Apollo and Daphne
Apollo, one of the most powerful gods and a great warrior, mocked the god of love, Eros (Cupid), for his use of bow and arrow, saying, “What are you doing with powerful weapons naughty boy?”; “that equipment of yours are fitting my shoulders, which are able to give certain wounds to the wild animals, and to the enemies, which recently killed the swollen Python with countless arrows, the Python who was pressing down so many acres with his disease bearing stomach! You will be content to provoke some loves by your fire, not to claim my honors.”
The insulted Eros then prepared two arrows: one of gold and one of lead. He shot Apollo with the gold arrow, instilling in the god a passionate love for the nymph Daphne. He shot Daphne with the lead arrow, instilling in her a hatred for Apollo. Having taken after Apollo’s sister, Artemis (Diana), Daphne had spurned her many potential lovers, preferring instead woodland sports and exploring the forest. Due to her identity as an “"aemula Phoebes” (female rival or emulator of Artemis), she had dedicated herself to perpetual virginity. Her father, the river god Peneus, demanded that she get married and give him grandchildren. She, however, beseeched her father to let her remain unmarried; he eventually complied.
Apollo continually followed her, begging her to stay, but the nymph continued her flight. They were evenly matched in the race until Eros intervened, helping Apollo catch up to Daphne. Seeing that Apollo was bound to reach 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! Let me be free of this man from this moment forward!" And with Peneus answering her plea, “a heavy numbness seizes her limbs; her soft breasts are surrounded by a thin bark, her hair changes into foliage, her forearms change into branches; her foot, just now swift, now clings because of sluggish roots.” She was turned into a laurel tree.
In spite of Daphne’s rejection, Apollo vowed to love her forever: “Always my hair will have you, my lyres will have you, my quivers will have you, laurel tree. You will be present to two Latin places, when the happy voice will sing a triumph and they will visit the great ceremonies at the Capitoline Hill.”
Apollo also used his powers of eternal youth and immortality to render Daphne ever green. For this reason, the leaves of the Bay laurel tree do not decay.
Apollo and Daphne in Art
Between 1622 and 1625, Gian Lorenzo Bernini sculpted a 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.
Artists such as Antonio and Piero del Pollaiolo often manipulated scenes from famous Greek mythology into the setting of their time periods. In Pollaiolo'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.
Chastity vs. Lust
The myth of Apollo and Daphne has been 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.
Predator vs. Prey
In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book I: Apollo and Daphne, Ovid uses animals to make the emotions of characters more relatable to us. Ovid characterizes Apollo’s pursuit for Daphne's as more animalistic than human. Ovid creates the idea of a predator and its prey to show the connection between the two. Ovid writes, “sic agna lupum, sic cerva leonem, sic aquilam penna fugiunt trepidante columbae,” meaning, “Thus a young lamb flees the wolf, thus the doe flees the lion, thus the dove flees the eagle, wing trembling.” Each animal that is being preyed on is fleeing from its predator, and in each case we see the predator as a stronger animal than the prey. The word “fugere” is such a strong word as it shows the urgency and genuine fear that the prey has for its predator. Ovid literally uses the word “fugiunt” which is in the present tense, showing us that the prey is still fleeing its predator.
Ovid’s use of animals allows us to truly understand exactly what is happening in the moments between Daphne and Apollo. He is able to relate the characteristics of the animals to the characters in his story. Ovid writes, “hostēs quaeque suōs” meaning, “each flees its own enemies”. This moment completely allows us to see how Daphne sees Apollo as an enemy. Again this shows us the severity of the situation she is in; Daphne doesn’t just view Apollo as someone who is inlove with her, but instead as an enemy. Ovid also continues on to write, “amor est mihi causa sequendi” meaning “love is the reason of following for me”. Continuing along with Ovid’s use of animals to portray Apollo and Daphne’s relationship, this quote allows us to see how Apollo is following Daphne. The word “following” brings a sense of stalking, as an animal would stalk its prey. Apollo claims that his reason for following is out of love, but the tone we get from it is like an animal stalking its prey out of hunger, as if without seizing this prey they will die.
