Phoebus Apollo: God of the Sun

Apollo is the Greek god of prophecy, the sun, and archery. His name, the same in Latin as Greek, has the same roots as Greek word meaning to destroy or to excite. Apollo is also called Helios, Phoebus, or Phoebus Apollo. Phoebus means ray (as in sun). He was said to ride his chariot across the sky every day, making the sun rise and set. His symbols are the laurel tree, the tripod, the lyre (a stringed instrument), and the dolphin.

Apollo is the son of Leto (the goddess of the moon) and Zeus (the king of the gods and the god of storms and the sky). Hera (the wife of Zeus and the goddess of marriage) found out about Leto and Zeus before Apollo was born. She was furious! She forced every piece earth to promise that it would not let Leto give birth on them. The only place Hera missed was the floating island of Delos. Leto eventually found Delos and gave birth there to Apollo and his twin, Artemis (the goddess of hunting).

Eros (Cupid) once made Apollo fall in love with a nymph named Daphne. He also made sure that Daphne did not fall in love with Apollo. Eros did this because Apollo had teased him about his archery. Apollo chased Daphne through some woods shouting that he was in love with her. Daphne was fast, but Apollo was faster. When he was nearly upon her she cried to her father, Peneus (a river god), asking him to change her shape so that she would be free of Apollo. Peneus turned Daphne into a laurel tree. Apollo never lost his love for her, which is why the laurel tree is one of his symbols.

When Apollo was growing up, he decided that he needed an oracle to speak through. He wandered all over the world, searching for a suitable place. He found a sacred spring that he thought would do, but a nymph owned it, and she told him to go away and propelled him in the direction of the city of Delphi. As he neared Delphi, he came upon a monstrous snake called Python. Apollo killed it, and decided to have his oracle at Delphi to celebrate the event.

Apollo was proud of his skill with the lyre, and hated anyone who dared to insult it. He once had a musical contest with Pan (the god of nature) that was judged by three mortal kings. Apollo played the lyre, and Pan played the reed pipes. Two judges said that Apollo’s music was better, which it was, but the other judge, Midas, voted for Pan. In revenge, Apollo turned Midas’ ears into donkey ears.

Apollo once fell in love with Coronis (a mortal), who gave birth by him to Asclepius. Coronis later married another man, so Apollo killed her. However, he spared Asclepius. Asclepius later became Apollo’s favorite son, and a wonderful healer. He was even able to bring people back from the dead! Zeus felt that this was putting too much power in the hands of mortals, so he killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt. Apollo was angry with Zeus for killing his favorite son, but could not do anything to Zeus because he was too powerful. Instead, he killed the Cyclops that made the thunderbolt.

Zeus punished Apollo for killing the Cyclops by making him work for Admetus (a mortal king) for a year. Admetus, though not knowing who Apollo was, was very kind to him. In thanks, Apollo helped him win the hand of Alcestis, and asked Hades (the god of the dead) to promise that when Admetus was about to die, if anyone else chose to die in place of him, then that person would die and Admetus would live. Hades obliged, but when the time came, only Alcestis was willing to die for him. However, Admetus's grief was short because Hercules rescued her and brought her back to Admetus.

Once Niobe, a mortal woman with 16 children, bragged that she was better than Leto, because she had more children. Leto, Artemis, and Apollo were enraged! Artemis and Apollo immediately killed all her children. Then, while she was weeping for her loss, they turned her into stone. However, she still wept, and cries for all eternity.

Apollo once fell in love with a mortal woman named Cassandra and taught her how to tell the future. However, when she refused his love, he put a curse on her that made anyone who heard her not believe what she prophesied. She saw the Trojan Horse for what it really was, but nobody believed her when she said so. Though Apollo did not like Cassandra after she refused his love, he still was on the side of the Trojans during the Trojan War. Apollo guided the arrow which shot Achilles (a Greek warrior who was very skilled at fighting) in the heel, which was his only vulnerable spot. Achilles died because the arrow was poisoned.

Apollo once fell in love with a boy named Hyacinth, but accidentally killed him when throwing the discus, which is a thing that Greeks threw to test their strength. As he was dying, Apollo turned him into the purple flower called the Hyacinth.

Phaeton was the son of Apollo and Phoebus (a mortal). He was proud of being descended from a god, and told anyone who would listen (or rather, anyone who was near him) that he was the son of Apollo. The children teased him about this, saying that if he was a god's son, then he should prove it. Phaeton went to Apollo and asked him whether he really was his father. Apollo assured him that it was so, and, to prove it, swore on the River Styx (which is the most serious oath a god can make) that he would do any one thing that Phaeton asked. Phaeton wanted to drive Apollo’s chariot across the sky for one day. Apollo was dismayed and begged him to reconsider, for even Apollo himself had trouble doing it without crashing, but Phaeton was adamant. Apollo had to let him drive the chariot because he had sworn an oath on the river Styx, but he knew that it was very unlikely that he would ever see Phaeton alive again. Phaeton was very excited as he got into the chariot, but as he gained altitude he got nervous and let go of the reins so he could position himself in the middle of the chariot. The horses went wild! They careened this way and that, knocking Phaeton out of the chariot. He died before he even hit the ground.

Though there has never been a planet named after Apollo, a space program was named after him. He is commonly portrayed in Greek art as a muscular young man with a crown of laurel leaves on his head. A song sung to honor Apollo is called a paean.

Written by Kate Rayment

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