|Greek and Roman Mythology > Apollo and Daphne
Apollo and Daphne
accident, but by the malice of Cupid. Apollo saw the boy playing
with his bow and arrows; and being himself elated with his recent
victory over Python, he 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
Venus's boy heard these words, and rejoined, ":Your arrows may
strike all things else, Apollo, but mine shall strike you.:" So
saying, he took his stand on a rock of Parnassus, and drew from
his quiver two arrows of different workmanship, one to excite
love, the other to repel it. The former was of gold and sharp-
pointed, the latter blunt and tipped with lead. With the leaden
shaft he struck the nymph Daphne, the daughter of the river god
Peneus, and with the golden one Apollo, through the heart.
Forthwith the god was seized with love for the maiden, and she
abhorred the thought of loving. Her delight was in woodland
sports and in the spoils of the chase. Many lovers sought her,
but she spurned them all, ranging the woods, and taking thought
neither of Cupid nor of Hymen. Her father often said to her,
"Daughter, you owe me a son-in-law; you owe me grandchildren."
She, hating the thought of marriage as a crime, with her
beautiful face tinged all over with blushes, threw her arms
around her father's neck, and said, "Dearest father, grant me
this favor, that I may always remain unmarried, like Diana." He
consented, but at the same time said, "Your own face will forbid
Apollo loved her, and longed to obtain her; and he who gives
oracles to all in the world was not wise enough to look into his
own fortunes. He saw her hair flung loose over her shoulders,
and said, "If so charming in disorder, what would it be if
arranged?" He saw her eyes bright as stars; he saw her lips, and
was not satisfied with only seeing them. He admired her hands
and arms bared to the shoulder, and whatever was hidden from view
he imagined more beautiful still. He followed her; she fled,
swifter than the wind, and delayed not a moment at his
entreaties. "Stay," said he, "daughter of Peneus; I am not a
foe. Do not fly me as a lamb flies the wolf, or a dove the hawk.
It is for love I pursue you. You make me miserable, for fear you
should fall and hurt yourself on these stones, and I should be
the cause. Pray run slower, and I will follow slower. I am no
clown, no rude peasant. Jupiter is my father, and I am lord of
Delphos and Tenedos, and know all things, present and future. I
am the god of song and the lyre. My arrows fly true to the mark;
but alas! An arrow more fatal than mine has pierced my heart! I
am the god of medicine, and know the virtues of all healing
plants. Alas! I suffer a malady that no balm can cure!"
The nymph continued her flight, and left his plea half uttered.
And even as she fled she charmed him. The wind blew her
garments, and her unbound hair streamed loose behind her. The
god grew impatient to find his wooings thrown away, and, sped by
Cupid, gained upon her in the race. It was like a hound pursuing
a hare, with open jaws ready to seize, while the feebler animal
darts forward, slipping from the very grasp. So flew the god and
the virgin he on the wings of love, and she on those of fear.
The pursuer is the more rapid, however, and gains upon her, and
his panting breath blows upon her hair. Now her strength begins
to fail, and, ready to sink, she calls upon her father, the river
god: "Help me, Peneus! Open the earth to enclose me, or change
my form, which has brought me into this danger!"
Scarcely had she spoken, when a stiffness seized all her limbs;
her bosom began to be enclosed in a tender bark; her hair became
leaves; her arms became branches; her feet stuck fast in the
ground, as roots; her face became a tree-top, retaining nothing
of its former self but its beauty. Apollo stood amazed. He
touched the stem, and felt the flesh tremble under the new bark.
He embraced the branches, and lavished kisses on the wood. The
branches shrank from his lips. "Since you cannot be my wife,"
said he, "you shall assuredly be my tree. I will wear you for my
crown. With you I will decorate my harp and my quiver; and when
the great Roman conquerors lead up the triumphal pomp to the
Capitol, you shall be woven into wreaths for their brows. And,
as eternal youth is mine, you also shall be always green, and
your leaf know no decay." The nymph, now changed into a laurel
tree, bowed its head in grateful acknowledgment.
Apollo was god of music and of poetry and also of medicine. For,
as the poet Armstrong says, himself a physician:--
"Music exalts each joy, allays each grief,
Expels disease, softens every pain;
And hence the wise of ancient days adored
One power of physic, melody, and song."
The story of Apollo and Daphne is often alluded to by the poets.
Waller applies it to the case of one whose amatory verses, though
they did not soften the heart of his mistress, yet won for the
poet wide-spread fame.
"Yet what he sung in his immortal strain,
Though unsuccessful, was not sung in vain.
All but the nymph that should redress his wrong,
Attend his passion and approve his song.
Like Phoebus thus, acquiring unsought praise,
He caught at love and filled his arms with bays."
The following stanza from Shelley's Adonais alludes to Byron's
early quarrel with the reviewers:--
"The herded wolves, bold only to pursue;
The obscene ravens, clamorous o'er the dead;
The vultures, to the conqueror's banner true,
Who feed where Desolation first has fed.
And whose wings rain contagion; how they fled,
When like Apollo, from his golden bow,
The Pythian of the age one arrow sped
And smiled! The spoilers tempt no second blow;
They fawn on the proud feet that spurn them as they go."