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Who is Apollo?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated May 23, 2024
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In Greek mythology, Apollo is one of the Olympian gods, usually numbered at 12, and like many of the Olympians — Athena, Ares, Hermes, Hephaestus, and his twin sister Artemis — he is a child of Zeus. He is the god of music, poetry, and prophecy. As Phoebus Apollo, he is the god of light. His symbol is the lyre, and he is also known as patron of shepherds. He is the only one of the Olympians to exist in Roman mythology in his own right, called by the same name by Romans as well as Greeks.

Apollo is the son of Zeus and Leto, the daughter of the Titans Phoebe and Coeus, or Koios. Leto was one of Zeus’s loves whose existence infuriated his wife Hera, who retaliated by trying to punish Leto. In this case, she tried to prevent Leto from giving birth by forbidding everyone, the Earth included, from giving her help. But the floating islands of Ortygia and Delos were outside of Hera’s purview, and it was there that Leto gave birth to the twins, Apollo and Artemis.

Fed on nectar and ambrosia, Apollo grew to manhood in four days. His first quest was to kill Python, a serpent that Hera had sent to chase his mother, a quest he accomplished at Delphi, near the locale sacred to the oracle. The Pythian Games were instituted in commemoration. After purification, Apollo returned to Delphi and adopted the shrine as his own.

Some of the myths of Apollo involve his younger brother, Hermes. One of Hermes adventures while still an infant involved stealing Apollo’s herd of cattle. An old man who had seen the baby Hermes driving the cattle told Apollo, who — when he went to confront the thief — found Hermes innocently asleep in his cradle. Hermes finally confessed and offered a lyre made from a tortoise shell in recompense. His brother accepted the lyre and gave Hermes the herd of cattle for his own. He also gave Hermes his staff, kerykeion in Greek or caduceus in Latin, with the two twined serpents.

Apollo’s amatory adventures met with mixed success. He fell in love with Cyrene, daughter of the naiad Creusa, and took her to Africa where he built a city in her honor. Their son, Aristaeus, the patron of bee keepers, was born there. Coronis accepted Apollo as a lover, even though she was in love with Ischys, whom she went off with while pregnant with Apollo’s child. Artemis sought revenge on her brother’s behalf, and killed Coronis, but Apollo saved his son, Asclepius — the Greek god of healing and medicine — from Coronis’s funeral pyre.

Daphne, a nymph and priestess of Gaea, was not so forthcoming: she ran away from the god, and when he caught her, she begged Gaea to help her, and was turned into a laurel tree. Apollo is often depicted wearing a laurel wreath. Cassandra begged Apollo for the gift of prophecy, which he granted, hoping to win her affection. Cassandra wasn’t interested and in punishment, the god chose not to take the gift away but to punish her by insuring that her prophecies would never be believed.

The Apollo space program, which put astronauts on the moon on July 20, 1969, was named for the god. Apollo or Apollon musagète, is a ballet by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. There are and were a number of statues and paintings of the god, notably the Colossus of Rhodes, although it is sometimes identified as depicting Helios.

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for Language & Humanities, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.
Discussion Comments
By BigBloom — On Feb 07, 2011


I think this is because the Greeks designed their gods to reflect Greeks, not vice versa, although the result was circuitous. This is often how people invent deities and archetypes.

By arod2b42 — On Feb 06, 2011

The gods participated in a lot of petty little conflicts. It is no wonder the Greeks saw no problem with doing likewise, when their worshiped images were in constant turmoil with each other. Familial disharmony was a common meme in Ancient Greece.

By Tufenkian925 — On Feb 04, 2011

In "hurling" spaceships up to the moon, we were, in a sense, being like Apollo. Perhaps this is the reason we named our space missions after him.

By Proxy414 — On Feb 03, 2011

Apollo hurls missiles at the Greeks in The Iliad. This plague is brought on by the Greek King Agamemnon, when he steals the daughter of the Priest of Apollo. Agamemnon takes his rage out on Achilles, requiring Achilles to confiscate him with one of his own concubines. Achilles, in rage, decides to sit out of the battle. Apollos forms an important part of the Greek war against Troy.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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