.[52]

Male lovers

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, killing him instantly. 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 in 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 Cypress named after him, which was said to be a sad tree because the sap forms droplets like tears on the trunk.

Apollo's lyre

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.

Apollo in the Oresteia

In Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy, Clytemnestra kills her husband, King Agamemnon, as well as Cassandra, a prophetess of Apollo. Apollo gives an order through the Oracle at Delphi that Agamemnon's son, Orestes, is to kill Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, her lover. Orestes and Pylades carry out the revenge, and consequently Orestes is pursued by the Erinyes (Furies, female personifications of vengeance). Apollo and the Furies argue about whether the matricide was justified; Apollo holds that the bond of marriage is sacred and Orestes was avenging his father, whereas the Erinyes say that the bond of blood between mother and son is more meaningful than the bond of marriage. They invade his temple, and he says that the matter should be brought before Athena. Apollo promises to protect Orestes, as Orestes has become Apollo's supplicant. Apollo advocates Orestes at the trial, and ultimately Athena rules with Apollo.

Other stories

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

Callimachus sang[53] that Apollo rode on the back of a swan to the land of the Hyperboreans during the winter months.

Apollo turned Cephissus into a sea monster.

Another contender for the birthplace of Apollo is the Cretan islands of Paximadia.

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.


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 deemed 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.[54]


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

Modern reception

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 lunar program in the 1960s.

The statue of Apollo from the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (currently in the Archaeological Museum of Olympia) was depicted on the obverse of the Greek 1000 drachmas banknote of 1987–2001.[55]


