The Problem of Apollo

ImageFor me one of the best things about studying myth is the tiny little high I get when I figure something out in a myth that I’m contemplating, when the insight breaks through into my conscious mind. It’s usually at that point that I come blog about it here, sharing what I’ve learned with anyone who cares to read it. But, at the moment, I’m struggling with one particular aspect of Greek myth, and it occurred to me to post it here, to share a bit of my process with all of you. It starts with Apollo.

There are many interesting aspects to Apollo and his story. Twin brother to Artemis, who serves as midwife to her mother at his birth. He is the god of music, logic, and structured civilization, as well as light and the sun itself. He is also considered the most beautiful of all the male Greek gods, and is the epitome of the perfect Greek man, the archetypal embodiment of everything that a Greek man of antiquity should aspire to be.

However, despite all of this beauty and perfection, so many of Apollo’s stories are about his inability to “get the girl”. He falls in love (or lust) with the nymph Daphne, who flees from him in terror, and is turned into a laurel tree to finally escape him. Now, the explanation in the myth for this “difference of opinion” between Apollo and Daphne is that Eros shot Apollo with a golden arrow of love and then shot Daphne with a lead arrow of hatred. I believe there is a deeper psychological truth at work here.

In his poem “Hymn of Apollo”, Percy Shelly says this:

The sunbeams are my shafts, with which i kill

Deceit, that loves the night and fears the day:

All men, who do or even imagine ill

Fly me, and from the glories of my ray

Good minds and open actions take new might,

Until diminished by the reign of Night….

I am the eye with which the Universe

Beholds itself and knows itself divine;

All harmony of instrument or verse,

All prophecy, all medicine is mine,

All light of art or nature; -to my song,

Victory and praise in its own right belong.

Now, I don’t think that Daphne is running from Apollo because she’s somehow evil and is fleeing from the power of his rays. We need to look a little deeper. The Roman poets love to tell this story; in fact Ovid is downright gleeful in the way he describes Apollo’s rejection. I think there’s fun to be found for him in the way that the beautiful Apollo has to chase women, and is unsuccessful.

The insight is eluding me. Any thoughts out there? It’ll come.

  One thought on “The Problem of Apollo

  1. June 10, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    Apollo has always been my favorite of the Greek pantheon. Historically, he is an amalgam of other, earlier divinities, yes? But his primary quality, regardless that music is also his province, is that of light, consciousness, and reason. I can well imagine such a god having difficulty with matters of the heart. Indeed, this is what I get from the story of Daphne. Once Apollo is struck, he reacts like a little boy. He’s lost control. Reason does indeed fail in the face of love…

  2. June 10, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    I believe Apollo’s problem is not unlike that of the unfortunate young man now called the “Virgin Killer” who thought he was entitled to sex from women but had no clue how to actually relate to them and did not see them as individuals in their own right. Apollo has no idea how to court a woman or make himself pleasing to women, he simply runs after them (probably in an obvious state of arousal), which scares them off, which he doesn’t understand, so he keeps chasing them until they find a way to wall themselves off. Daphne is all the women who feel like men see them as prey and so they must hide. I tied this myth in a paper to the problem of eating disorders in women who’ve been violated and put on weight as a defensive mechanism so that men won’t be attracted to them. It’s very sad on both sides as both parties want to be loved, but the idea so rampant in our society that men are “owed” sex and other services from women keeps that from happening for too many.

  3. ninahatfield
    June 10, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    Thank you for sharing the exploratory phase of the open question. For me there’s something to be gleaned from archetypal psychology’s suggestion that an archetype as expressed through a mythic character carries it’s own perspective. Apollo’s way of perceiving reality is not the only way and it seems to carry with it an attempt to overtake/overpower/claim the feminine (ex. Gaia’s Delphi), or dismiss it as in Percy Shelly’s Apollonian diminishment of the value of Night.

    • ninahatfield
      June 10, 2014 at 7:57 pm

      That’s “its” own perspective… darned iPhone auto correct!

  4. ninahatfield
    June 10, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    As an expression of an alternative perspective, I love John Keats’ “Lamia” in which a sophist philosopher character, Apollonius, is the downfall of love & magical creation.

  5. ninahatfield
    June 10, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    I see the transformation of Daphne as showing that something which was more embodied/understood prior to Apollo retreated into nature at his approach and is still there in nature even though inaccessible to Apollonian consciousness.

  6. June 10, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    Yes of course, he’s an amalgam. I think that’s probably true of all the Greek gods. Certainly of the goddesses. Aphrodite in particular comes to mind. Dionysus certainly as well. I see your point about losing our reason when we fall in love. I’m reminded of a bit in one of Ginette Paris’ “Pagan” books, in which she sets out Aphrodite, Apollo, Artemis and Dionysus, each holding one quadrant of a square. Aphrodite and Apollo are on the side of civilization, Artemis and Dionysus on the side of wildness. Aphrodite and Dionysus are together on the side of sexuality (hers elegant, civilized lovemaking, with courtship and beauty, his…not), and Apollo and Artemis on the side of chastity. He’s different than Artemis in that he pursues, and she avoids. I don’t know, I still feel like there’s something else here that I’m not seeing. Your insight gets me a little closer, Michael, but I don’t think I’m all the way there yet.

  7. June 10, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    Thank you, Jody and Nina, for your thoughtful comments as well. There’s a lot of wisdom in what you both say.

    • ninahatfield
      June 10, 2014 at 8:00 pm

      I would love to hear what Apollo’s interactions have to say to you after you’ve pondered and allowed whatever is coming into focus to percolate through you.

  8. patrick
    June 16, 2014 at 6:21 am

    I have pondered this story for a few years now and it always strikes me that most of the conversation seems to focus on Apollos character and “chasing women”. Little is said of the fact that the whole situation is the doing of a third party (Eros) and is really Eros teaching Apollo a lesson because of Apollos arrogance with his archery skills. Apollos actions and feelings as well as Daphne’s are manipulated, so its not really a story of “not getting the girl.”. Its more a story of youthful arrogance and manipulation I think. Eros didn’t like how Apollo treated him, so he set him up to look like a fool.

  9. December 26, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    I have some questions that may or may not help you on your search.
    Who is Daphne and how does she spend her time?
    Who is Leukippos?
    What are the differences between mortal beings and god beings?
    Based on that, what is Apollo’s jealousy?
    And in these stories (of which there are many versions) who then is behaving foolishly?
    Who is really going to extremes?

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