Greek mythology is a combination of Greek and Etruscan mythology and belief, that ended up being as important as the bases it came from. Greeks devoted more time to developing law and other branches of society, but their love for gods wasn’t left behind that much. Even though the Greek mythology and belief ended up being much more significant, the Greek mythology is not that far off. Many undermined the importance of Greek mythology because it leaned too much on the Romans, so much that it was almost a complete copy of the Roman religion.
Greek highest deity was Zeus, but there were many other deities that were worshipped among people. The reason why religion played such an important part in those times of human history is because people didn’t have any other way of explaining natural events and things that happened around them. The human mind and creativity created mythology to help them overcome the hidden secrets of the world and to explain them in the best way possible. Some deities were good while others weren’t.
Another interesting thing about gods in Greek mythology is that they had the ability to decide whether to be good or bad. While most religions today propagate love and peace, in the past, gods had the ability to kill people and inflict revenge upon them if they misbehaved. This is a much different approach to religion than we have today, and gods in Greek mythology were much more human-like than deities from today’s religious beliefs. Gods could feel anger, jealousy and all other negative feelings, that shouldn’t normally be a part of their behavior.
In today’s text, we will look deeper into the mythological and symbolic meaning of the Apollo, Greek god of the Sun, music and healing. This deity had a very important symbolical meaning for ancient Greeks, and many worshipped him and feared him at the same time. Apollo belongs to one of the most complicated and complex deities in Greek mythology which is why we will be devoting more time to its symbolical meaning.
Mythology and Symbolism
Apollo was the Greek god of Sun, music, healing, light and poetry. This is, like I mentioned earlier, one of the most complex deities in Greek mythology. Apollo slowly progressed and became the patron of all of these things, even though his youth wasn’t as promising as we might think. Apollo is the son of Zeus and Leto. Zeus was the highest deity in Greek mythology and Leto was his mistress. Zeus was married to Hera, goddess of marriage, childbirth and family, at the time Leto got pregnant with Apollo. Angry Hera banned Leto from the kingdom.
Leto, carrying Zeus’s son, searched the world for a place to stay and make a home for her upcoming child. She finally settled on a semi-island of Delos where she was accepted by the people because she was carrying Zeus’s child. The semi-island of Delos will later become sacred to Apollo, and the people of Delos worshipped Apollo and were faithful to him. Zeus’s wife Hera was angry because of his cheating, so she tried many times to kill Leto and her son.
Apollo had a twin sister, Artemis, who was the chaste huntress. She aided Apollo many times and helped him save their mother from Hera’s wrath, and they were both exceptional archers. There are many different stories linked to the Apollo’s bravery and heroic nature, but probably the most notable one is the story about killing the Dragon Python. Apollo’s faithful companions were his golden lyre and the silver arch. The Dragon Python was sent by the goddess Hera to rape Apollo’s mother.
After Apollo grew up, he found the Dragon and killed it with his silver arch. The land where he found the Python was called Python, but he renamed it into Delphi.
The Homer’s Iliad began with Apollo’s arrow. We all know the story about Achilles heel that represents the moment when Apollo struck Achilles’s heel with his arrow. Apollo sent plague arrows to Greeks during the Trojan War to fight against them. Apollo was the god of healing, and he had the ability to send death and plague in times when humans disobeyed.
Apollo was remembered for his affairs with various women and men. Apollo had a relationship with nymph Daphne, and God Eros was very jealous of his singing skills and archery skills. Because of this, Eros struck an arrow into Daphne, so that she can reject Apollo who was in love with her. She prayed to her mother and her father, God of the River and goddess of Earth to help her. She was transformed into a laurel tree which was later devoted to Apollo.
Apollo was also in love with mortal princess Leukothea, whose sister Klythia was jealous of her. One night, Apollo dressed up as Leukothea’s mother in order to enter her room. Her sister, in jealousy, told their father this and their father ordered to burry Leukothea alive into the ground. Apollo couldn’t forgive this act to Klythia, so he turned her into a sunflower, which is why they turn to the sun each day, which represents the Apollo god of the sun.
Apollo had a son with the nymph Castalia. His name was Aristae and according to legends, he taught people how to make dairy products and how to use traps to capture animals. Artiste, who was the god of cattle, agriculture and hunt, also taught people how to grow olives and make olive oil.
Another famous romance is between Apollo and Cassandra, daughter of Hecuba and king Priam. Apollo promised Cassandra the gift or fortune telling, but after she rejected his love, he cursed her by not allowing anyone to believe her oracles.
Besides women, Apollo had many relationships with men. Hyacinth was a beautiful Spartan prince who was athletic and gorgeous. According to the myth, Apollo and Hyacinth played discus together one day, but the Zephyr god was so jealous of them that he decided to turn the discus away in the opposite direction and strike Hyacinth. After this, beautiful prince died and on the place where he died a beautiful flower grew. Apollo named this flower after the beautiful prince and his tears remained on the petals forever. Other male lovers were Cypanissius, Admetus, Iapis and Clarus.
Another myth related to Apollo was the one about Niobe. Niobe was a queen of Thebes who had fourteen children. She always bragged about her children and humiliated Leto for only having two. To revenge their mother, Apollo and his sister Artemis killed all fourteen Niobe’s children. Artemis killed her daughters while Apollo killed her sons. Devastated by the event, Niobe went to Asia and cried until she got turned into a stone. Her tears created the river Ahel. Another interesting myth linked to the Apollo, is the one about the birth of Hermes. In Homerian hymns, we can clearly find the description of the birth of Hermes, son of Maya who was impregnated by Zeus. Maya covered her newborn son Hermes in cloths but the child ran away while his mother was sleeping. The child went and found Apollo, who was in Thessaly, guarding his cattle. Hermes stole one of his cows and took it to the nearby cave. There, he found a turtle and used the turtle’s shell and the cow’s intestine to create the first ever lyre.