  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. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, s.v. "Apollo".
  4. Behind the Name: Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Apollo
  5. The ἁπλοῦν suggestion is repeated by Plutarch in Moralia in the sense of "unity".
  6. Latacz, Joachim, Troia und Homer: Der Weg zur Lösung eines alten Rätsels. (Munich) 2001:138.
  7. The reading of Apaliunas and the identification with Apollo is due to Emil Forrer (1931).
  8. Hans G. Güterbock, "Troy in Hittite Texts?" in: Mellink (ed.), Troy and the Trojan War: a symposium held at Bryn Mawr College, October 1984, Bryn Mawr Archaeological Monographs Authors John Lawrence Angel, Machteld Johanna Mellink, 1986, ISBN 9780929524597, p. 42.
  9. Martin Nilsson, Die Geschichte der Griechische Religion, vol. I (C.H. Beck) 1955:555-564.
  10. de Grummond, Nancy Thomson (2006) Etruscan Myth, Sacred History, and Legend. (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology); Mackenzie, Donald A. (2005) Myths of Babylonia and Assyria (Gutenberg)
  11. Edwin L. Brown, 'In Search of Anatolian Apollo' in: Chapin (ed.), Charis: essays in honor of Sara A. Immerwahr, Supplement to volume 33 of Hesperia, ASCSA, 2004, ISBN 9780876615331, p. 254.
  12. Apollonius of Rhodes, iv. 1730; Bibliotheke, i. 9. § 26
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Álvaro, Jr., Santos, Allan. Simbolismo divino. Allan Álvaro, Jr., Santos. 
  14. Aelian, On the Nature of Animals 4. 4 (A.F. Scholfield, tr.).
  15. Ovid, Metamorphoses xiii. 715
  16. Strabo, x. p. 451
  17. Entry Σμινθεύς at LSJ - by eliminating mice, a primary cause of desease, Apollo promoted preventive medicine.
  18. Euripides, Andromache 901
  19. "Acesius". Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London, 1880.
  20. LSJ entry Μουσαγέτας
  21. Miranda J. Green, Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend, Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1997
  22. Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum XIII, 1863–1986; A. Ross,, Pagan Celtic Britain, 1967; M.J. Green, The Gods of the Celts, 1986, London
  23. J. Zwicker, Fontes Historiae Religionis Celticae, 1934–36, Berlin; Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum V, XI, XII, XIII; J. Gourcest, "Le culte de Belenos en Provence occidentale et en Gaule", Ogam 6.6 (1954:257–262); E. Thevonot, "Le cheval sacre dans la Gaule de l'Est", Revue archeologique de l'Est et du Centre-Est (vol 2), 1951; [ ], "Temoignages du culte de l'Apollon gaulois dans l'Helvetie romaine", Revue celtique (vol 51), 1934.
  24. W.J. Wedlake, The Excavation of the Shrine of Apollo at Nettleton, Wiltshire, 1956–1971, Society of Antiquaries of London, 1982.
  25. M. Szabo, The Celtic Heritage in Hungary, (Budapest)1971, Budapest
  26. 26.0 26.1 Divinites et sanctuaires de la Gaule, E. Thevonat, 1968, Paris
  27. 27.0 27.1 La religion des Celtes, J. de Vries, 1963, Paris
  28. J. Le Gall, Alesia, archeologie et histoire, (Paris) 1963.
  29. Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum XIII
  30. Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion, 1985:144.
  31. Graf, Apollo p. 104-113; Burkert also notes in this context Archilochus Fr. 94.
  32. 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 Smintheus. 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)"
  33. Martin Nilsson, Die Geschichte der Griechische Religion. vol. I (C.H. Beck) 1955:563f.
  34. Graf, Apollo p. 66
  35. See Paean.
  36. Burkert 1985:143.
  37. Lucian (attrib.), De Dea Syria 35–37.
  38. Theoi: "KORONIS"
  39. Livy 1.56.
  40. Livy 3.63.7, 4.25.3.
  41. Livy 25.12.
  42. J. H. W. G. Liebeschuetz (1979). Continuity and Change in Roman Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 82–85. ISBN 0-19-814822-4. 
  43. Suetonius, Augustus 18.2; Cassius Dio 51.1.1–3.
  44. Cassius Dio 53.1.3.
  45. 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.). 
  46. "". 
  47. ἑβδομαγενής, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  48. Children of the Gods by Kenneth McLeish, page 32.
  49. pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliothke iii. 10.4.
  50. ""The love-stories themselves were not told until later." (Karl Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks 1951:140.
  51. The ancient Daphne episode is noted in late narratives, notably in Ovid, Metamorphoses, in Hyginus, Fabulae, 203 and by the fourth-century-CE teacher of rhetoric and Christian convert, Libanius, in Narrationes.
  52. Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, 1.3.4. Other ancient sources, however, gave the Corybantes different parents; see Sir James Frazer's note on the passage in the Bibliotheca.
  53. Callimachus, Hymn to Apollo2.5
  54. Man Myth and Magic by Richard Cavendish
  55. Bank of Greece. Drachma Banknotes & Coins: 1000 drachmas. Retrieved on 27 March 2009.


Primary sources

  • Homer, Iliad ii.595–600 (c. 700 BCE)
  • Sophocles, Oedipus Rex
  • Palaephatus, On Unbelievable Tales 46. Hyacinthus (330 BCE)
  • Apollodorus, Library 1.3.3 (140 BCE)
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses 10. 162–219 (1–8 CE)
  • Pausanias, Description of Greece 3.1.3, 3.19.4 (160–176 CE)
  • Philostratus the Elder, Images i.24 Hyacinthus (170–245 CE)
  • Philostratus the Younger, Images 14. Hyacinthus (170–245 CE)
  • Lucian, Dialogues of the Gods 14 (170 CE)
  • First Vatican Mythographer, 197. Thamyris et Musae

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
  • Graf, Fritz, Apollo, Taylor & Francis, 2009, ISBN 9780415317115.
  • 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).
  • K.A. Pfeiff, 1943. Apollon: Wandlung seines Bildes in der griechischen Kunst. Traces the changing iconography of Apollo.
  • William Smith; Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, London (1873). "Apollo"

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Apollo. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.