Symbols of the Greek God Apollo

Close up of Apollo Statue, Campanile of St. Mark's, Venice, Italy

Jeremy Villasis, Philippines / Getty Images

Apollo is the Greek God of the sun, light, music, truth, healing, poetry, and prophesy, and one of the most well-known gods in Greek mythology. Known as the ideal of youth and athleticism, Apollo is the son of the Zeus and Leto; and his twin sister, Artemis, is the goddess of the moon and the hunt.

Like many of the Greek Gods, Apollo has many symbols. These symbols were usually associated with the great accomplishments those deities made or pertained to the domains over which they ruled.

Symbols of Apollo 

  • Bow and arrows
  • The lyre
  • The raven
  • Rays of light radiating from his head
  • Branch of laurel
  • Wreath

What Apollo's Symbols Mean

Apollo's silver bow and arrow represent his defeat of the monster Python (or Phython). Python was a serpent who lived near Delphi, considered the center of the earth. In a frenzy of jealousy over Zeus' infidelity with Leda, Hera sent Python to chase Leto away: at the time, Leto was pregnant with the twins Apollo and Artemis, and their birth was delayed. When Apollo was grown, he shot the Python with arrows and took over Delphi as his own shrine. The bow and arrow symbol is also a reference to Apollo as the god of plagues who shot plague arrows at the enemy during the Trojan war.

Gold statue of Apollo with bow on display in Greek art museum.
DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI / Getty Images

The lyre—which is perhaps his most well-known symbol—signifies that Apollo is the god of music. In ancient myths, the god Hermes created the lyre and gave it to Apollo in exchange for the rod of health—or for the cows that the mischievous Hermes had stolen from Apollo. Apollo's lyre has the power to turn items—like stones—into musical instruments.

Statue copy of Apollo playing lyre on pedestal against black background.
De Agostini / G. Nimatallah / Getty Images

The raven is a symbol of Apollo's anger. Once all ravens were white birds or so goes the myth, but after delivering bad news to the god he scorched the wings of the raven so that all ravens going forward were black. The bad news brought by the bird was that of the infidelity of his lover Coronis who, pregnant with Asclepius, fell in love and slept with Ischys. When the raven told Apollo of the affair, he became enraged that the bird had not pecked out Ischys' eyes, and the poor raven was an early example of the messenger being shot.

Painting of Apollo with sitting with lyre next to raven on a plate.
Tomisti / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Apollo God of the Sun

The rays of light that radiate from Apollo's head symbolize that he is the god of the sun. According to the Greek myth, each morning Apollo rides a golden flaming chariot across the sky bringing daylight to the world. In the evening his twin, Artemis, goddess of the moon, rides her own chariot across the sky bringing darkness. Apollo is symbolized by rays of light.

Ceiling mural of Chariot of the Sun Driven by Apollo by Antonio Maria Viani
Corbis / Getty Images

The branch of laurels was actually something Apollo wore as a sign of his love for the demigod Daphne. Unfortunately, Daphne was cursed by the Goddess Eros to have a hatred of love and lust. It was an act of revenge against Apollo who claimed he was a better archer than Eros. Eventually, after Daphne grew tired of Apollo's chasing she begged her father the river god Peneus for help. He turned Daphne was into a laurel tree to escape the love of Apollo.

The laurel wreath that Apollo wears is a symbol of victory and honor, which was used in Greek times to identify the victors in athletic competitions, including the Olympics. Apollo's wreath combines the laurel for Daphne, the coronal effect of the sun's rays, and the beauty and power of young, beardless, athletic men.

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Gill, N.S. "Symbols of the Greek God Apollo." ThoughtCo, Sep. 7, 2021, Gill, N.S. (2021, September 7). Symbols of the Greek God Apollo. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Symbols of the Greek God Apollo." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).