Apollo and Daphne

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For the Handel cantata, see Apollo e Dafne (Handel).
For the Bernini sculpture, see Apollo and Daphne (Bernini).

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

The myth[edit]

Apollo, one of the most powerful gods and a great warrior, mocked the god of love Eros for his use of bow and arrow, saying, "What have you to do with warlike weapons? Leave them for hands worthy of them. Behold the conquest I have won by means of them over the vast serpent that stretched his poisonous body over acres of the plain! Be content with your light, child, and kindle up your flames, as you call them, where you will, but presume not to meddle with my weapons."[1]

The insulted Eros then prepared two arrows, one of gold and one of lead. With the leaden shaft, to incite hatred, he shot the nymph Daphne and with the golden one, to incite love, he shot Apollo; both of them 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 forest. Her father, the river god Peneus, demanded that she get married and give him grandchildren. She, however, begged her father to let her remain unmarried.

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 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! Let me be free of this man from this moment forward!"

Peneus frightfully answered her plea, casting upon her an enchantment of great power. Daphne's arms transformed into branches as her hair became leaves; her skin then turning to bark. She stopped running as her feet became rooted to the ground and Apollo overcame her, embracing her branches. Yet, 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; to raid away all tempted beasts and creatures of the earth that intended to do her harm. He promised that her leaves would crown the heads of leaders and champions, decorate the weaponry of warriors, and never be claimed as another's for as long as her branches flourished. Apollo also used his powers of eternal youth and immortality to render her ever green. For this reason, the leaves of the Bay laurel tree have never known decay.

Apollo and Daphne in art[edit]

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.[2]

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.[2]

Charles Garabedian displays Apollo and Daphne[3] 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.[4]

Chastity vs. lust[edit]

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.[5]


  1. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses
  2. ^ a b Impeluso, Lucia; Stefano Zuffi (2003). Gods and Heroes in Art. Los Angeles: Getty Publications. 
  3. ^ http://www.lalouver.com/resource/charles_garabedian_2010/large/Charles-Garabedian_Apollo-and-Daphne-2009-acrylic-on-paper.jpg
  4. ^ Vives Chillida, Julio (2008). El beso (los enamorados) de Gustav Klimt. Un ensayo de iconografía. Lulu. ISBN 978-1-4092-0530-2. 
  5. ^ Paulson, Ronald, and Peter Eisenman. Sin and Evil: Moral Values in Literature. Pennsylvania: Yale University Press, 2007. Print.