Apollo - The Sun God

Apollo - The Sun God

Apollo, the Greek and the Roman solar deity, occupies a rather prominent place in both the pantheons. Commonly associated with the Sun, the God had many more functions to perform. Let's take a glimpse into the personality of Apollo and the myths related to him.
Did you know?
At Delphi, alongside being an oracular deity, Apollo was also revered as Apollo Delphinus. This was a dolphin-form of Apollo, and it was believed that he showed way to the Cretan ships in this form.
The ancient Greek pantheon was later on adopted by the Romans, who worshiped the same deities, but often with different nomenclatures. Owing to this, all the main Greek divinities, the Olympian gods and goddesses, were revered by the Romans as well. Apollo is one of the most complex figures in the whole of the Olympian pantheon. Venerated earlier as the God of music, arts, beauty, healing, and poetry, he later came to be associated with brightness and light, and hence with the Sun. However, as we delve deeper into Apollo's mythology, we come to realize that his new assignment as the Sun god does not minimize or in any way adversely affect his earlier functions. That is to say that despite the fact that he is elevated to the status of the Sun god, he still remains the lord of beauty, arts, and healing.
Association with the Sun
The story of the Olympian deities began when Zeus, along with his 'family', usurped the rule of the Titans, who held a prominent place prior to the Olympians. Helios was a Titan of the Sun, which, in simple terms, means that he was the original Greek Sun god. Helios had a huge cult and was highly venerated, especially in Rhodes, where his famous, larger than life, statue stood in the form of the Colossus (which later came to be identified as Apollo, after he became dominant). Early descriptions of Helios mention that he rode in a chariot driven by four solar steeds. Helios, in fact, is a Greek word for Sun, and thus a personification of the celestial body.

Apollo, initially, did not seem to have been associated with the Sun or with light. His domains remained music, divination, healing, and archery. However, some of the later sources described him as Phoebus Apollo, where 'Phoebus' stood for 'bright' or 'radiant'. It was this epithet of Apollo that seemed to be responsible in associating him with the Sun. We then see, all the qualities and attributes of Helios, taken over by Apollo in the subsequent periods. In other words, the cult of Helios was absorbed into the cult of Apollo, however, Helios was not completely overshadowed.

With the passage of time, the cult of Apollo, as a whole, became so strong that he began to be worshiped for all the major aspects of human life. One of his most important aspects was spiritual healing, and this, in some form or the other, came to be associated with the characteristics of the Sun. This is because the sunlight that reaches the earth, possesses healing powers and also those of purification. Thus, Apollo, who was not initially associated with the Sun, came to be associated with it in the later periods.
Sun God Apollo in his Chariot
Sun God Apollo in his Chariot
Colossus of Rhodes
Colossus of Rhodes
Birth of Apollo
Apollo was the son of Zeus, the King of the Gods and Leto, the titaness of motherhood and the protectress of children. Zeus married Leto, when he once accidentally caught her eye, and instantly fell in love. Their union bore the twins Apollo and Artemis, and there are several versions of the myth, telling us the story of their birth. However, one common factor in each and every version is the fact that the twins were born on the island of Delos, a place that became one of the major pilgrimage sites later on.
  • One of the early versions of the myth relating to the birth of Apollo and Artemis tells us about an island that Poseidon had raised from the depths of the sea. Owing to the fact that the island had just come into existence, it was not fixed to one place and floated on the surface of the sea. At the same time, it was also completely barren. Only a solitary palm tree grew on it. When Hera, Zeus' wife, found out about Leto's pregnancy, she was overcome with jealousy and hatred. She made sure that Leto would not find even a small patch of land, where she could give birth to her children. She ordered all the lands on the Earth, not to let Leto set foot on them, which they did obey. When Leto was unable to find shelter anywhere, she retired to Poseidon's newly created island, where she did find refuge as it was not yet fastened to the Earth. Here, under the palm tree, she gave birth to her children. Later, being extremely pleased with the birth of his children, Zeus not only fastened the island to the bottom of the sea, but also blessed it with natural beauty and purity. The island of Delos, then became a major pilgrimage site in Greece, and people flocked there to worship Leto and her twins in the hope of getting beautiful and brave children.
  •  Another version of the same myth tells us that when Leto was pregnant with Zeus' children, Hera relentlessly chased her from land to land, and made it absolutely impossible for her to take a halt and rest for sometime. Hera's aim was not to let Leto give birth to her children. But, eventually, Leto managed to find a floating island of Delos, where she took refuge and gave birth to Apollo and Artemis. Later on, after the birth, when she was on her way to Delphi, a giant named Tityos attempted to abduct and rape her. This, he did, on the orders of Hera, who hated Leto from the core. However, this attempt was turned down by the twins, who killed the giant and sent him to the depths of the Underworld.
  • According to a later version of the myth, Zeus was so upset with Hera's hateful attitude towards Leto, that he transformed the latter into a quail, so that she could fly over the lands, in order to find a safe haven, where her children could be born. Leto, after a long quest, managed to find a barren, floating island of Delos, on which the twins were born.
  • One of the versions also states that Artemis was the elder twin, that is she was born before Apollo. Hera had kidnapped Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, to prevent the birth of Leto's children. After the birth of Artemis, Leto suffered nine days and nine nights in labor, before the birth of Apollo. All through this time, Artemis helped her mother with her brother's birth. Owing to this, Eileithyia's status as the goddess of childbirth was withdrawn, and the same was given to Artemis from that time.

