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Baroque Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) depicted the pursuit of the nymph Daphne by the god Apollo as inspired by Ovid's Metamorphoses, in Apollo and Daphne (1622–1625). This statue is in the collection of the Galleria Borghese in Rome.

Daphne (/ˈdæfni/; Greek: Δάφνη, meaning "laurel")[1] is a minor figure in Greek mythology known as a naiad—a type of female nymph associated with fountains, wells, springs, streams, brooks and other bodies of freshwater. There are several versions of the myth, but the general narrative is that because of her beauty, Daphne attracted the attention and ardor of the god Apollo (Phoebus). Apollo pursued her and just before being overtaken, Daphne pleaded to her father, the rivergod Ladon, and Ge (Gaia)[2] for help. So Ladon then transformed Daphne into a laurel tree. In Metamorphoses by Roman poet Ovid, she is identified as the daughter of the rivergod Pineios in Thessaly.[3]

At the Pythian Games which were held every four years in Delphi in honour of Apollo, a wreath of laurel gathered from the Vale of Tempe in Thessaly was given as a prize. According to Pausanias the reason for this was "simply and solely because the prevailing tradition has it that Apollo fell in love with the daughter of Ladon (Daphne)".[4]

In mythology[edit]

According to Greek myth, Apollo chased the nymph Daphne, daughter of the river god Peneus and the nymph Creusa in Thessaly,[5] or of the river Ladon in Arcadia.[6] The pursuit of a local nymph by an Olympian god, part of the archaic adjustment of religious cult in Greece, was given an arch anecdotal turn in Ovid's Metamorphoses,[7] where the god's infatuation was caused by an arrow from Eros, who wanted to make Apollo pay for making fun of his archery skills and to demonstrate the power of love's arrow. Ovid treats the encounter, Apollo's lapse of majesty, in the mode of elegiac lovers,[8] and expands the pursuit into a series of speeches. According to the rendering Daphne prays for help either to the river god Peneus or to Gaia, and is transformed into a laurel (Laurus nobilis): "a heavy numbness seized her limbs, thin bark closed over her breast, her hair turned into leaves, her arms into branches, her feet so swift a moment ago stuck fast in slow-growing roots, her face was lost in the canopy. Only her shining beauty was left."[9] "Why should she wish to escape? Because she is Artemis Daphnaia, the god's sister," observed the Freudian anthropologist Géza Róheim,[10] and Joseph Fontenrose concurs;[11] boldly stating such a one-to-one identity doubtless oversimplifies the picture: "the equation of Artemis and Daphne in the transformation myth itself clearly cannot work".[12] The laurel became sacred to Apollo, and crowned the victors at the Pythian Games.[13] Most artistic impressions of the myth focus on the moment of transformation.

A version of the attempt on Daphne's sworn virginity that has been less familiar since the Renaissance was narrated by the Hellenistic poet Parthenius, in his Erotica Pathemata, "The Sorrows of Love".[14] Parthenius' tale, based on the Hellenistic historian Phylarchus, was known to Pausanias, who recounted it in his Description of Greece (2nd century CE).[15] In this, which is the earliest written account, Daphne is a mortal girl fond of hunting and determined to remain a virgin; she is pursued by the boy Leucippus ("white stallion"), who disguises himself in a girl's outfit in order to join her band of huntresses. He is so successful in gaining her innocent affection, that Apollo is jealous and puts it into the girl's mind to stop to bathe in the river Ladon; there, as all strip naked, the ruse is revealed, as in the myth of Callisto, and the affronted huntresses plunge their spears into Leucippus. At this moment Apollo's attention becomes engaged, and he begins his own pursuit; Parthenius' modern editor remarks on the rather awkward transition, linking two narratives.[16]

