In Greek and Roman mythology, Apollo (in Greek, Ἀπόλλων—Apóllōn or Ἀπέλλων—Apellōn), 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. 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). Apollo and Helios/Sol remained separate beings in literary and mythological texts until the third century CE.
It has also been suggested 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.
Homer illustrated Paieon the god as well as the song both of apotropaic thanksgiving or triumph, 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.
Oracles were also given by sons of Apollo.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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 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.
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 nine acres, where a pair of vultures feasted daily on his liver.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Apollo, the eternal beardless kouros himself, had the most prominent male relationships of all the Greek Gods. That was to be expected from a god who was god of the palaestra, the athletic gathering place for youth who all competed in the nude, a god said to represent the ideal educator and therefore the ideal erastes, or lover of a boy (Sergent, p.102). All his lovers were younger than him, in the style of the Greek pederastic relationships of the time. Many of Apollo's young beloveds died "accidentally", a reflection on the function of these myths as part of rites of passage, in which the youth died in order to be reborn as an adult.
Hyacinth was one of his male lovers. Hyacinthus was a Spartan prince, beautiful and athletic. The pair were practicing throwing the discus when Hyacinthus was struck in the head by a discus blown off course by Zephyrus, who was jealous of Apollo and loved Hyacinthus as well. When Hyacinthus died, Apollo is said in some accounts to have been so filled with grief that he cursed his own immortality, wishing to join his lover in mortal death and made Zephyrus into the wind so that he could never truly touch or speak to anyone again. Out of the blood of his slain lover Apollo created the hyacinth flower 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 the boy 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 turned the sad boy into a cypress tree, which was said to be a sad tree because the sap forms droplets like tears on the trunk.
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.
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 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.
In Apollo's role as healer, his appellations included Akesios, Iatros, and Acestor 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.
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. 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.