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The son of Zeus and Leto, and the twin brother of Artemis. Apollo was the god of music (principally the lyre, and he directed the choir of the Muses) and also of prophecy, colonization, medicine, archery (but not for war or hunting), poetry, dance, intellectual inquiry and the carer of herds and flocks. He was also a god of light, known as "Phoebus" (radiant or beaming, and he was sometimes identified with Helios the sun god). He was also the god of plague and was worshiped as Smintheus (from sminthos, rat) and as Parnopius (from parnops, grasshopper) and was known as the destroyer of rats and locust, and according to Homer's Iliad, Apollo shot arrows of plague into the Greek camp. Apollo being the god of religious healing would give those guilty of murder and other immoral deeds a ritual purification. Sacred to Apollo are the swan (one legend says that Apollo flew on the back of a swan to the land of the Hyperboreans, he would spend the winter months among them), the wolf and the dolphin. His attributes are the bow and arrows, on his head a laurel crown, and the cithara (or lyre) and plectrum. But his most famous attribute is the tripod, the symbol of his prophetic powers.
When the goddesss Hera, the wife of Zeus (it was he who had coupled with Leto) found out about Leto's pregnancy, she was outraged with jealousy. Seeking revenge Hera forced Leto to roam the earth in search of a place to give birth. Sicne Hera had forbidden Leto to stay anywhere on earth, either on terra-ferma or an island at sea, the only place to seek shelter was Delos, being in the center of the Aegean, and also difficult to reach, as there were strong under-currents, because it was said to be a floating island. Because it was a floating island, it was not considered either of Hera's prohibitions, and so Leto was able to give birth to the divine twins Apollo and Artemis (before Leto gave birth to Apollo, the island was encircled by a flock of swans, this is why the swan was sacred to him). As a gesture of thanks Delos was secured to the sea-bed by four columns to give it stability, and from then on it became one of the most important sanctuaries to Apollo. (A variation of Apollo's birth was that the jealous Hera had incarcerated Ilithyia, the goddess of childbirth, but the other gods intervened forcing Hera to release Ilithyia, which allowed Leto to give birth ).
Apollo's first achievement was to rid Pytho (Delphi) of the serpent (or dragon) Python. This monstrous beast protected the sanctuary of Pytho from its lair beside the Castalian Spring. There it stood guard while the "Sibyl" gave out her prophecies as she inhaled the trance inducing vapors from an open chasm. Apollo killed Python with his bow and arrows (Homer wrote "he killed the fearsome dragon Python, piercing it with his darts"). Apollo not only took charge of the oracle but rid the neighboring countryside of widespread destruction, as Python had destroyed crops, sacked villages and polluted streams and springs. However, to make amends for killing Python, as the fearsome beast was the son of Gaia, Apollo had to serve king Admetus for nine years (in some versions eight) as a cowherd. This he did, and when he returned to Pytho he came in the guise of a dolphin bringing with him priests from Crete (Apollo's cult title "Delphinios" meaning dolphin or porpoise, is probably how Delphi was so named). After killing Python and taking possession of the oracle, the god of light (Phobus) became known as "Pythian Apollo". He dedicated a bronze tripod to the sanctuary and bestowed divine powers on one of the priestesses, and she became known as the "Pythia". It was she who inhaled the hallucinating vapors from the fissure in the temple floor, while she sat on a tripod chewing laurel leaves. After she mumbled her answer, a male priest would translate it for the supplicant. Delphi became the most important oracle center of Apollo, there were several including Clarus and Branchidae.
Apollo, as with Zeus his father, had many love affairs with goddesses and mortals. Apollo's infatuation for the nymph Daphne, which had been invoked by the young god of love Eros, because Apollo had mocked him, saying his archery skills were pathetic, and Apollo's singing had also irritated him. Daphne was the beautiful daughter of the river god Ladon, and she was constantly pursued by Apollo. To escape from Apollo's insistent behavior, she fled to the mountains, but the persistent Apollo followed her. Annoyed by this, she asked the river god Peneus for help, which he did. As soon as Apollo approached Daphne, he tried to embrace her, but when he stretched out his arms she transformed into a laurel tree. Apollo, distraught by what had happened, made the laurel his sacred tree. Apollo also loved Cyrene, she was another nymph, and she bore Apollo a son: Aristaeus, a demi-god, who became a protector of cattle and fruit trees, and a deity of hunting, husbandry and bee-keeping. He taught men dairy skills and the use of nets and traps in hunting.