    Homer informs us that several goddesses had gathered on the island of Delos to witness the birth of Apollo. This included the goddesses Rhea and Dione. The description of Homer provides legitimacy to the birth of Apollo and Artemis, with respect to their status among the Olympian gods and goddesses.

Pavilion at Delphi, believed to be the place where Leto took the twins after their birth
Pavilion at Delphi
Slaying of Python
Of the many heroic feats of Apollo, the story wherein he slew a giant serpent is particularly notable. It is so, because he achieved this victory only four days after he was born. This sheds light on the god's expertise in the art of war, right since his childhood.

When Leto took both her children to Delphi from the island of Delos, the city was threatened by an evil, monstrous dragon, known as Python. Ovid, a first century B.C. Roman poet, in his treatise, 'Metamorphoses', gives a very detailed account about this creature. He says, "after the completion of one cycle of the universe and its subsequent destruction, a new cycle of creation began. During this phase, when the rays of the Sun touched the Earth (Gaia), the union resulted in the Earth giving birth to numerous species. Some of them were those which were already in existence during the first cycle. But, there were also some others, which were completely new and dangerous. Among them was a deadly serpent, so huge and different that no species of its kind was known to exist before. This serpentine dragon was named 'Python', and it straddled across the mountainous regions. It was known to kill the humans and so, they were extremely terrified with it."  With this kind of description of the monster, Ovid seems to be creating an apt background against which, Apollo, as its slayer, would look like a savior of humanity.

Apollo learned about this chthonic monster, on reaching Delphi with his mother and sister. He also learned that Python resided beside the ice-cold Castalian Spring, which emitted vapors that helped the Delphic Oracle to make prophecies. According to the Homeric version, it was Hera who summoned Python to kill Leto, and Apollo killed it, in order to save his mother. Nevertheless, Apollo decided to kill the dragon, for which he requested Hephaestus (Roman: Vulcan), the maker of the weapons of the Gods, to make a bow and arrow for him. Hephaestus agreed. Apollo then pursued the dragon into one of the sacred caves at Delphi, and killed it with his newly acquired weapon. Statius, another 1st century A.D. Roman poet, writes that Apollo's victory over Python was not very simple. He had to shoot the monster with hundreds and thousands of poison-tipped arrows, and had to empty countless quivers in the process. Ovid also says that Python was so huge that when Apollo killed it, its corpse spread across many acres of the Earth.

A 2nd century A.D. Greek mythographer, (pseudo) Apollodorus, in 'Bibliotheca', describes Python as the guardian of the Oracle of Delphi. He says that when Apollo went to Delphi, the oracles were made by Themis (the Greek titaness of divine law). When Apollo tried to trespass the oracular opening, Python stood in his way, and refused to let him enter. Apollo then slew the creature and thenceforth, took over the command of the oracle.