Apollo expresses his concern of Daphne trying to leave his grasp. Ovid shows this when he writes, “moderatius, oro, curre fugamque inhibe,” meaning, “I ask you run more slowly and hold back flight”. Ovid uses animalistic terms here by saying “flight”. He wants Daphne to “hold back flight” which directly brings us to think of the dove and the eagle in the previous lines. Ovid creates such an intense relationship by using animals, which we as simplistic humans may not be able to comprehend, but by connecting the relationship between Apollo and Daphne to animals, we are better able to understand, and make sense of what is happening in ways that would’ve been challenging without.
Apollo and Daphne's Emotions
In the tale of Apollo and Daphne, people often see Apollo as a man crazed by desire for something that he cannot attain: Daphne. Yet what most people fail to see is that Apollo is not alone in his unrelenting desire, for Daphne too allows her unattainable desires to transform her. Her desires derived not only from what she wants but also from her emotions of fear and hatred.
Even prior to fleeing Apollo’s pursuit, Daphne’s resistance to iugales (marriage) and viri (men) presented itself in Ovid’s descriptions of her. When asking her father to grant her perpetua virginitate (perpetual virginity), her physical description of “patris….harens…..cervice (485)” clinging to the neck of her father conveys to the reader both her dependence on her father as well as her sense of comfort in her current situation. Particularly, Ovid’s use of harens (clinging) shows her literal, physical dependence on him as she embraces her father.
Compared through a simile to a crimen (crime), in the same line Daphne is said to be “taedas exosa iugales (483)" or hateful of nuptial marriage. These intense words convey not only her overall exosa towards iugales but also her fear to stray from such.
During the chase itself, Daphne is said to be “celer timore” or quick by fear. Not only was her “timore” allowing her speed but also her resistance. Daphne’s grit and determination are expressed by Ovid through her tousle with the elemental forces: ”Nudabant corpora venti, obviaque adversas vibrabant flamina vestes (497)” translating to “the winds were exposing her skin and the opposing winds were shaking the clothes facing the opposite direction”.
In her final transformation to a laurel tree it is evident she achieved perpetual virginity, as she was confined both literally and figuratively in her new form. Yet her fear of Apollo was ever-present, for even in her final form of the tree she is said to have “refugit tamen oscula lignum (556)” translating to “the wood flees the kisses again”.
There are three main emotions that Apollo experiences throughout the three main parts of the story: Pride, Lust, and Loss.
In the prologue to the story, Apollo has had a sense of conceit towards Cupid, so much that Cupid decides to change this permanently. As Cupid’s effects start to take over Apollo, he is filled with lust for Daphne, and it grows stronger throughout the entire chase. Once Daphne is transformed, Apollo’s desire becomes grief at the loss of Daphne, yet it continues on and he makes her his. This loss is shown through a heavy use of the nasal consonants, emulating a sound of moaning, with loss in this example.
In Ovid’s Metamorphoses he uses specific types of word order to show Daphne’s transformation from a woman to a tree. In the first line he uses a chiasmus, writing, “citaeque victa labore fugae,” meaning “and having been conquered by the work of swift flight” (543-544). The use of the chiasmus shows the reader how Daphne’s body is no longer able to carry her, as she seems to have given into her exhaustion. Ovid uses the word order A-B-B-A with the B’s being her body the A’s being the “citaeque fugae”. This use of chiasmus allows us to imagine what is literally happening.
Another example of Ovid’s specific word order is his use of a synchesis, which allows the author to rearrange the words from their natural word order, A-B-A-B. In line 549, Ovid uses a synchesis to describe the beginning process of Daphne into a tree. He does this to compare the beauty she once had to the harsh new form she takes as a tree, “Mollia cinguntur tenui praecordia libro” meaning “Her soft breasts are surrounded by a thin bark”. He wants to show the contrast between her once “soft breasts”, that represented beauty and youth to her now “thin bark”, providing an image that is rough and undesirable. In this instance Ovid also uses the sounds of the words to call attention to what is happening. By using sounds like “p” and “t” he is forcing the reader to slow down and read the scene more carefully due to the harsh consonants at the beginning of each word.
Ovid uses specific word order in line 564, by using an unusual word placement he was able to continue the transformation of Daphne. The “tuebere” is literally among “mediamque...quercum,” showing how Daphne is held in her beloved forests and will remain there due to “tuebere” being in the future tense. Ovid uses distinct word order throughout Daphne's transformation to emphasize the isolation and change within the end of the story. While he does use this type of word order earlier in the story there are many moments at the end where his use is obvious.
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