The most famous mortal loves of Apollo was Hecuba, she was the wife of Priam, the king of Troy. She bore him Troilius. Foretold by an oracle, as long as Troilius reached the age of twenty, Troy could not be defeated. But the hero Achilles ambushed and killed him, when the young prince and his sister Polyxena secretly visited a spring. Apollo also fell in love with Cassandra, the sister of Troilius, and daughter of Hecuba and Priam. He seduced Cassandra on the promise that he would teach her the art of prophecy, but having learnt the prophetic art she rejected him. Apollo, being angry of her rejection punished her, by declaring her prophecies never to be accepted or believed.
Asclepius, the god of healing, was also Apollo's offspring, after his union with Coronis, who was daughter of Phlegyas, king of the Lapiths. While she was pregnant by Apollo, Coronis fell in love with Ischys, son of Elatus, but a crow informed Apollo of the affair. Apollo sent his twin sister Artemis to kill Coronis, and Artemis carried out he brothers wishes. While her body was burning on the funeral pyre, Apollo removed the unborn child, and took him to Chiron, who raised the child Asclepius.
Apollo also, as did his father Zeus, fall in love with one of his own gender, Hyacinthus, a Spartan prince. He was very handsome and athletic, which inflamed the passions of Apollo. One day while Apollo and Hyacinthus were practicing throwing the discus, Zephyrus, the god of the west wind, who was also attracted to the young prince, and jealous of Apollo's amorous affection towards the boy, made the discus veer off course by blowing an ill wind. The discus, which Apollo had thrown, hit Hyacinthus, smashing his skull. Apollo rushed to him, but he was dead. The god was overcome with grief, but to immortalize the love he had for the beautiful youth, he had a flower grow were his blood had stained the earth. Apollo also loved the young boy Cyparissus, a descendant of Heracles. The impassioned Apollo gave Cyparissus a sacred deer, as a love token. The young deer became tame, and was the constant companion of the boy, until a tragic accident occurred. As the young deer lay sleeping in the shade of the undergrowth, Cyparissus threw his javelin, which by chance hit, and killed the deer. Grief-stricken by what had happened, Cyparissus wanted to die. He asked Apollo to let his tears fall for all eternity. With apprehension Apollo transformed the boy into a tree, the cypress, which became the symbol of sorrow, as the sap on its trunk forms droplets, like tears.
Apollo could also be ruthless when he was angered. The mortal Niobe, boasted to Apollo's mother Leto, that she had fourteen children (in some versions six or seven), which must make her more superior than Leto, who had only bore two. Apollo greatly angered by this slew her sons, and Artemis killed Niobe's daughters. Niobe wept so much that she turned into a pillar of stone. Apollo was infuriated when the satyr Marsyas challenged Apollo to music contest. After winning the competition, Apollo had Marsyas flayed alive, for being so presumptuous, as to challenge a god.
Apollo was worshiped throughout the Greek world, at Delphi every four years they held the Pythian Games in his honor. He had many epithets, including "Pythian Apollo" (his name at Delphi), "Apollo Apotropaeus" (Apollo who averts evil), and "Apollo Nymphegetes" (Apollo who looks after the Nymphs). As the god of shepherds he also had the cult titles "Lukeios" (from lykos; wolf), protecting the flocks from wolfs, and "Nomius" (of pastures, belonging to shepherds). Being the god of colonists, Apollo influenced his priests at Delphi to give divine guidance, as to where the expedition should proceed. This was during the height of the colonizing era circa 750-550 BCE. Apollo's title was "Archigetes" (leader of colonists). According to one legend, it was Apollo who helped either Cretan or Arcadian colonists found the city of Troy.
In art Apollo is at most times depicted as a handsome young man, clean shaven and carrying either a lyre, or his bow and arrows. There are many sculptures of Apollo and one of the most famous is the central figure from the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus, at Olympia, showing Apollo declaring victory in favor of the Lapiths in their struggle against the Centaurs.
A song sung in honor of Apollo is called a paean.
The daughter of Leto and Zeus, and twin sister of Apollo. Artemis is the goddess of the wilderness, the hunt and wild animals, and fertility (she became a goddess of fertility and childbirth mainly in cities). She was often depicted with the crescent of the moon above her forehead and was sometimes identified with Selene (goddess of the moon). Artemis was one of the Olympians and a virgin goddess. Her main vocation was to roam mountain forests and uncultivated land with her nymphs in attendance hunting for lions, panthers, hinds and stags. Contradictory to the later, she helped in protecting and seeing to their well-being, also their safety and reproduction. She was armed with a bow and arrows which were made by Hephaestus and the Cyclopes.
