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From his birth on the island of Delos to the Pythian Games held in his honor at Delphi, this lesson explores the exciting mythology surrounding Apollo – one of the most important Greek gods.

Introduction

Has your friend ever told you their bodybuilder crush was ‘built like a Greek god’? Though there are many Greek gods who look like they hit the gym on Mount Olympus several times a week, it’s possible the image your friend was trying to conjure was the Greek god, Apollo.Often depicted in Greek sculpture as a long-haired, muscular youth, Apollo was the god devoted to prophecies, healing and youth, while also being the patron god of music, poetry and archery.

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Accordingly, oracles (essentially the ancient Greek version of prophets) of Apollo dotted the ancient Mediterranean landscape, from Greece to modern Turkey, with the most famous residing at Delphi.

Mythology and Genealogy of Apollo

Apollo was the son of the most powerful Greek god, Zeus, and one of his many godly mistresses, Leto. When Zeus’ wife, Hera, discovered that Leto was pregnant with Zeus’ offspring, Leto was chased by the angry deity from Mt. Olympus and the entire Greek mainland. Finally settling on the secluded island of Delos, Leto gave birth to Apollo and his twin sister, Artemis.Apollo is the subject of numerous Greek myths.

His first and, perhaps, most well-known feat took place at Delphi, where an oracle created prophecies from the vapors rising from a chasm. According to legend, this oracle at Delphi (though, in this myth, the site is often referred to as Pythos) was guarded by a giant dragon called Python. Not only did Python keep the oracle’s prophecies for himself, but he caused widespread destruction to the surrounding countryside – as dragons tend to do in these stories.

Apollo pursued Python, eventually slaying him with a bow and arrows. From that point forward, the oracle at Delphi was dedicated to Apollo, and the Greeks honored Apollo with the Pythian Games, held every four years on that site.According to mythology, Apollo also had a taste for romance, and he did not limit himself to other gods. Another myth centered on Apollo surrounds his love for the nymph, Daphne. Consumed with love for Daphne, Apollo pursued her tirelessly, both literally and figuratively! After a physical chase, when Daphne grew exhausted and Apollo had nearly caught her, she cried out for help to her father, the river god Peneus.

In response, Peneus transformed Daphne into a laurel tree, stopping Apollo’s advances and breaking his heart.

Apollo in Greek Literature

Apollo appears in many ancient Greek histories and epics, and, like other Greek gods, he often interfered and chose sides. In Homer’s The Iliad, Apollo favors the Trojans (he was purportedly having an affair with the king of Troy’s wife) and sent a plague to wipe out the Achaean landing force.In Aeschylus’ Oresteia, Apollo ordered Orestes to murder his mother Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus, because Clytemnestra murdered Orestes’ father, Agamemnon.

Afterwards, Apollo defended Orestes at his trial before Athena against the Furies, who tormented Orestes for the crime of matricide. Apollo eventually won Orestes his freedom.

Lesson Summary

Apollo was an important god in ancient Greece, and his wide range of activities subjected him to varied interpretation. For example, Homer’s Apollo – the adulterer and plague-sender – was a far worse Apollo than the dragon-slaying champion of the oracle at Delphi; however, no matter one’s view of Apollo, the Pythian Games held in his honor and the numerous oracles dedicated to Apollo demonstrate his importance in the Greek god hierarchy.

Learning Outcomes

Enhance your knowledge of Apollo in order to:

  • Provide details about Apollo
  • Recite some of the myths involving Apollo
  • Note Apollo’s numerous appearances in Greek literary epics

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