Whatever the nature of Python may have been, since it was the offspring of Gaia, Apollo was liable for a punishment for killing it. So, from that day onwards, the title of the Delphic Oracle has been Pythia, and it also marks the place where Python was killed. On the other hand, the 1st century B.C. Greek geographer, Strabo, also tells us that Apollo, in order to celebrate his victory over the dragon, started the Pythian Games, which, in the beginning, involved musical contests.
Apollo slaying Python
Apollo slaying Python
Apollo and the Trojan War
The war between Greece and Troy, the Trojan War, saw a major split in the loyalties of Olympian gods and goddesses. While most of them intervened in the war, some of them fought from the Greek side, and some others from the Trojan side. Apollo was one of the most powerful Olympian gods to have intervened in this mortal conflict. However, Homer's description of the war tells us that Apollo's involvement came some nine years after the war had commenced.

It began when Cressida, the daughter of one of the Trojan priests of Apollo, was captured by a Greek hero, Achilles. According to Homer, Achilles' general Agamemnon was so fascinated by Cressida's beauty that he immediately claimed her as his slave, and very rudely turned down the plea of her father to release her from servitude. Rendered helpless, Cressida's father prayed to Apollo for the release of his daughter. He also prayed to the God to punish Agamemnon for the terrible sin that he had committed by insulting his priest. It best suited Apollo to hear his prayer from the mortals, and accordingly, he decided not only to rescue Cressida, but also to side with the Trojans in the war. That very night, he descended on Earth with a motive to destroy the entire Greek encampment. He shot hundreds of arrows of pestilence at the Greek tents. These arrows carried a dreadful disease throughout their camp, and the next morning saw the sickening and death of many of their warriors.

Apollo was also involved in several other episodes of the Trojan war. When the Greek warrior Ajax wounded the Trojan prince Hector with a boulder, Apollo, on Zeus' orders, helped heal the injuries of Hector. Later on, in a one-to-one combat between Patroclus (the King of Opus), and Hector, Apollo intervened by first knocking off Patroclus' helmet, shield, and breastplate, and finally by cutting his spear into two halves, thus leaving him completely defenseless before Hector. Patroclus was then killed by Hector. Following his friend's death, Achilles killed Hector, and surprisingly enough, Apollo could not save him this time. However, he did preserve Hector's corpse, and took it to his father, King Priam of Troy. After the death of Hector, Paris, Hector's brother, was aided by Apollo in the killing of Achilles. When Paris shot an arrow at Achilles, it was Apollo who guided its path, so that it could strike Achilles' heel, the only vulnerable part of his body.

The involvement of Apollo in the Trojan war, sheds light on the god's interest in the affairs of the mortals. This is an important factor that brought Apollo even closer to the ancient Greeks, much like many other Olympian deities.

Hector Killing Patroclus
Hector Killing Patroclus
Corpse of Hector in the Court of King Priam of Troy
Corpse of Hector
Murder of Cyclops and Niobids
The killings of Cyclops and Niobids are the two very peculiar instances in the life of Apollo. There are moments in these two episodes, in which the god seems very unfriendly and unkind. Human emotions of vengeance, hatred, and jealousy seem to take a toll of his mind. But, on the other hand, these are also the very factors that make him seem more human-like.

Zeus killed Apollo's son Asclepius with his thunderbolt, in order to resurrect Hippolytus, the Prince of Athens, from the dead. Apollo was enraged by this, and sought revenge for his son's death. But he could not harm Zeus, and so in his anger, killed Cyclops, the maker of Zeus' thunderbolt. For this grievous crime, Zeus sentenced him to one whole year of rigorous labor and a life of anonymity. During this period, he served as a shepherd for the Thessalian king, Admetus. In return of the good treatment given to him by Admetus, Apollo blessed him with riches and great victories.

Another episode relates to Niobe, the Theban Queen, who was overcome with pride because she had more children than Leto. Niobe had fourteen children (called 'Niobids'), seven sons and seven daughters, whereas Leto had only two. In her false pride Niobe began considering herself superior to Leto, and kept on demeaning her every now and then. Annoyed by these repetitive acts of Niobe, Apollo and Artemis decided to teach her a lesson. Apollo killed all her sons, and Artemis, all her daughters. Resultantly, Niobe was struck with grief, and retired to Mount Sipylus in Asia Minor.
God of Music
Apollo is almost always depicted with a cithara (a kind of lyre) in his hand. However, it was neither Apollo's invention, nor was it originally his. According to a Greek myth, Apollo had acquired the cithara  from Hermes (Roman: Mercury), who had also invented it. Nevertheless, Apollo, after having acquired the musical instrument, solely became its master.