While the story of Daphne is traditionally connected with the bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), almost 90 species of evergreen shrubs noted for their scented flowers and poisonous berries are grouped under the genus Daphne—including the garland flower (Daphne cneorum); the February Daphne or mezereon (Daphne mezereum); and spurge laurel or wood laurel (Daphne laureola). These genera are categorized in the family Thymelaeaceae and are native to Asia, Europe and North Africa


Artemis Daphnaia[edit]

Artemis Daphnaia, who had her temple among the Lacedemonians, at a place called Hypsoi[17] in antiquity, on the slopes of Mount Cnacadion near the Spartan frontier,[18] had her own sacred laurel trees.[19]

Apollo Daphnephoros, Eretria[edit]

At Eretria the identity of an excavated 7th- and 6th-century BCE temple[20] to Apollo Daphnephoros, "Apollo, laurel-bearer", or "carrying off Daphne", a "place where the citizens are to take the oath", is identified in inscriptions.[21]

In later works[edit]


  1. ^ R. S. P. Beekes has suggested a Pre-Greek proto-form *dakw-(n)-. Daphne is etymologically related to Latin laurus, "laurel tree" (Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, pp. 306–7).
  2. ^ Pausanias. Description of Greece. 8.20.§1-2.
  3. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses. I:452
  4. ^ Pausanias. Description of Greece. 10.7.§8.
  5. ^ Hyginus Fabulae 203.
  6. ^ Pausanias viii.20.1 and x.7.8; Statius, Thebaid iv.289ff; Johannes Tzetzes Ad Lycophron 6; Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana i. 16; First Vatican Mythographer ii.216; none of these citations are earlier than Parthenius' source Phylarchus.
  7. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses i. 452; the treatment is commonly viewed as an Ovidian invention: see H. Fränkel, Ovid: A Poet Between Two Worlds (1945) p 79, or E. Doblhofer, "Ovidius Urbanus: eine Studie zum Humor in Ovids Metamorphosen" Philologus 104 (1960), p. 79ff; for the episode as a witty transposition of Calvus' Io, see B. Otis, Ovid as an Epic Poet 2nd ed. 1970, p. 102
  8. ^ W.S.M. Nicoll, "Cupid, Apollo, and Daphne (Ovid, Met. 1. 452 ff.)" The Classical Quarterly, New Series, 30.1 (1980; 174–182).
  9. ^ "The Metamorphoses". Archived from the original on April 19, 2005. Retrieved 2017-11-17.  Translation by A. S. Kline, 2000.
  10. ^ Róheim, Animism, Magic and the Divine King (London 1930:308)
  11. ^ Fontenrose, The Delphic oracle: its responses and operations 1981:49.
  12. ^ Lightfoot (1999), p. 474.
  13. ^ Pausanias, x.7.8.
  14. ^ J. L. Lightfoot, tr. Parthenius of Nicaea: the poetical fragments and the Erōtika pathēmata 1999, notes to XV, Περὶ Δάφνης, pp. 471ff.
  15. ^ Pausanias viii.20.2.
  16. ^ Lightfoot (1999), p. 471.
  17. ^ G. Shipley, "The Extent of Spartan Territory in the Late Classical and Hellenistic Periods", The Annual of the British School at Athens, 2000.
  18. ^ Pausanias, 3.24.8 (on-line text); Lilius Gregorius Gyraldus , Historiae Deorum Gentilium, Basel, 1548, Syntagma 10, is noted in this connection in Gründliches mythologisches Lexikon, Benjamin Hederich ,1770
  19. ^ Karl Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks, 1951:141
  20. ^ Built over 8th century walls and apsidal building beneath the naos, all betokening a Geometric date for the sanctuary.
  21. ^ Rufus B. Richardson, "A Temple in Eretria" The American Journal of Archaeology and of the History of the Fine Arts, 10.3 (July – September 1895:326-337); Paul Auberson, Eretria. Fouilles et Recherches I, Temple d'Apollon Daphnéphoros, Architecture (Bern, 1968). See also Plutarch, Pythian Oracle, 16.

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