The Greek God Apollo

of 12

Ruins of the Temple at Delphi

Ruins of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi
Ruins of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. CC Flickr User borderlys

Usually portrayed as handsome and youthful, Apollo is the god of prophecy, music, and healing. He is the brother of Artemis (huntress and sometimes thought of as the moon goddess) and the son of Zeus and Leda.

Apollo inspires the Muses, for which reason he is sometimes called Apollo Musagetes. Modern philosophers and psychologists sometimes contrast Apollo with Dionysus, god of wine and frenzy. Apollo inspires seers with prophecy while Dionysus fills his followers with madness.

Apollo is also called Apollo Smitheus, which may point to a connection between the god and mice, since Apollo shoots plague arrows to punish disrespectful humans. Note that while he may send disease, Apollo is also associated with healing and the father of the healing god Asclepius.

Over time Apollo came to be associated with the sun, taking over the role of the sun Titan Helios. You may see him with his sister Artemis, a virginal goddess of the hunt with her own set of contradictory attributes, but who, like Apollo, came to be identified with another of the celestial orbs; in her case, the moon, a function she took over for the moon Titan Selene. Their parents are Zeus and Leto.

The oracle at Delphi was said to be possessed by the god Apollo. Delphi was an antron (cave) or adyton (restricted area) where fumes rose from the ground to inspire a "divine frenzy," in the priestess who presided over the oracle and breathed them in.

The priestess of Apollo sat on a 3-legged stool (tripod). A vase shows Apollo arriving at Delphi on a winged tripod, but the tripod of the Pythia (the name of the oracle of Apollo at Delphi) was more stable.


Some may have believed the intoxicating vapors came from Apollo's slain python. The tripod was said to sit above the python's remains. Hyginus (a 2nd century A.D. mythographer) relates that the python was thought to have delivered oracles on Mt. Parnassos before Apollo killed him.


This photo shows the ruins of the Doric temple of Apollo at Delphi, on the southern slope of the Parnassos Mountain. This version of the temple to Apollo was built in the 4th century B.C., by Corinthian architect Spintharos. Pausanias (X.5) says the earliest temple of Apollo was a bay leaf hut. This is probably an attempt to explain Apollo's association with the laurel. The leaves of the hut came from the bay tree at Tempe where Apollo had gone for his 9-years of purification for the slaughter of the python. Note that there is another explanation for Apollo's association with the laurel, which Ovid describes in his Metamorphoses. In the Metamorphoses, Daphne, a nymph pursued by Apollo begs her father to help her avoid the god's embraces. The nymph's father obliges by turning her into a laurel (bay) tree.


  • "The Mantic Mechanism at Delphi," by Leicester B. Holland. American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 37, No. 2 (Apr. - Jun., 1933), pp. 201-214
  • "The Temple of Apollo at Delphi," by J. Henry Middleton. The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 9, (1888), pp. 282-322.
of 12

Apollo Coin - Denarius Coin of Apollo

Apollo Denarius
Apollo Denarius. CC Flickr User Smabs Sputzer

The Romans as well as the Greeks honored Apollo. Here is a Roman coin (a denarius) showing Apollo crowned with a laurel wreath.

Usually when the Romans took over another country, they took their gods and associated them with pre-existing ones. Thus the Greek Athena was associated with Minerva and when the Romans settled in Britain, the local goddess Sulis, a healing goddess, came to be associated with the Roman Minerva, as well. Apollo, on the other hand, remained Apollo among the Romans, perhaps because he was incomparable. As a sun god, the Romans also called him Phoebus. The Etruscans, who lived in the area of modern Tuscany, had a god named Apulu who is associated with the Greco-Roman god Apollo. Because of his plague-healing powers, Apollo was an important enough god to the Romans that in 212 B.C., they instituted a set of Roman games in his honor called the Ludi Apollinares. The games for Apollo featured circus games and dramatic performances.

of 12

Lycian Apollo

Lycian Apollo at the Louvre
Lycian Apollo at the Louvre. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Apollo had an oracular shrine in Lycia. There were also cults of Lycian Apollo in Crete and Rhodes.

