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Definition: Apollo from Philip's Encyclopedia

In Greek mythology, god of the Sun, archery, and prophecy; patron of musicians, poets, and physicians; founder of cities and giver of laws. He was the son of Zeus and Leto, twin to Artemis. In the Trojan War he sided with Troy, sending a plague against the Greeks.

Summary Article: Apollo
From The Encyclopedia of Ancient History

Apollo was a major Greek god, son of zeus and Leto, twin brother of Artemis. The statement attributed to him in the Homeric hymn to Apollo, "let the lyre and the curved bow be dear to me and I will prophesy the unerring will of Zeus to the humans" (Hom. Hymn Ap. 131–2), indicates music, arrow shooting, and divination as chief among his various provinces.

Apollo's name does not appear in the Linear b tablets. Its origins and etymology are contested. According to one theory, it is connected with the Hittite divine name Appaliunas (Beekes 2003: 12–14). Another theory associates the Doric form of Apollo's name, Apellon, with the Dorian apella, "assembly," an association that fits with the view of Apollo as overseeing the initiation of young males into the civic community (Burkert 1975: 8–11).

In early literary sources, such as the Homeric epics and the Homeric hymn to Apollo, Apollo appears as a formidable archer god. Thus, in the beginning of the Iliad, his arrows deal death and spread plague in the Greek camp (Il. 1.44–52). The sender of plague was also its healer: it is Apollo who relieved the Greeks from the plague (Il. 1.456). Outside the Homeric epics, epithets such as Iatros or Paean attest to Apollo's medical function, which in later times was largely taken over by his son, Asklepios. Closely linked with healing was Apollo's apotropaic function, his arrows not only inducing harm but also keeping it away. The evil-averting pillar of Apollo Agyieus stood in front of Greek houses, while Apollo Propylaios protected city gates. Further linked with healing and the aversion of evil was Apollo's association with purification. Apollo purified Orestes from the killing of his mother, while he underwent purification himself for slaying a dragon at Delphi. A purificatory aspect is also visible in the Apolline festival of the Thargelia, in which a ritual expulsion of pharmakoi, human scapegoats, occurred.

Bust of Apollo from the Temple of Zeus, Olympia, Greece. © Photo Scala, Florence.

If Apollo instilled fear with his archery, he could also provide merriment with his music (Il. 1.601–4; Hom. hymnAp. 184–206). He was leader of the Muses (Musagetes) and father of legendary mortal musicians such as Orpheus. His favorite instrument was the lyre, its orderly music being opposed to the wilder music of the flute. The opposition between the two instruments finds mythical expression in the story of the contest between the lyre-playing Apollo and the flute-playing Marsyas, which ends in the latter's death (Graf 2009: 37–9). Apollo's sacred song was the paean: in the Iliad, the Greeks sing it to placate his wrath (Il. 1.472–4).

As seen in the Homeric hymn to Apollo, the god claimed divination, in addition to archery and music, as his field of expertise. Apollo was the foremost Greek oracular god, having special access to the will of his father, Zeus (Hom. hymn Her. 536–8). He was the patron of the greatest oracle of the Greek world, Delphi, as well as of numerous other oracles, including Ptoion, Didyma, and Claros. Well established by the eighth century BCE, the Delphic oracle exercised a pervasive influence on Greek life, from the formulation of moral maxims to the sanctioning of colonial ventures and law. Along with Delphi, Delos was the most important center of Apolline worship. Famed as the birthplace of Apollo, Delos was the site of an annual festival of the Ionians "of the trailing robes" (Hom. hymn Ap. 147). Like Delphi, it was developed by the eighth century BCE but did not contain an oracle after the Archaic period.

View of the Temple of Apollo, Delphi, Greece. © Photo Scala, Florence.

As early as in the Theogony, Apollo is mentioned in connection with the transition of young males into manhood (Th. 347). Modern scholarship stresses Apollo's association with ephebes and initiation (Graf 2009: 103–28; see Ephebe, Ephebeia). Represented as youthful and long-haired, Apollo epitomized the ideal of ephebic beauty. Ephebes were prominent in his worship, and cults such as those of Apollo Delphinios or Apollo Karneios have been seen in terms of the initiation of ephebes into the community of adult citizens and warriors (Graf 1979; Peterson 1992: 62ndash;72). Apollo's identification with Helios, once thought to go back to his very origins, is now generally thought not to predate the fifth century BCE (Graf 2009: 151–3).

Apollo was taken over by the Romans under his Greek name, primarily in his medical function. A temple to Apollo Medicus was built in the fifth century BCE in response to a plague. In later times Augustus claimed Apollo as his patron and raised a temple to Apollo of Actium in the vicinity of his house on the Palatine.


Festivals, Greece and Rome; Oracles, Greece and Rome.

References and Suggested Readings
  • Beekes, R. S. (2003) "The origin of Apollo." Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 3: 1-21.
  • Burkert, W. (1975) "Apellai und Apollon." Rheinisches Museum 118: 1-21.
  • Busine, A. (2005) Paroles d'Apollon. Leiden.
  • Gagé, J. (1955) Apollon romain. Paris.
  • Graf, F. (1979) "Apollon Delphinios." Museum Helveticum 26: 2-22.
  • Graf, F. (2009) Apollo. London.
  • Monbrun, P. (2007) Les voix d'Apollon. Rennes.
  • Petterson, M. (1992) Cults of Apollo at Sparta. Stockholm.
  • Michael Konaris
    Wiley ©2012

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