Apollo Was Here: Daphne & the Laurel Tree

Previously on Apollo Was Here, the four-day old Olympian god had just killed the serpent/dragon Python and claimed the sacred ground on Mt. Parnassus for his own sanctuary. He was very pleased with himself.

When next he saw the cherubic Eros (aka Cupid), with his mini-bow and mini-arrows, Apollo laughed in his face and taunted him, “I slayed a terrible monster with my bow. You couldn’t hurt a fly with your useless little toy!”

Sleeping Eros, bronze statue, 3rd-2nd century BCE

Sleeping Eros, bronze statue, 3rd-2nd century BCE

Eros may have looked like a flying baby, but the most powerful force of all was his to control, love. Apollo had picked on the wrong tiny god. Despite being the god of love, Eros was not one to turn the other cheek. He shot Apollo with a gold-tipped love arrow and sent another, lead-tipped arrow of disdain into the nymph Daphne. Now Apollo was hopelessly in love with a woman who couldn’t bear to be in his presence.

Apollo pursued Daphne; Daphne ran from Apollo. There was no discouraging him; it was really pathetic. Unfortunately for Apollo, Daphne would not be had. Lead arrow or no, she wasn’t the kind to settle down. She loved her freedom in the woods too much. She was fast enough on her feet to stay ahead of him until Eros worked his magic to bring Apollo right on her heals. Desperate not to be caught, she begged her father, the river-god Peneas to save her. His solution was to turn Daphne into a bay laurel tree. By all accounts, Peneas loved his daughter, so we have to assume this was his best option. Instantly, the freedom-loving, fleet-footed nymph was transformed into bark and branches and leaves, and rooted to one spot for eternity, or for however long a bay laurel tree lives.

Apollo and Daphne, Bernini, 1625

Apollo and Daphne, Bernini, 1625

Even as a tree, Apollo loved her still. He used his powers to ensure that her leaves would stay green all year round and declared that laurel leaves would grace the heads of gods and kings forever more.

Apollo wearing a laurel crown

Apollo wearing a laurel crown

To see the birthplace of the bay laurel, or at least the birthplace of this story about the birthplace of the bay laurel, click here for Greece tours.

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