We have certain instances in Greek mythology, wherein Apollo was challenged, specially by satyrs for musical contests. One such instance narrates the tale of Apollo's contest with Pan (the spirit of wilderness). Pan, himself was a good musician who played pipes. Out of impudence, Pan challenged Apollo for a musical contest that was judged by Tmolus, the King of Lydia. Though Apollo was declared a winner, King Midas of Phrygia, who was the follower of Pan, praised Pan's music more than that of Apollo's, and challenged the judgment of the contest. This enraged Apollo, who cut off Midas' ears and replaced them with those of a donkey's.

Another more popular myth is regarding the musical contest between Apollo and the satyr Marsyas. When Athena abandoned the aulos (the double flute) invented by her, she threw it in the mountains, where Marsyas happened to discover it. When he realized that he could make melodious music with it, he foolishly challenged Apollo for a contest. Apollo agreed on a condition that both of them sing and play the instrument together. This was an easy task for Apollo as his instrument was a lyre. However, Marsyas could not play the flute and sing at the same time. Resultantly, Apollo was declared the winner by the Muses, who were judging the competition. Subsequently, Apollo flayed Marsyas, and nailed his skin to a pine tree.

Some sources tell us that Apollo also once had a musical contest with Cinyras, the King of Cyprus. Cinyras was also an excellent player of lyre, and this time, Apollo had challenged him to see who was better. Cinyras lost, and Apollo killed him, upon which, his daughters attempted to commit suicide by throwing themselves into the sea, but were transformed into beautiful sea birds. According to another version of the myth, Cinyras killed himself after losing the contest.

It is indeed interesting how Apollo, being the god of music and arts, came to be associated with the nine Muses, supposedly the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the titaness of remembrance. While some sources refer to him as their leader and master, some others consider them as his daughters. Nonetheless, this association seems quite apt.

Apollo with Marsyas in the musical contest
Apollo with Marsyas in the musical contest
Apollo with the Muses
Apollo with the Muses
Apollo with his lyre
Apollo with his lyre
Apollo's Love Life
Apollo, the god of beauty, had numerous love affairs in his life. Notably enough, his lovers were both, male and female. But unfortunately, not all his love stories reached the desired end.

