Re-Told By Ruadhan J McElroy
[Originally published in He Epistole, Summer of 2007, I believe. Edited and revised slightly.]
Once Artemis noted to her twin, “Dear brother, you advise to mortals ‘everything in moderation’, and yet you have lost yourself to the games of Eros at least twice.”
“Ah,” replied Apollon, “this is true. But remember, I advise everything in moderation – this holds especially true for moderation itself!”
This is the story of those instances.
Once, quite a long time ago, Apollon and Eros (who is older than all the Olympian Gods, but still rather child-like in his passions and general outlook), were in a dispute over who was the better archer of the two. Eros mentioned his millennia of years on the silver-bowed seer and how His own abilities of pairing of Gods and men alike had given him much more experience. Apollon scoffed, saying that it was not years, but the time He took to perfect his skill that made Him the superior bowman.
Apollon had decided he had enough of this pettiness and declared he was off to Gaia’s fertile plains to make music for the Nymphai – He may have been Eros’ junior in years, but He was still old enough to know when such an argument was going to go absolutely no-where.
Now Love always has something to prove, and with the encouragement of his companion Aphrodite, Eros simply could not let this go, and his golden arrow struck fair Apollon in the shoulder as the other eternal youth looked up from His lyre to glance at the dancing Naiad Daphne, the nymph of the artesian fountain nearby.
Now it is quite well-known that all nymphai love Apollon dearly, but most of them maintain chaste feelings toward Him, feeling more inclined toward the virile lasciviousness of the satyroi over the God’s refined sense of love-making — the Nymphai are, indeed, quite wild creatures at heart. Quite startled Daphne was when Apollon set down His harp and beckoned her nearer.
“But my Lord,” she replied, “I do not mean to offend, but if it is all the same to you, I would very much rather dance over here.”
“How can you mean that when I want nothing more than to be so nearer to you, sing of your beautiful chestnut hair and whisper sweet nothings in your ear?”
Startled, she began to back away. Unable to see the shaft of Eros’ dart for Apollon’s free-flowing mane, all that she could tell was that this was very much unlike Her God. When Apollon stood up and started toward Her, telling Her of Her beauty, Daphne feared a malevolent spirit was trying to trick Her, had somehow disguised itself as Her dear Apollon, and so She turned from Apollon’s hand and sped off faster than the speed of Eros’ dart.
“My beloved!” the confused God cried out. “Why do you run from your Lord?” Apollon ran to catch up with Daphne.
“You cannot be my Lord Apollon! My Lord knows that my heart belongs to the satyros Argyros, a keeper of hares! Whatever wicked spirit you are, return to where you came from! Do not touch me!”
“How can you not recognise your God? Please, dear woman,” Apollon begged, grabbing a hold of Daphne’s arm. “I beg of you, be done with this nonsense!”
Daphne turned her head and noticed that they had come upon the river of her father, Ladon, and called out to the river-God for help as Apollon held onto her and pleaded with her to allow Him to love her. By the power within Him, Ladon transformed His daughter at her plea that “anything would be better than being pursued by this fiend!”
Daphne’s feet took root into the ground below her as Gaia opened up her pores for the tearful nymphe. Her skin became thick, and like that of a tree as her rich brown hair spiralled up-ward and became covered with leaves thick and flavourful, but sharp to those who should bite them.
At first startled by her metamorphosis, Apollon’s heart then broke at the realisation of what He had driven his old friend to beg for. He then felt the golden head or Eros’ dart under His skin, and realised what the ancient ephebos had done to Him for daring to think Himself better than Nyx’s self-begotten son.
He begged the forgiveness of Ladon for so foolishly pursuing the river-god’s beloved daughter, and asked if He could bless this monument to the fair nymphe. He infused its leaves with the gift of second sight to all who should worship Him. Indeed, even today, followers of Apollon have been known to chew on or burn leaves of the divine daphne, known to the Latin-speaking Romans as “Laurel nobilis” and to modern speakers of the Briton tongue, which some believe is Hyperborean in nature, as “bay”.
Now on another occasion, quite some time after Daphne was but a memory but when mortal men were still in their infancy as a race, and the Gods roamed more freely among us than They do today, Lord Apollon became enchanted by a youth of Spartan nobility. The ephebe’s name was Hyakinthos, and even his mother was so mystified by her son’s beauty and intellect that she, like her neighbours, was hardly above comparing his charms to those of Apollon. Indeed, even His sister Artemis had to look twice when seeing them about, just to make sure that He had not found himself another twin.
“Well, my Brother,” She said when they parted from a playful and loving kiss. “I do believe that you have just proven yourself to not be above vanity. Even your beloved is only distinguishable from you by his mortal aura and the small imperfections in his young skin alone.”
“But do you not see, dear Sister, jealousy is such a waste. I am sure your beloved nymphe could have born Hermes in comfort if only your jealousy did not frighten even our dear Father.”
Artemis knew better that to quarrel with Her twin over the differences between jealousy and the wrath reserved for oath-breakers. He knew the difference, and despite Her wild ways, She was too mannered than to argue with Him in front of His new lover.
Despite his unwavering love for Apollon, Hyakinthos was still mortal and therefore flawed. One of these flaws was that he still could not tell when his own youthful flirting may be taken more seriously than it was intended to be, and this finally was met with sorrow from Zephyros, who had become quite enamoured with the mortal boy.
When Hyakinthos finally realised that Zephyros had fallen in love with him, he apologised to the north wind – he did not mean to mislead Him of his own affections.
“I am gravely sorry, but my heart belongs to Apollon.”
“No! I refuse to believe it!”
“But it is true. And I swear on my life that I had no intentions to make you think I felt that way toward you. I ask that you accept my admittance of this mortal mistake. Just please, I beg of you, dear God, turn your head so that you may see the truth.”
“Why should eruthibios Olympian have the heart of all the lovely young men of the world? Am I not myself attractive?”
“You are indeed fair in your own right, but it is impossible for me to share my heart with two. If I were to even try such a feat, one would become favoured over the other. No mortal can love more than one in the way that I love Apollon. If he tried to, he would fail. There are polygamists who take as many as they can financially provide for equally, but one wife is always awarded the lion’s share of his heart, meaning that his provisions can never be truly equal. Even great Zeus obviously gives more of his heart to Hera than to those he unites with in passing fancy.”
As the boy ran toward Apollon’s beckoning, Zephyros cried out in heartbreak, “Mark my word, fair mortal – if I cannot love you, than neither can He!”
Apollon, honoured by men of the gymnasia, was teaching his young paramour to throw the discus and were now playing an old catching game with the throwing circle as Artemis and Hekate sat by and watched as their dogs ran about with the masculine beings of golden hair.
Then just as Hyakinthos ran to catch the disc as he had been, Hekate could see from the corner of her eye Zephyros, with a jealous look in his.
Hekate cried out “Wait, stop!” but Apollon had already thrown the discus. Zephyros then blew the weighted toy off its course, and quickly did Hyakinthos’ neck snap as the heavy circle beat the mortal youth across his brow.
Where his blood fell, flowers did begin to sprout and take root, as Apollon lifted the boy up, tears pouring down his own face.
Where the story ends here for many people, offering them nothing more than an allegorical tale of the death of childhood. But in Sparta it was said that the fair boy, who was one of their own, by petition of Apollon and the will of Hades, whose heart was softened by his wife Persephone – so girlishly romantic, deep down inside – was reborn as a demigod and every summer in Sparta, they would honour this death with solemn feasts and his rebirth by offering fine clothes to Apollon, singing songs of He and His beloved Spartan boy, and some were even inducted in the mysteries of Apollon and His favourite of all youths.