Who is Apollo?
Apollo (Ἀπόλλων, Apollōn (GEN Ἀπόλλωνος) is one of the Twelve Olympians ruling the world, after the great war of the gods with the Titans. Son of the Olympian Zeus and the goddess Leto, twin brother of Artemis (Goddess of the hunt), patron of Delphi (Apollo Pythios), patron and guardian of fugitives, refugees, foreigners and wanderers.
Apollo is considered the most beautiful god, as well as the patron of the Muses, skilled with the bow, the lyre (instrument), the dance, the prophecies, patron of the young (the ritual of cutting the long hair of boys passing from childhood to adolescence is dedicated /named after Apollo: ephebeia -> one of his nicknames is Phoebus), health and education of children, patron of shepherds (guarded flocks and crops from pests and predators), healing and diseases, sun and light.
The invention of archery is attributed to the twins Apollo and Artemis, and Apollo is often depicted carrying a golden bow and a quiver of silver arrows. He is sometimes directly associated with medicine, and his son Asclepius is often mentioned as a symbol of healing.
The character Apollo also has a huge influence on art as well. A common narrative in Greek and Roman art, and later in the Renaissance. Statues in honor of Apollo are at the core of the concept of the perfect body embodying beauty and harmony, health and the physical capacity to survive in a harsh environment.
The picture of an ideal whose deity was Apollo was so popular that for a long time many of the discovered “kouros” (kuros – “young man”, term from 1895) statues from archaic Greece were considered to be his images, but later found to be of mortals.
More than a hundred life-size statues of Apollo have been found throughout the Greek-speaking world, predominating in Boeotia. The earliest life-size examples were found at the Ionic sanctuary on the island of Delos.
Bronze statues are rare in the archaeological world, with one standing out as a “miracle” (as Ernst Hohmann-Wedeking described it in 1959) found at Piraeus near Athens, most likely from the northeastern Peloponnese.
The famous statue of Apollo from Mantua, in which the deity holds a guitar/cithara (a sophisticated seven-stringed lyre-based instrument; cithara), is from the early statues of Apollo Citharoedus. Another very interesting interpretation is the “Adonis” found in 1780 in the Roman suburb of Centocele, later identified as Apollo by modern scholars. Apollo Helios is featured in the 2nd-century El Jem floor mosaic, depicted naked with a halo symbolizing purity and divine radiance. Another haloed Apollo in a mosaic from Hadrumentum is in the Sousse Museum, and this depiction is thought to have influenced early images of the beardless and eagle-bearing Christ.
Temples, Oracle Places, Symbols and Epithets of Apollo:
Temples discovered in and around the Balkans (24):
- Thebes, Greece – the oldest temple, built 9th century BC.;
- Eretria – 7th century BC, according to the Homeric hymn, when Apollo arrived on the plain;
- Dreros (Crete) – from the 7th century BC, according to legend, Apollo appeared as a dolphin and led the Cretan priests to the port of Delphi;
- Gortyn (Crete) – 7th century BC.;
- Thermon (West Greece) – mid 7th century BC;
- Corinth – 6th century BC, similar to the temple of Alcmaeonides at Delphi;
- Napes (Lesbos) – 7th century BC with floral elements borrowed from the East on the capitals;
- Cyrene, Libya – the oldest Doric temple, 6th century BC;
- Naukratis – 6th century BC, Ionian temple, only fragments found;
- Syracuse, Sicily – 6th century BC, Doric temple, the first of its kind built entirely of stone;
- Selinus (Sicily) – 550 BC, Doric temple;
- Delphi – 7th century BC, the most famous temple, the first dedicated to Apollo, according to legend wooden made of laurel branches, celebrated every nine years as in the temple in Thebes;
- Chios – at the end of the 6th century BC, an Ionian temple, small parts of it were discovered;
- Abae (Phocis) – destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC, rebuilt by Hadrian;
- Bassae (Peloponnesus) – 430 BC, dedicated to Apollo Epicurios (“Apollo the Helper”), Doric and Ionic style with Corinthian capitals;
- Delos – 7th century BC, Doric temple;
- Ambracia – 500 BC, Doric in the center of the Greek city of Arta, built over earlier sanctuaries of Apollo;
- Didyma (near Miletus) – 540 BC, Ionian temple, construction stopped and by 330 BC has been renewed;
- Clarus (near ancient Colophon) – 3rd century BC, Doric temple, reconstructed but according to Pazvanius still unfinished in 2nd century BC;
- Hamaxitus (Troad) – 150-125 BC, the priest of Apollo, addresses the god with the epithet Sminteus (“Lord of the mice”; Apollo Sminteus), related to the god’s ancient role as a bearer of disease (plague);
- Pythion (Ancient Greek: Πύθιον) – the name of the sanctuary by the river Ilissos, Athens;
- Setae (Lydia) – a temple of Apollo Axiros was located in the city;
- Apollonia Pontica (Modern Sozopol, Bulgaria) – two temples of Apollo the Healer, one from the Late Archaic period, the other from the Early Classical period;
- Ikaros – island in the Persian Gulf, there was a temple in honor of the deity.
