Apollo and Daphne

Apollo and Daphne is a story from ancient Greek mythology, retold by Hellenistic and Roman authors in the form of an amorous vignette;

"Apollo and Daphne" by Antonio Pollaiuolo.

The curse of Apollo, the god of the sun and music, was brought onto him when he insulted the young Eros (a.k.a. Cupid) for playing with bow and arrows.

Apollo was a great warrior and said to him, "What have you to do with warlike weapons, saucy boy? Leave them for hands worthy of them. Behold the conquest I have won by means of them over the vast serpent who stretched his poisonous body over acres of the plain! Be content with your torch, child, and kindle up your flames, as you call them, where you will, but presume not to meddle with my weapons."

The petulant Eros took two arrows, one of gold and one of lead. The gold one was supposed to incite love, while the lead one was supposed to incite hatred. With the leaden shaft, Eros shot the nymph Daphne and with the golden one, he shot Apollo through the heart. Apollo was seized with love for the maiden, Daphne, and she in turn abhorred him. In fact, she spurned her many potential lovers, preferring instead woodland sports and exploring the woods. Her father, Peneus, demanded that she get married so that she may give him grandchildren.[why?] However, she begged her father to let her remain unmarried, like Apollo's twin sister, Artemis.

He warned her saying, "Your own face will forbid it." By saying this he meant that she was too beautiful to keep all her potential lovers away forever.

Apollo continually followed her, begging her to stay, but the nymph continued her flight. They were evenly matched in the race until Eros intervened and helped Apollo gain upon Daphne.

Seeing that Apollo was bound to catch her, she called upon her father, "Help me, Peneus! Open the earth to enclose me, or change my form, which has brought me into this danger!"

Suddenly, her skin turned into bark, her hair became leaves, and her arms were transformed into branches. She stopped running as her feet became rooted to the ground. Apollo embraced the branches, but even the branches shrank away from him. Since Apollo could no longer take her as his wife, he vowed to tend her as his tree, and promised that her leaves would decorate the heads of leaders as crowns, and that her leaves were also to be depicted on weapons. Apollo also used his powers of eternal youth and immortality to render her ever green. Since then, the leaves of the Bay laurel tree have never known decay.

Apollo and Daphne in Art

Between 1622 and 1625, Gian Lorenzo Bernini sculpted a very famous baroque, life-sized marble entitled Apollo and Daphne. Apollo clutches Daphne’s hip pursuing her as she flees trying to escape him. Apollo desperate and longing wears a laurel crown foreshadowing Daphne’s metamorphosis into the laurel tree. Daphne is portrayed halfway through her metamorphosis into the laurel tree with her arms already transforming into its branches as she flees and calls to her Father to save her from Apollo.[1]

Artists such as Antonio del Pollaiuolo often manipulate scenes from famous Greek mythology into the setting of their time periods. In Pollaiuolo’s painting Apollo and Daphne, both Apollo and Daphne are shown dressed in Renaissance garments as Daphne is in the midst of transforming into the laurel tree. It hangs today in the National Gallery in London.[2]

Charles Garabedian displays Apollo and Daphne quite differently than the usual rendering.

In recent literature it has been argued that "The Kiss" of Gustav Klimt is a painting symbolic of the kissing of Daphne by Apollo at the moment she is transformed into a laurel tree (See Vives Chillida, Julio, El beso (los enamorados) de Gustav Klimt. Un ensayo de iconografía; Editorial Lulu.com, junio de 2008, ISBN 978-1-4092-0530-2)

Chastity vs. Lust

The myth of Apollo and Daphne can also be examined as a battle between chastity (Daphne) and sexual desires (Apollo). As Apollo lustfully pursues Daphne, she is saved through her metamorphosis and confinement into the laurel tree which can be seen as an act of eternal chastity. Daphne is forced to sacrifice her body and become the laurel tree as her only form of escape from the pressures of Apollo’s constant sexual desires. Apollo takes Daphne’s eternal chastity and crafts himself a wreath out of her laurel branches turning her symbol of chastity into a cultural symbol for him and other poets and musicians. [3]


  1. ^ Impeluso, Lucia, and Stefano Zuffi. Gods and Heroes in Art. Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2003. Print.
  2. ^ Impeluso, Lucia, and Stefano Zuffi. Gods and Heroes in Art. Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2003. Print.
  3. ^ Paulson, Ronald, and Peter Eisenman. Sin and Evil: Moral Values in Literature. Pennsylvania: Yale University Press, 2007. Print.

By: Misel Saban (October 24, 2011) and Dragan Pecanac (April 02, 1996 - December 12, 2012)

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