Published January 8, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

Sorry the myth is a day late this week.  It’s been a weird, blah kind of week where I can’t focus on anything.  (Though I’ve done a bit better where dolls are concerned.)  I may remain in these doldrums until classes resume on the 20th.  (Okay, technically they start on the 19th, but I don’t have any Tuesday classes.)

Fair warning on the following myth:  as always, I’m trying to use less familiar, preferably older variants to spice things up a bit, so this is not the Ovidian version, though it’s obviously got certain similarities.

In Arcadia, the river Ladon had fathered a beautiful daughter on Gaia herself.  They named the child Daphne, and she grew to maturity along her father’s banks.  She had many companions among the Arcadian nymphs, and their favorite pastime was to go hunting in the forests, challenging each other to run further and faster, trying to catch a stag on foot.  The Arcadian men were all sick with love for Daphne and her companions, but they would have no man near them, and threatened to shoot any man who came near.

Perhaps it was their skill at archery that led to a divine contest of archery nearby.  Apollo and Eros were testing their skills in Arcadia, each denigrating the other’s ability, despite that neither ever missed his target.  Finally, Apollo lost his temper, and began to shout at Eros.  “You’re no archer!” he insisted.  “You’re just your mother’s slave, and your arrows are an insult to all true archers!  Nothing is an arrow that cannot kill.  The bow is my weapon, and a pathetic waste like you has no right to carry one!”  With that, Apollo began to storm away, still fuming.

“Oh, is that so?” Eros muttered, getting out one of his arrows.  “Let’s see if you think differently after suffering their effects,” he added quietly, aiming at his uncle’s departing back.  He unleashed his arrow, and it flew truly, striking Apollo and disappearing into his body, just as Apollo came to the top of a ridge, from which he could see Daphne and her companions chasing after a stag.

Daphne outshone her companions as the moon outshines the stars, and thanks to the effects of Eros’ powers, Apollo was instantly smitten with her.  (Though, in truth, he probably would have been anyway.)

He would have immediately presented himself to the girl and begged her favors, had he not noticed that one of her followers was not like the others.  Among Daphne’s companions was Leucippos, one of the Arcadian men, dressed as a woman to allow him the chance to be near Daphne.

Enraged with jealousy, Apollo hid among the trees and borrowed a favor from the winds, setting them whispering around Daphne, putting the urge to bathe in her head.  Since the girls had all become somewhat sweaty as they ran through the forest, the idea was readily embraced by one and all, and they headed to a quiet pool nearby in which they could bathe in privacy.

Apollo hid near the pool, where he could listen to what happened, but — an unusual courtesy perhaps due to the overflowing love caused by Eros’ arrow — where he could not see them in the water.

As Daphne and her companions began to strip down to bathe in the clean, cool water, the disguised Leucippos resisted, and tried to make excuses not to join them.  The more reluctant he became, the more the girls suspected him, until at last they discovered the truth.

Outraged that a man had secreted himself among them, the girls began to strike and beat him, and did not stop until long after he was dead.

Pleased that his rival had been removed from the picture, Apollo began to plan how he would woo Daphne once she had finished washing Leucippos’ blood from her body.  Should he simply show himself, confess his love and count on his handsome features to win her heart?  Should he serenade her with his lyre until she was overcome with desire?  Or perhaps he should win her on her own terms, joining her hunt to prove his skills.

He had not decided by the time Daphne and her friends left their bathing spot.  One of them noticed Apollo, and shrieked at the sight of a man so close by.  Panicked, the girls scattered in every direction, running for their lives.  (Not all the girls had divine parents to protect them from murder charges the way Daphne did, after all!)

Apollo set out chasing after Daphne, calling out his love for her as he did so.

Daphne shouted back that she did not want the love of anyone, man or god, but it did not slow Apollo’s pursuit.

No matter how quickly Daphne ran, she found that Apollo was constantly gaining on her.  She had hoped to reach her father’s banks, thinking that such a powerful river god might be able to save her from Apollo’s lust, but she could see now that she wasn’t going to make it.

Instead she called out to her mother, begging to be saved from her pursuer.

Gaia heard her daughter’s plea, and opened a hole beneath her fleeing feet, accepting her back within the earth.  Feeling pity for Apollo — she had seen Eros’ dirty trick, after all — she sent a laurel tree back up to the surface through the same hole, hoping that the tree bearing her daughter’s name might somehow placate the god’s hopeless desire.

Weeping, Apollo embraced the tree as if it was his love, and would not let go.

When he had been there for some time, his sister came and asked him to come back to Mt. Olympos, because their father was getting worried about him.  But Apollo would not listen.

His brother Hermes came down and mocked him for trying to make love to a tree — not that he was doing anything but holding the tree! — but that, too, did not break the spell on Apollo, and he did not listen.

Athene tried reasoning with him, but had just as little luck.  Hephaistos tried to use his forging tool to remove Apollo from the tree forcibly, but he was even less successful than the others.

Eventually, Leto went to Arcadia and begged and pleaded with her son to come home.  His mother’s tears finally roused Apollo from his delirium, and he released the tree.  But he still didn’t want to be parted from Daphne’s memory, and so he broke off a few of the thin branches, twisting them into a wreath for his head, so they would always be together.

Daphne has at least three different sets of parents.  I chose this set because I liked the variant where Gaia is the one who saves her from Apollo’s lust, precisely because this way he’s not breaking off a piece of the girl he supposedly loves when he makes the first laurel wreath.  Ovid didn’t make up the metamorphosis version, though; it’s also quite ancient.  (Er, even more ancient than Ovid, I guess I should say.)  Oh, and it was in Gantz’ Early Greek Myth that I came across the mention of the laurel tree having Daphne’s name.  I’m not sure where the name “laurel” comes from, if the Greek for the tree is “daphne” or some variant.  (Maybe it’s the Latin name…)

The bit with Leucippos is from a different source than the substitution version, and in that Daphne had different parents, so I’m still playing fast and loose, like always.  But at least I’m trying to mix and match based on ancient sources as much as possible.

Oh, sorry for underlining the blood relationship between Apollo and Eros like that.  Somehow calling Apollo anyone’s uncle feels weird, but it is the case.   (Eros being the son of Aphrodite and Ares (sometimes, anyway), and Ares always being a son of Zeus, like Apollo.  Aphrodite is sometimes a daughter of Zeus, too.  I prefer that version of Aphrodite’s origins, truth be told.)

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