  • One of the most famous accounts of Apollo's many loves, is the tale of his infatuation for Daphne, a water nymph and the daughter of Peneus, the river god. The infatuation was the result of a vengeance that Eros, the God of love, sought from Apollo, after the latter made fun of the former's archery skills. Eros shot his gold-tipped arrow at Apollo, so that he instantly fell in love with Daphne, who was the first to come before him. Daphne, on the other hand, was shot by Eros with his lead-tipped arrow, so that her heart was filled with a strong feeling of hatred for Apollo. So, maddened by her love, while Apollo chased Daphne everywhere she went, Daphne attempted to run farther and farther from him. At a point when Daphne was too tired and irritated with Apollo's continuous chasing, she prayed to her father to help her get rid of Apollo. Owing to this, Peneus, her father, transformed her into a laurel tree. Her skin became the bark; hair, the leaves; and arms, the branches. Apollo then, realized that he could no longer marry Daphne, and hence he adopted her as his sacred tree. He also blessed the tree with eternal youth and immortality.
  • Leucothea was another love of Apollo, who was betrayed by her own sister, Clytia, and was buried alive by her father. Clytia was also in love with Apollo. Owing to the betrayal, Apollo rejected Clytia, who was struck with grief and eventually died. He then, turned her into a sunflower plant that follows the path of the Sun daily.
  • Apollo was also in love with Marpessa, the granddaughter of Ares, the God of warfare and bloodshed. She was kidnapped by Idas, Posiedon's (God of the ocean) son who also loved her, according to some sources. Zeus intervened between Apollo and Idas and asked Marpessa to choose between the two. She rejected Apollo on the ground that, owing to his immortality, he would come to dislike her as she grew old.
  • Castalia was yet another nymph, who was loved by Apollo. She attempted to flee away from Apollo and reached Delphi, where he transformed her into a spring. This became the famous Castalian Spring, the water of which was considered to be holy.
  • Cassandra was the daughter of the Trojan king, Priam. Apollo fell in love with her, and in order to seduce her, granted her a gift of prophecy. However, Cassandra was in love with the Greek hero Agamemnon, and later on, rejected Apollo for him. Enraged by this, Apollo cursed her that she would only be able to foresee the tragic events, and that nobody would ever believe her prophecy.
  • Some sources also tell us about Acantha, a nymph, with whom Apollo was also in love. She completely rejected Apollo, and scratched his face badly, when he tried to rape her. When she died, he turned her into the acanthus tree.
  • Some of the other female loves of Apollo include Cyrene, Hecuba, Creusa, and the muse, Thalia. Apollo, as mentioned above, also had several male lovers. Some of them were as under:
  • One of the most famed love affair of Apollo was with the Spartan Prince named, Hyacinthus. Sources tell us that he was beautiful and athletic, and had an attractive personality. Zephyrus, the west wind, also desired Hyacinthus, who did not pay any heed to him. One day, when Apollo and Hyacinthus were playing with the discus, the one thrown by Apollo was forcefully blown by Zephyrus, who was immensely jealous. The discus struck the forehead of Hyacinthus, and he died on the spot. The grief-stricken Apollo, created a flower out of his lover's blood, and named it after the Prince. In the later periods, the Spartans were said to have celebrated the 'Festival of Hyacinthus' with great pomp and show.
  • Cyparissus was another male lover of Apollo. He was a descendant of Heracles (Roman: Hercules). According to a myth, Apollo had gifted him a deer, which he loved immensely. However, one day, he accidentally killed it, while it was fast asleep in the undergrowth. Cyparissus became very sad on the deer's death, and asked Apollo to grant him a wish for letting his tears fall eternally. He was then, transformed into a Cypress by Apollo, a tree, the sap of which forms tear-like droplets on its trunk.
  • Some of the other male lovers of Apollo include Admetus, Atymnius, Carnus, Clarus, Hippolytus of Sicyon, Iapis, Phorbas, Leucates, Hymenaios, and Potnieus.
The love life of Apollo has been so vividly described in the ancient Greek and Roman sources, that it became one of the popular subjects of artistic expression, especially during the Renaissance period. For instance, Apollo and Daphne is a famous marble sculpture by the Italian sculptor Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini,, made between 1622 and 1625. It was based on Ovid's narrative, and is today, located in the Galleria Borghese, a famous art gallery in Rome.
Apollo, the Healer
Apollo, as the God of healing, plays a vital role in the ancient Greek and Roman mythologies. Apollo's son Asclepius is also the God of healing and medicine. However, the concept of healing, with respect to both the gods, is quite different from each other. In the case of Asclepius, diseases are problems related to the body, which can be cured through proper knowledge and medications. But for Apollo, disease pertains, not to an individual body, but to the world as a whole. The term disease, here, refers to the evil that is prevalent in the universe, which causes troubles and hardships and brings death.

Apollo, as the healer, aims to purify the world of all the pollutants that tend to disrupt the cosmic order. So healing, in Apollo's case, pertains more to cleansing the spirit or the soul, rather than the physical body. In Archaic Greece (800 B.C. to 480 B.C.), spiritual cleansing was a serious business, carried out by seers who also made divinations, and hence was beyond any sort of questioning. An Archaic Greek myth tells us how Hera drove all the women of Argos mad, and how Iatromantis (physician-seer) Melampus cured them using some purifying drug. It further states that Melampus had learned about this process of purification from Apollo himself.

During the Trojan war, Apollo's arrows spread the epidemic of plague in the Greek camp. According to some later sources, the Greeks made sacrifices to please the enraged god and prayed to him in order to drive the disease away and restore health, which seems to have happened. In this context, health seems to be nothing but the absence of disease, which philosophically means driving out evil and purifying the world, so that the cosmic order can be restored and maintained.

