by: P. Dionysius Mus
Apollo, twin brother of Artemis, was the god of light, god of sun, but also god of music, poetry and fine arts, god of cure and god of prophecy. Despite his magnificent beauty, something that made him a beloved subject for painters and sculptors, he was not very lucky when it came to love.
Apollo, the youngest one of Zeus and Leto's twin, was spared from the punishments Hera used on her partner's unlawful children. Apollo was always very much loved on Mount Olympus and Zeus gave him the power of knowing the future. As Artemis took the characteristics of the moon goddess Selene, Apollo took all characteristics of Helius, god of the sun. He was most of all designated as "Phoebus Apollo" ('phoibos' had always been one of Helius' titles). This merging of two different myths has created some confusion. In mythology the sun was a chariot on fire, pulled by two winged horses, used by the god of the sun to drive along the sky during the day. Though Apollo was also seen as a god of the sun, he was never expected to carry out this duty. This work was still done by Helius, who kept his own identity totally independent from Apollo.
There were almost no stories about Apollo's youth and education. When he was a child, he may have killed the monstrous Python, who was torturing his mother on Hera's command. This is how he conquered the oracle of Delphi, where the monster lived. Apollo lived on Mount Olympus and was treated with utmost respect by Zeus, though they had a terrible fight when Apollo killed a female dragon consecrated to Gaea. As his punishment, Apollo was banned from Mount Olympus and was forced to live on earth for nine years. There he served Admetus, king of Thessaly, as a shepherd. The king treated him so well, that Apollo made him immortal, as a reward. Apollo was considered the god of shepherds, and one of his sacrificial animals was the wolf, enemy of all shepherds.
Apollo was especially known as the god of music. He is often depicted carrying a lyre, the beloved Greek musical instrument with seven strings. The lyre was also that important because it was used to accompany poetry recitations. Hermes, who invented this musical instrument, gave the lyre to Apollo. Apollo became a master in playing the lyre and he also taught mortals how to play it.
Apollo was very proud of his musical talents. The satyr Marsyas once challenged him for a game, saying the sounds of his flute were much more sweet than those of Apollo's lyre. When the Muses, who were the judges, called Apollo as the winner, he had Marsyas skinned alive as punishment for his brutality. On another occasion Apollo gave king Midas the ears of a donkey, because he liked Pan's flute more than Apollo's lyre. Sometimes Apollo also used his musical gifts to help humanity: when Poseidon founded Troy, Apollo played such wonderful music that the city walls seemed to grow by the sound of his lyre.
Apollo's romances often had bad ends. He was unfaithful to the nymph Clytia, who pined away and was reborn as a sunflower, who always has to face the sun, her beloved one. His unwanted advances pushed Daphne that much to despair, she had herself changed into a laurel (this is the reason why Apollo is also identified with the laurel). To gain the love of the Trojan princess Cassandra, Apollo gave her the gift of prophecy. When she turned him down, he could not recall this, but as her punishment he made sure no one would ever believe her correct predictions. When Cassandra predicted during the Trojan War that the city would fall, the Trojans declared her mad and took no notice of her warnings.
Apollo had much authority, partly from his role as god of prophecy. His temple and oracle at Delphi, the most famous sanctuary in the Mediterranean, was only one of his many oracles. His two mottos, "know yourself" and "everything with moderation", carved in a gate at Delphi, reflected the Greek philosophy of life. With his beauty, Apollo was the personification of the Greek ideal of male beauty.
Apollo was the only god of Mount Olympus who entered the Roman pantheon by his own name. He was not gradually identified with Italian deities, but entered suddenly after an epidemic, as a result of an oracle's saying. Though the Romans worshipped him for his role as a healer, he would never be estimated as high as with the Greeks.