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Apollo › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 18 May 2012
Apollo ()
The epitome of youth and beauty, source of life and healing, patron of the civilized arts, and as bright and powerful as the sun itself, Phoebus Apollo was, arguably, the most loved of all the Greek gods.


Son of Zeus and Leto, and twin brother to Artemis, Apollo was born on the island of Delos (in Hesiod ’s account clutching a golden sword). At his first taste of ambrosia he was said to have immediately transformed from babe to man. Sanctuaries were built in his honour throughout the Greek world, notably at Delos and Rhodes. Indeed, in antiquity, the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was a huge representation of Apollo. As with the other major divinities, Apollo had many children; perhaps the most famous are Orpheus, Ion, and Asclepius (to whom he gave his knowledge of healing and medicine).


Objects traditionally associated with the god include: a silver bow (symbolic of his prowess as an archer), a Kithara or a lyremade from the shell of a tortoise (a gift from Hermes after a quarrel over his theft of Apollo's cattle, symbolic of his ability in music and leader of the chorus of the nine Muses ), a laurel branch (symbolic of the fate of Daphne who, after the god's amorous pursuit of her, led her father, the river god Phineus, to transform her into a laurel tree), the omphalos (symbol of Delphi ’s position as the navel of the world), and a palm tree (which Leto gripped when she gave birth to her son).


Although he was associated with many positive aspects of the human condition such as music, poetry, and medicine, the god also had his darker side as the bringer of plague and divine retribution, most famously as the remorseless slayer of Niobe's six (or in some accounts seven) sons as punishment for her boasting and as the flayer of Marsyas after his presumptuous claim to be more musically gifted than Apollo himself.


Apollo is a significant protagonist in Homer ’s account of the Trojan War in the Iliad. On the side of the Trojans, he gives particular assistance to the Trojan heroes Hektor, Aeneas, and Glaukos, saving their lives on more than one occasion with his divine intervention. He brought plague to the Achaeans, led the entire Trojan army (holding Zeus' fearsome aegis) in an attack which destroyed the Achaean defensive walls, and was also responsible for guiding Paris ' arrow to the heel of Achilles, killing the seemingly invincible Achaean hero. Apollo is most frequently described by Homer and Hesiod as the 'far-shooter', the 'far-worker', the 'rouser of armies', and 'Phoebus Apollo'.
Belvedere Apollo

Belvedere Apollo

Apollo's most direct presence amongst the Greeks was manifested in his oracle at Delphi, the most important in the Greek world. Apollo, wishing to reveal to man the intentions of his father Zeus, created the oracle on the site where he killed the serpent (or dragon) Python. The Panhellenic Pythian games were begun at the site in order to commemorate the death of this divine creature. Tripods and laurel wreaths were given as prizes to the victors at the games.


Apollo appears frequently in all media of ancient Greek art, most often as a beautiful, beardless youth. He is easily identified with either a Kithara or a lyre, a bronze tripod (signifying his oracle at Delphi), a deer (which he often fights over with Herakles), and a bow and quiver. He is also, on occasion, portrayed riding a chariot pulled by lions or swans. Perhaps the most celebrated representation of Apollo in ancient Greek art is the statue which dominated the centre of the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (ca. 460 BCE). Here, in majestic pose, he brings order and reason to the battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs at the wedding of Peirithoos.

Eros › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 06 May 2013
Eros (Egisto Sani (used with permission))
Eros was the Greek god of love, or more precisely, passionate and physical desire. Without warning he selects his targets and forcefully strikes at their hearts, bringing confusion and irrepressible feelings or in the words of Hesiod he 'loosens the limbs and weakens the mind'. Eros himself is a carefree and beautiful youth, crowned with flowers, especially of roses which were closely associated with the god.
According to Hesiod in his Theogony, Eros was one of the primeval gods who, along with Chaos and Gaia (Earth), were responsible for the Creation. Here he perhaps represented a universal love. In other traditions he was the winged acolyte or assistant of the goddess Aphrodite, goddess of Love and Beauty. He was also sometimes regarded as the child of Aphrodite, with Ares as his father, and his brothers were Deimos (Fear), Phobos (Panic), and Harmonia (Harmony). In some traditions Eros also had a younger brother - Anteros - who was a much darker figure and avenger of unrequited love


It was thought that Eros' arrows, often randomly aimed, made people fall in love. One of the most famous episodes involving this trick was when Apollo ridiculed the skills of Eros as an archer and the latter fired one of his arrows at the great god, making him fall in love with the nymph Daphne. Another such instance of Eros using his love-carrying arrows was when he made Medea fall in love with the great hero Jason. The god was not himself immune to the powers of love and he famously fell for and married Psyche against the wishes of his mother Aphrodite.
Eros and his omnipotence was also a favourite subject of such philosophers as the Epicureans, Parmenides, and of Platowho discusses him at length in both his Symposium and Phaedrus. In Greek religion he was the subject of cult worship in Thespiae (with its sporting and artistic festival, the Erotidia) and at Athens, Leuctra, Velia, and Parium. In addition, he was closely associated with many of the cults of Aphrodite. Altars to Eros were placed at both the Academy of Athens and the gymnasium at Elis. Eros was also considered the protector of homosexual love.
Eros stringing his bow

Eros stringing his bow

In ancient Greek art from the 6th century BCE Eros is usually depicted as an adolescent with wings and he often carries a wreath of victory. He may also hold a lyre, a hare, or a whip, the latter when in pursuit of a youth. He is only depicted carrying a bow with any great frequency from the 4th century BCE although the first literary reference is Euripedes' Iphigenia Aulidensis(c. 548 BCE). On Greek pottery he usually appears in wedding and other romantic scenes, often hovering above the main protagonists such as Paris and Helen of Troy. Athletic and military scenes may also include the impish god, and he regularly features in scenes of Aphrodite's birth and the creation of Pandora, the first woman in Greek mythology.
Figures of Eros can also appear in twos or threes, when they are referred to as Erotes, symbolic of the different forms love can take. When in a group, these are often given the individual names of Eros, Himeros (Desire), and Pothos (Yearning). Eros also famously appeared on the base of the throne of Zeus as part of the statue at Olympia which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and he is present too on the east frieze of the Parthenon, shown as a child next to Aphrodite.It is only in later Roman art that Eros, under his new name Cupid, is commonly portrayed unflatteringly as a rather chubby and mischievous baby.


Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
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