Temples (Etruscan and Roman, 6):
- Veii (Etruria) – 6th century BC,
- Falerii Veteres (Etruria) – 4-3 BC, found parts of capital and terracotta base;
- Pompeii – 6th century BC – 120 BC, reconstructed after an earthquake in 63 AD;
- Rome – 431 BC, dedicated to Apollo Medicus (the physician; after plague of 433 BC), restored by Gaius Sosius probably in 34 BC;
- Rome:The temple of Apollo Palatinus – 28 BC, dedicated by Augustus, Ionian temple;
- Melite (modern Mdina, Malta) – 2nd century AD, its remains were discovered in the 18th century, parts of the podium were discovered in 2002.
Oracle locations are available in: Delphi (the main and most famous place with the priestess Pythia named after Python killed by Apollo), Abaae, Corinth, Delos, Didyma, Patara, Perperikon, etc.
Symbols of Apollo are: the bow, the arrow, the guitar (lyre), the plectrum, the sword, the sacrificial tripod (representing his prophetic powers); the bay leaf, as well as the Pythian Games, which were held in his honor. Other less popular symbols are: the golden stater (of the Seleucid king Antiochus I Soter, 281-261 BC), the palm tree (he was born under a palm tree in Delos); the animals: wolf, dolphin, doe, swans, cicadas (symbols of music); birds: ravens, hawks, crows (messengers of Apollo, and in many myths he transformed into a hawk; Eusebius compares the Egyptian Horus with Apollo, as well as the mythical creature griffin (a mythological hybrid creature between an eagle and a lion).
Epithets for Apollo: “apotropaios” (ἀποτρόπαιος, “preventing evil”), “alexikakos” (ἀλεξίκακος “repelling disease”); “paion” (παιών literally “healer” or “helper”), “epikorus” (ἐπικουριος, “helping”), “oulios” (οὔλιος, “healer, ominous”), “loimios” (λοίμιος, “of the plague”) .
Besides many other titles and designations, Apollo was also revered among the Celts, who gave him the following epithets: Apollo Atepomarus (“the great rider” or “possessing a majestic horse”), Apollo Belenus (“bright, bright”, “brilliant”), Apollo Cunomaglus (“lord of hounds”), Apollo Grannus (Gran – god of healing and spring), Apollo Moritasgus (“mass of sea water”), Apollo Vindonnus (“pure light”), Apollo Virotutis (“benefactor of mankind”) .
Myth of Birth of Apollo
The god of light, the golden-haired Apollo, was born on the island of Delos. His mother, Latona, persecuted for the wrath of the goddess Hera, could not find refuge anywhere. Chased by the dragon Python, sent by Hera, she wandered around the world and finally hid on the island of Delos, which in those days was floating on the waves of the stormy sea. As soon as Latona set foot on Delos, two huge pillars rose from the abyss, supporting and stopping this desert island. He stood firm in the same place he stands now. The sea roared around Delos. The Delos rocks protruded dejectedly, bare, without any vegetation. Only the seagulls found shelter on these rocks and announced them with their sad cries. But here the god of light Apollo was born and streams of bright light spread everywhere. They flooded the rocks of Delos like gold. Everything around blossomed, shone: and the coastal rocks, and Mount Kint, and the valley, and the sea. The goddesses that came to Delos were loudly celebrating the birth of Apollo, offering him ragweed and nectar. The whole surrounding nature rejoiced together with the goddesses.
Apollo and Python
The young, radiant Apollo soared across the azure sky with a guitar (lyre) in his hands, a silver bow over his shoulder; golden arrows rang loudly in his archer. Proud, rejoicing, Apollo was soaring over the earth, threatening to destroy every evil, every one caused by darkness. He rushed to the place where the terrible Python lived, who had once pursued his mother Latona; he wanted revenge on him for all the harm he had done to her.
Apollo quickly reached the dark gorge where Python’s lair was. Rocks rose high in the sky. Darkness reigned over the gorge. A foaming white-maned mountain stream flowed violently along its bottom, and mists swirled over the stream. The dreaded Python came out of his lair. His huge body, covered with scales, wound between the rocks in countless hoops. Rocks and mountains trembled and succumbed to the weight of the body. The furious Python ravaged everything and sowed death on all sides. The nymphs and all living things fled in terror. Python rose, powerful, furious, opened his terrible mouth and was already preparing to swallow the golden-haired Apollo. But at that moment a sound was heard from the bowstring of the silver bow, and like a spark an infallible golden arrow shone in the air, followed by a second, a third; arrows rained down on Python, accompanied by the golden strings of his lyre. Apollo buried Python’s body in the ground at the site of the later city of Delphi, and founded a sanctuary with an oracle to reveal to him the will of his father Zeus.
From the high shore Apollo saw a ship of Cretan sailors far out to sea. Transformed into a dolphin, he threw himself into the blue sea, caught up with the ship and, like a shining star, flew on the waves and stood at the stern of the ship. Apollo, taking the ship to the pier of the port of Crisis and playing the lyre, led the sailors through a fertile valley to Delphi. He made them the first priests in his sanctuary.