Apollo, the healer, seems to carry forward the tradition of a Bronze Age Mycenean deity Paiawon. This is further affirmed through Apollo's epithet Paiean and his song, the Paean. As a healer, the cult of Apollo spread from the colonies in the Black Sea to Rome, where he was venerated as Apollo Medicus, the god of medicine. His association with spiritual purification was the reason why, the practice of worshiping him as a healer continued, even after his son Asclepius took over the domain of medicine and healing.
Apollo Belvedere who was worshiped as a healer
Apollo Belvedere
Oracular Cult of Apollo
From the Archaic period onwards, Apollo became synonymous to divination. Not that he was the only god of the Greek pantheon, who was capable of making divine prophecies. There were others too; but Apollo had a far larger fan following than the rest. Homer narrates a very interesting incident in Iliad, where Hermes, as a child, asks Apollo to grant him a gift of divination. To this, Apollo flatly refuses and tells Hermes that it has been divinely decreed that nobody in the universe, except him may learn the art of divination. Thus, in Greek mythology, divination is the domain of Apollo and Apollo alone, and this is seen in the later periods when Apollo takes over the prophetic cults of all the other deities, and attempts to become a sole oracular divinity.

Of the large number of oracular shrines dedicated to Apollo, those at Delos and Delphi became the largest cult centers, with widespread influence. Added to this, there were two more, important Apolline oracular shrines viz., those at Didyma and Clarus, both in Asia Minor. While most oracles of Apollo predicted the present and future events, the shrines of Didyma and Clarus were particularly significant for the 'theological oracles' that gave lessons in the religious ideology of monism. The oracles in these two cult centers were based on the belief that all the deities and men are varied aspects of a single, ultimate reality. There were many more oracular shrines of Apollo in ancient Greece and Rome, some of which include the following:

  • The Greek town of Abae in northeastern Phocis, where, Apollo was worshiped as Apollo Abaeus  and his oracle was consulted by the king of Lydia.
  • The ancient town of Bassae in Peloponnese in southern Greece. In this oracular shrine, Apollo was worshiped as Apollo Epicurius, the healer.
  • In the town of Tenea in the ancient Greek province of Corinthia, Apollo was venerated as Apollon Teneatos. The first inhabitants of Tenea were the Trojan prisoners of war, and they were also supposedly the first worshipers of Apollon Teneatos.
  • In the town of Khyrse in the Troad peninsula of Asia Minor, Apollo was revered as an oracular divinity under the epithet, Apollon Smintheus.
  • In the city of Patara on the southwest coast of Lycia, a winter oracle of Apollo used to be held.
  • In Syria, in the ancient Greek town of Hierapolis Bambyce, there was a sanctuary of the Syrian Goddess Atargatis, in which there was a stolen, bearded statue of Apollo. Here, based on the random movements of the statue, divinations were made.
The locations of Oracles of Apollo reveal a rather impressive, tribal past of the god's oracular nature. Most of his oracular shrines were situated outside the city limits, most often in the wilderness, where appropriate calm and serene atmosphere was available, in which man could meet God. Here, in the calmness of nature, God possessed his Oracles, and made prophecies. The oracular cult of Apollo was at its peak until about the 3rd century A.D., when the Oracles, suddenly seemed to have fallen silent. In about the second half of the 4th century A.D., the Roman emperor, Julian the Apostate, attempted in vain to revive the Delphic oracle.
Ruins of Apollo's oracular sanctuary at Delos
Delos Ruins
Ruins of Apollo's oracular sanctuary at Delphi
Delphi Ruins
Festivals Honoring Apollo
As mentioned above, Apollo was a very popular cult deity right from the Archaic period. People worshiped him in large numbers all over ancient Greece and also in ancient Rome. Numerous festivals were celebrated in his honor, and most of them marked his great deeds and accomplishments.
  • Boëdromia was a festival celebrated in ancient Athens on the seventh day of the month of Boëdromion. These celebrations were held in the honor of , the martial hero, who either directly or by means of his divinations, aided the mortals during wars. The ancient Greek writers have given two possible origins of the festival. Plutarch, a 1st century A.D. Greek historian, traces its origin to the aid given by Apollo to Theseus (the mythical founder of Athens) in his battle against the Amazónes (a mythical Greek matriarchal state, having only female warriors). With the help of Apollo, Theseus emerged victorious and commenced the festival. On the other hand, Suidas (a compiler of an ancient Greek lexicon) states that the festival commemorated the triumph of King Erechtheus of Athens (with Apollo's assistance) over Eumolpus, Poseidon's (Roman: Neptune) son. Nothing much is known regarding how the festival was celebrated except the sacrifices, which were made to Artemis Agrotera (the goddess of the Attic hunters).