In one legend, Artemis was born one day before her brother Apollo. Her mother gave birth to her on the island of Ortygia, then, almost immediately after her birth, she helped her mother to cross the straits over to Delos, where she then delivered Apollo. This was the beginning of her role as guardian of young children and patron of women in childbirth. Being a goddess of contradictions, she was the protectress of women in labor, but it was said that the arrows of Artemis brought them sudden death while giving birth. As was her brother, Apollo, Artemis was a divinity of healing, but also brought and spread diseases such as leprosy, rabies and even gout.
Being associated with chastity, Artemis at an early age (in one legend she was three years old) asked her father, the great god Zeus, to grant her eternal virginity. Also, all her companions were virgins. Artemis was very protective of her purity, and gave grave punishment to any man who attempted to dishonor her in any form. Actaeon, while out hunting, accidentally came upon Artemis and her nymphs, who bathing naked in a secluded pool. Seeing them in all their naked beauty, the stunned Actaeon stopped and gazed at them, but when Artemis saw him ogling them, she transformed him into a stag. Then, incensed with disgust, she set his own hounds upon him. They chased and killed what they thought was another stag, but it was their master. As with Orion, a giant and a great hunter, there are several legends which tell of his death, one involving Artemis. It is said that he tried to rape the virgin goddess, so killed him with her bow and arrows. Another says she conjured up a scorpion which killed Orion and his dog. Orion became a constellation in the night sky, and his dog became Sirius, the dog star. Yet another version says it was the scorpion which stung him and was transformed into the constellation with Orion, the later being Scorpio. Artemis was enraged when one of her nymphs, Callisto, allowed Zeus to seduce her, but the great god approached her in one of his guises; he came in the form of Artemis. The young nymph was unwittingly tricked, and she gave birth to Arcas, the ancestor of the Arcadians, but Artemis showed no mercy and changed her into a bear. She then shot and killed her. As Orion, she was sent up to the heavens, and became the constellation of the Great Bear (which is also known as the Plough).
Artemis was very possessive. She would show her wrath on anyone who disobeyed her wishes, especially against her sacred animals. Even the great hero Agamemnon came upon the wrath of Artemis, when he killed a stag in her sacred grove. His punishment came when his ships were becalmed, while he made his way to besiege Troy. With no winds to sail his ships he was told by the seer Calchas that the only way Artemis would bring back the winds was for him to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia. Some versions say he did sacrifice Iphigenia, others that Artemis exchanged a deer in her place, and took Iphigenia to the land of the Tauri (the Crimea) as a priestess, to prepare strangers for sacrifice to Artemis.
Artemis with her twin brother, Apollo, put to death the children of Niobe. The reason being that Niobe, a mere mortal, had boasted to Leto, the mother of the divine twins, that she had bore more children, which must make her superior to Leto. Apollo being outraged at such an insult on his mother, informed Artemis. The twin gods hunted them down and shot them with their bows and arrows; Apollo killed the male children and Artemis the girls.
Artemis was worshiped in most Greek cities but only as a secondary deity. However, to the Greeks in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) she was a prominent deity. In Ephesus, a principal city of Asia Minor, a great temple was built in her honor, which became one of the "Seven Wonders of the Ancient World". But at Ephesus she was worshiped mainly as a fertility goddess, and was identified with Cybele the mother goddess of eastern lands. The cult statues of the Ephesian Artemis differ greatly from those of mainland Greece, whereas she is depicted as a huntress with her bow and arrows. Those found at Ephesus show her in the eastern style, standing erect with numerous nodes on her chest. There have been many theories as to what they represent. Some say they are breasts, others that they are bulls testes which were sacrificed to her. Which is the true interpretation remains uncertain, but each represent fertility.
There were festivals in honor of Artemis, such as the Brauronia, which was held in Brauron; and the festival of Artemis Orthia, held at Sparta, when young Spartan boys would try to steal cheeses from the altar. As they tried they would be whipped, the meaning of Orthia and the nature of the ritual whipping has been lost and there is no logical explanation or translation. Among the epithets given to Artemis are: Potnia Theron (mistress of wild animals) this title was mentioned by the great poet Homer; Kourotrophos (nurse of youth's); Locheia (helper in childbirth); Agrotera (huntress); and Cynthia (taken from her birthplace on Mount Cynthus on Delos). When young girls reached puberty they were initiated into her cult, but when they decided to marry, which Artemis was not against, they were asked to lay in front of the altar all the paraphernalia of their virginity, toys, dolls and locks of their hair, they then left the domain of the virgin goddess.
Credit: Encyclopedia Mythica.