Apollo went to Hermes’s mother to complain about him stealing his cattle, but the little Hermes was already back in the cloths and his mother didn’t believe Apollo’s words. Zeus then came to testify on the behalf of Apollo. Hermes took out the lyre he created and started playing on it. After Apollo heard the beautiful sound that the lyre was creating, he instantly fell in love with it. Apollo offered his cattle in exchange for the instrument and so he became the artist on the lyre.
There was a battle of talent between Apollo and many other gods and artists. Apollo fought with Pan to determine which one of them played their instrument better. Apollo played the lyre and Pan played his blowing instruments. The judge was the king Mida and the winner of the contest was Apollo. Since Pan couldn’t handle the loss, Apollo decided to give him donkey ears.
Meaning and Facts
As we already mentioned in the above section of this text, Apollo was the Greek god of the sun and health. He was also the god of music and arts, and the cult following behind Apollo was great. Apollo as a deity, was influenced by Etruscan mythology. Besides that, we can find almost and exact example of this deity in Greek mythology. Even his parents are Zeus and Hera, which are Greek deities. Apollo was the son of Zeus, but he wasn’t welcomed by his father in a loving way. Instead, his mother was banned from the kingdom because she was Zeus’s mistress.
Apollo had a twin sister Artemis, who was the huntress and extremely skilled in archery. Both Apollo and his sister were skilled in archery, which ended up being helpful in the future. As the god of the sun, Apollo was often linked to health and well-being. This Greek deity had the ability to send plague and destruction to humans whenever he wanted, but it could also heal people and reward them if they deserved it.
As god of the music and arts, many stories are linked to his musical talent and ability to show his artistic side. Symbols that followed this Greek deity were the lyre, a musical instrument he fell in love as we could see in the story about the birth of Hermes, the snake, laurel and hyacinth. There are also many links between this deity and the one from Greek mythology. The name for this deity in Greek mythology is Apollo Phoebus and when we compare them, they are pretty much the same. This only shows us how big of an influence the Greek mythology had on the Greek mythology, and how intertwined they really are.
Apollo was unmarried but he was known to have many lovers both male and female. Some of his most famous lovers are Hyacinth, Cassandra, Calliope and many others. He had four children, Asclepius, Orpheus, Trolius and Aristaeus. As the god of the sun, Apollo was worshipped but also feared by many people. He had the ability to take away the most important and valuable thing from humans, and that was their health. The main Festivals that were held in Apollo’s honor were Boedromia, Carpiae, Delia, Hyacinthia, Pythia and Thargelia. Most of these festivals celebrated his achievements.
In art and literature, Apollo was usually painted with a bow and arrow, but common symbols were also a snake and lyre. The palm tree is also sacred to Apollo, because his mother gave birth to him under a palm tree. Other symbols linked to Apollo are dolphins, roe deer, swans, hawks and ravens. In literature, Apollo is mostly presented as the symbol of harmony ad order. He is very much in contrast with Dionysus, who was the god of wine and disorder. This is where the contrast between Dionysian and Apollonian comes from.
Apollo is often associated with the Golden Mean, which is the Greek ideal of moderation and virtue. Apollo was one of the most commonly used motifs in both Roman and Greek art. He was mostly painted naked and his appearance is even today considered to be an ideal male figure. Many of us refer to attractive men as Apollo’s and his tendency to have many lovers only helped in that conclusion. Apollo’s appearance was the symbol of beauty, balance and inspiration for the entire world. Apollo symbolized everything good in the world and his statues and paintings are mostly inspiring those feelings. Apollo was also a great inspiration for the later renaissance artists who used his appearance in their literary works and also in art.
In popular culture, there are many examples of Apollo’s symbolism being used in art and literature. Percy Bysshe Shelley composed the “Hymn of Apollo” in 1820. There is also Igor Stravinsky’s Apollon musagete composed in 1928. Terms Dionysian and Apollonian are frequently used in many segments of human work. Nietzsche mentions these contrasting personalities and also concludes that the combination of these two personalities is actually the best combination.
Charles Handy in Gods of Management used Greek deities as metaphors for various types of organizational culture. Apollo was there represented as the order, reason and bureaucracy. Another interesting use of the name Apollo was in the NASA’s space program for landing astronauts on the Moon.
Greek mythology is a combination of Greek and Etruscan mythology and belief, that ended up being as important as the bases it came from. Greeks devoted more time to developing law and other branches of society, but their love for gods wasn’t left behind that much. While most religions today propagate love and peace, in the past, gods had the ability to kill people and inflict revenge upon them if they misbehaved. This is a much different approach to religion than we have today, and gods in Greek mythology were much more human-like than deities from today’s religious beliefs.
Apollo, Greek god of the sun, music, literature, arts and health was both feared and worshipped. This Greek deity justified both of these things as it often switched from kindness to cruelty, but everything that he did was well deserved. This Greek deity is also a symbol for love and desire to find that perfect half. His association with the Greek Apollo is strong but there are still some distinctions between these two strong spiritual figures in mythology. Apollo’s symbolic value remains to be important even today, as we can find many references to his symbolism in popular culture.