This statue of Apollo is an imperial era Roman copy of a statue of Apollo by Praxiteles or Euphranos. It is 2.16 m (7 ft. 1 in.) tall.

of 12

Apollo and Hyacinthus

Apollo and Hyacinthus
Apollo and Hyacinthus. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Apollo was deeply in love with the very beautiful Spartan prince Hyacinthus, son, perhaps, of King Amyclas and Diomede, that he shared in the mortal youth's life, enjoying the human's pursuit of sports.

Unfortunately, Apollo wasn't the only deity enamored of Hyacinthus. One of the winds, Zephyros or Boreas, was as well. When Apollo and Hyacinthus were throwing the discus, the jealous wind made the discus Apollo had thrown bounce up and strike Hyacinthus. Hyacinthus died, but from his blood sprang the flower that bears his name.

of 12

Apollo With Cithara

Apollo Citaredo ai Musei Capitolini
Apollo Citaredo ai Musei Capitolini. CC Cebete

Apollo at the Capitoline Museum

of 12


Asclepius - Son of Apollo
Asclepius - Son of Apollo.

Apollo transmitted healing power to his son Asclepius. When Asclepius used it to resurrect mortals from the dead Zeus killed him with a thunderbolt. (More...)

Asclepius (Aesculapius in Latin) is called the Greek god of medicine and healing. Asclepius was the son of Apollo and the mortal Coronis. Before Coronis could give birth, she died and was snatched from her corpse by Apollo. The centaur Chiron raised Asclepius. After Zeus killed Asclepius for bringing the dead back to life, he made him a god.

Asclepius carries a staff with a snake encircling it, which now symbolizes the medical profession. The cock was Asclepius' bird. The daughters of Asclepius are also associated with the healing profession. They are: Aceso, Iaso, Panacea, Aglaea, and Hygieia.

A cult center for Asclepius is called an Asclepieion. The priests of Asclepius attempted to cure people who came to their centers.

of 12

Temple of Apollo in Pompeii

Temple of Apollo in Pompeii
Temple of Apollo in Pompeii. CC goforchris at

The Temple of Apollo, which is in the forum at Pompeii, dates back at least to the 6th century B.C.

In The Fires of Vesuvius, Mary Beard says he Temple of Apollo once held a pair of bronze statues of Apollo and Diana and a copy of the omphalos (navel) that was a symbol of Apollo at his Delphic shrine.

of 12

Apollo Belvedere

Apollo Belvedere
Apollo Belvedere. PD Flickr User "T" altered art

Apollo Belvedere, named for the Belvedere Court at the Vatican, is considered the standard for male beauty. It was found in the ruins of Pompey's theater.

of 12

Artemis, Poseidon, and Apollo

Poseidon, Artemis, and Apollo on a frieze
Poseidon, Artemis, and Apollo on a frieze.

How can you tell Apollo from Poseidon? Look for the facial hair. Apollo usually appears as a beardless young man. Also, he's beside his sister.

of 12

Apollo and Artemis

Apollo and Artemis
Apollo and Artemis.

Apollo and Artemis are the twin children of Apollo and Leto, although Artemis was born before her brother. They came to be associated with the sun and the moon.

of 12

Phoebus Apollo

An image of the god Phoebus Apollo from Keightley's Mythology, 1852.
An image of the god Phoebus Apollo from Keightley's Mythology, 1852. Keightley's Mythology, 1852.

An image of the god Phoebus Apollo from Keightley's Mythology, 1852.

The drawing shows Apollo as the sun god, with rays behind him, guiding the horses that drive the solar chariot across the sky each day.

of 12

Apollo Musagetes

Apollo Musagetes
Apollo Musagetes.

Apollo as leader of the Muses is known as Apollo Musagetes.