Definitions

daphne

daphne

[daf-nee]
daphne, common name for, and genus name of, certain low deciduous or evergreen shrubs native to Eurasia. In the United States several naturalized species are cultivated for their handsome foliage and fragrant flowers, e.g., D. mezereum and D. laureola, commonly called spurge-laurel and olive-spurge respectively but unrelated to the true spurge or laurel. The dried bark of D. mezereum was used medicinally, but the plant is poisonous. D. genkwa has been used in China as an effective abortifacient. Daphnes are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Myrtales, family Thymelaeaceae.

In Greek mythology, the personification of the laurel tree. The beautiful daughter of a river god, Daphne lived a pastoral existence and rejected every lover. When Apollo pursued her, she prayed to Gaea or to her father to save her, whereupon she was transformed into a laurel. Apollo took its leaves to weave garlands that were thenceforth awarded to prize-winning poets. Daphne's other pursuer was Leucippus, who was killed because of Apollo's jealousy.

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According to Greek myth, Apollo chased the nymph Daphne (Greek: Δάφνη, meaning "laurel"), daughter either of Peneus and Creusa in Thessaly, or of the river Ladon in Arcadia. The pursuit of a local nymph by an Olympian god, part of the archaic adjustment of religious cult in Greece, was given an arch aneccdotal turn in Ovid's Metamorphoses, where the god's infatuation was caused by an arrow from Eros, who wanted to make Apollo pay for making fun of his archery skills and to demonstrate the power of love's arrow. Ovid expands the pursuit into a series of speeches. Daphne prayed for help either to the river god Peneus or to Gaia, and was transformed into a laurel (Laurus nobilis): "a heavy numbness seized her limbs, thin bark closed over her breast, her hair turned into leaves, her arms into branches, her feet so swift a moment ago stuck fast in slow-growing roots, her face was lost in the canopy. Only her shining beauty was left. The laurel became sacred to Apollo, and crowned the victors at the Pythian Games. Most artistic impressions of the myth focus on the moment of transformation.

A version of the attempt on Daphne's sworn virginity that has been less familiar since the Renaissance was narrated by the Hellenistic poet Parthenius, in his Erotica Pathemata, "The Sorrows of Love". Parthenius' tale was known to Pausanias, who recounted it in his Description of Greece (second century CE). In this, Daphne is a mortal girl fond of hunting and determined to remain a virgin; she is pursued by the lad Leucippos, who assumes girl's clothes in order to join her band of huntresses. He is so successful in gaining her innocent affection, that Apollo is jealous and puts it into the girl's mind to stop to bathe in the river Ladon; there, as all strip naked, the ruse is revealed, as in the myth of Callisto, and the huntresses plunge their spears into Leucippos. At this moment Apollo's attention was engaged, and he began his pursuit.

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