This is a post for my March book challenge, #marchmonthofmythology.
The myth of Apollo and Daphne is one of the stories that made me fall in love with Ovid. We translated (parts of) it in school and were taught scansion (figuring out the metre of a verse) for the first time. Those classes helped me realise there was more to Latin and Greek texts than just the translation: the language itself is just as interesting and beautiful. You can say Ovid is one of the main reasons I’m now studying classics. But I’m keeping you waiting; you want to hear the story!
Pro tip: do not pick a fight with Eros
Apollo was a master of archery; one day he slew an enormous monster, the Python, with his bow. He was in high spirits when he met Eros, the young-looking god of love and desire, who also famously sported a bow and arrows. Apollo bragged to the other god, and even went so far as to insult him, saying the little guy was no match for him, the Python slayer! Of course Eros could not let this pass. His bow may be small, but its arrows could do much more than just slaying monsters.
There was a beautiful girl who lived in the woods, the daughter of a river god, named Daphne. She loved her life in the wilderness and though her father wished for grandchildren, she was not interested in men. She had no clue of the plan Eros had made, involving her, two arrows, and a certain overconfident god. Not all of Eros’s arrows were made to make people fall in love, you see. Some of them did exactly the opposite. Eros took one arrow made of gold, and shot it right into Apollo’s heart. This arrow made him fall in love with poor Daphne. Another arrow, made of lead, pierced Daphne’s heart – this one caused her to be completely repulsed by Apollo.
A chase through the woods
The arrows were extremely potent. It didn’t take long for Apollo to find Daphne. When he did, she ran away, and Apollo followed, falling more and more deeply in love with her as she ran. (I assume Eros was sitting on a cloud somewhere, watching and snickering.) They ran through the woods, and though Daphne put up a good fight, Apollo was bound to catch up with her. Realising this, Daphne prayed to anyone who would listen – her father, the earth itself, anyone – to save her.
Her prayer was answered, but probably not in the way she had hoped.
Suddenly, Daphne found she couldn’t run any further – her feet were stuck. In fact, her entire body was turning rigid. Her toes were burrowing into the ground, turning into roots. Her outstretched arms grew twigs and leaves. Her skin turned to bark. Soon, there was no sign a girl had ever been here; she had turned into a laurel tree. (This would be no surprise to any Greek reader, as Daphne is (ancient) Greek for laurel.)
Apollo reached her just as the transformation was complete; in his disappointment and frustration he hopelessly kissed the tree, but it remained just a tree. There was nothing he could do. From then on, the laurel became Apollo’s sacred tree, and he often wore a laurel wreath on his head.
(I would personally call a laurel a shrub, but in this story it’s always called a tree.)
Daphne – book and tree
No laurel, unfortunately. Or a tree with pretty blossoms, as I’d hoped for. Spring is coming, but not very fast… Well, at least it’s green, and the book looks good.