    Carnea was yet another festival, held in the honor of Apollo that was celebrated by the Spartans as one of their national festivals. Here, Apollo was revered as Apollo Carneus, the lord of flocks and herds. The festival called for a week-long celebration, during which all the military operations were halted in Sparta.

    The festival of Daphnephoria was celebrated in Thebes in Boeotia to honor their deity Apollo Ismenius (called so, after a Niobid, whom he killed with his arrow) or Apollo Galaxius (named after a Boeotian stream, Galaxius). An important part of the celebrations included the dedication of the bronze sacrificial tripod in Apollo's temple. This was done by the Daphnephoros, a youth from a good family, who was elected to perform the ritual.

    Hyacinthia was an important Spartan festival that lasted for three days. This festival called for a national holiday in Sparta, and sources tell us that the Spartans stopped all their activities, in order to be able to participate in the festivities. The festival commemorated the death of the Spartan prince Hyacinthus. The Spartans mourned the death of their hero on the first day, celebrated his rebirth on the second, and on the third day, a special tunic woven by the Spartan ladies was offered to Apollo.

    The festival of Thargelia was held in Athens to celebrate the birthday of Apollo and Artemis. This was primarily an agrarian festival, where farmers offered their first harvests to the divine siblings. According to some sources, human sacrifice was an important aspect of this festival, but it was replaced by animal sacrifice in the later period.

    Apart from these, the Pythian and the Delian games were also held in Delphi and Delos respectively. These events, which honored the various aspects of Apollo, saw large crowds of people participating in the celebrations, thus standing testimony to the hugeness of Apollo's cult
Stadium at Delphi where Pythian Games were held
Delphi Stadium
Artistic Depictions
  • Owing to the varied domains that come under the control of Apollo, his depictions in art are also equally diverse.
  • In most (surviving) cases, he is portrayed as a naked, handsome youth, beardless, and with long, flowing locks of hair. In most of the depictions, he also wears a crown made of bay laurel.
  • He is either in a standing or in a seated posture, but there are also numerous instances where beautifully crafted busts of Apollo have been found.
  • Apollo is primarily depicted holding his bow and arrow and/or his lyre. He also holds a sword in some depictions. Sometimes, a sacrificial tripod is shown beside the god, which represents his prophetic powers. When he is the Sun, he invariably has a halo surrounding his head.
  • Apart from his individual statues, Apollo also forms part of the depictions of the various Greek and Roman myths. Several sculptures, paintings, and engravings, with respect to his love affairs, his divinations, etc. have been made, especially during the Renaissance period.
  • The sculptures of the god also occur, carved in relief, on the pediments and friezes of temples. The standing statue of Apollo on the pediment of the temple of Olympian Zeus, Greece, is particularly famous.
  • In the Hellenistic world (Greek colonies of Asia Minor), Apollo was portrayed reclined on a tree, and holding his regular attributes viz., the lyre or the bow and arrow.
  • Apollo's face/bust has also been found on various coins of ancient Greece and Rome. Here, the god has been shown either in side profile, or facing the front.
  • The god has also been depicted in postclassical art and literature, wherein he has been taken as a subject for various fictional novels and paintings.
An ancient Greek drachma having the face of Apollo on its obverse
Apollo Coin
The Greek pantheon was huge, and even after the advent of the Olympians on the mythological scenario, the Titans were never completely outdated. To choose which God to worship for a given purpose, may have been quite a task of the ancient Greeks and Romans, as the Gods then, had overlapping functions. Assimilation of various cults under one major divinity, might have been an easier way out for the ancient people, because then, they knew exactly, which God to worship and for what purpose. So, Apollo came to be identified with the Sun, just as Artemis, who came to be identified with the Moon.