Apollo, the Greek God of the Sun, Music, and Prophecy

The Olympian of Many Talents

Apollo
Apollo. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Greek god Apollo was the son of Zeus and the twin brother of Artemis, goddess of the hunt and the moon. Commonly conceived as the driver of the solar disc, Apollo in fact was patron of prophecy, music, intellectual pursuits, healing, and plague. His brainy, orderly interests made writers  contrast Apollo with his half-brother, the hedonistic Dionysus (Bacchus), god of wine.

Apollo and the Sun

Perhaps the earliest reference to Apollo as the sun god Helios occurs in the surviving fragments of Euripides' Phaethon.

Phaethon was one of the chariot horses of the Homeric goddess of the dawn, Eos. It was also the name of the son of the sun god who foolishly drove his father's sun-chariot and died for the privilege. By the Hellenistic period and in Latin literature, Apollo is associated with the sun. The firm connection with the sun may be traceable to the Metamorphoses of the popular Latin poet Ovid.

Apollo's Oracle

The Oracle at Delphi, famous seat of prophecy in the classical world, was intimately connected with Apollo. Sources vary, but it was at Delphi that Apollo slew the serpent Python, or alternately brought the gift of prophecy in the form of a dolphin. The Greeks believed that Delphi was the site of the omphalos, or navel, of Gaea, the Earth. Either way, the Oracle's guidance was sought by Greek rulers for every major decision, and was respected in the lands of Asia Minor and by the Egyptians and Romans as well.

Apollo's priestess, or sybil, was known as Pythia. When a supplicant asked a question of the sybil, she leaned over a chasm (the hole where Python was buried), fell into a trance, and began to rave. The translations were made into hexameter by the temple priests.

Apollo Fact Sheet

Occupation:

God of the Sun, Music, Healing

Roman Equivalent:

Apollo, sometimes Phoebus Apollo or Sol

Attributes, Animals, and Powers:

Apollo is depicted as a beardless young man (ephebe). His attributes are the tripod (the stool of prophecy), lyre, bow and arrows, laurel, hawk, raven or crow, swan, fawn, roe, snake, mouse, grasshopper, and griffin.

Apollo's Lovers:

Apollo was paired with many women and a few men. It wasn't safe to resist his advances. When the seer Cassandra rejected him, he punished her by making it impossible for people to believe her prophecies. When Daphne sought to reject Apollo, her father "helped" her by turning her into a laurel tree.

Myths of Apollo:

He is a healing god, a power he transmitted to his son Asclepius. Asclepius exploited his ability to heal by raising men from the dead. Zeus punished him by striking him with a fatal thunderbolt. Apollo retaliated by killing the Cyclops, who had created the thunderbolt.

Zeus punished his son Apollo by sentencing him to a year of servitude, which he spent as herdsman for the mortal king Admetus. Euripides' tragedy tells the story of the reward Apollo paid Admetus.

In the Trojan War, Apollo and his sister Artemis sided with the Trojans. In the first book of the Iliad, he is angry with the Greeks for refusing to return the daughter of his priest Chryses.

To punish them, the god showers the Greeks with arrows of plague, possibly bubonic, since the plague-sending Apollo is a special aspect connected with mice.

Apollo was also associated with the laurel wreath of victory. Apollo was fated to a disastrous and unrequited love. Daphne, the object of his love, metamorphosed into a laurel tree to avoid him. Leaves from the laurel tree were thereafter used to crown victors at the Pythian games.

Sources:

Aeschylus, Cicero, Euripides, Hesiod, Homer, Ovid, Pausanias, Pindar, Stabo, and Virgil