Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 16


The slime with which the earth was covered by the waters of the flood, produced an excessive fertility, which called forth every variety of production, both bad and good. Among the rest, Python, an enormous serpent, crept forth, the terror of the people, and lurked in the caves of Mount Parnassus. Apollo slew him with his arrows weapons which he had not before used against any but feeble animals, hares, wild goats, and such game. In commemoration of this illustrious conquest he instituted the Pythian games, in which the victor in feats of strength, swiftness of foot, or in the chariot race, was crowned with a wreath of beech leaves; for the laurel was not yet adopted by Apollo as his own tree. And here Apollo founded his oracle at Delphi, the only oracle "that was not exclusively national, for it was consulted by many outside nations, and, in fact, was held in the highest repute all over the world. In obedience to its decrees, the laws of Lycurgus were introduced, and the earliest Greek colonies founded. No cities were built without first consulting the Delphic oracle, for it was believed that Apollo took special delight in the founding of cities, the first stone of which he laid in person; nor was any enterprise ever undertaken without inquiry at this sacred fane as to its probable success" [From Beren's [Myths] and Legends of Greece and Rome.]

The famous statue of Apollo called the Belvedere [From the Belvedere of the Vatican palace where it stands] represents the god after his victory over the serpent Python. To this Byron alludes in his Childe Harold, iv. 161:—

  "The lord of the unerring bow,
  The god of life, and poetry, and light,
  The Sun, in human limbs arrayed, and brow
  All radiant from his triumph in the fight.
  The shaft has just been shot; the arrow bright
  With an immortal's vengeance; in his eye
  And nostril, beautiful disdain, and might,
  And majesty flash their full lightnings by,
  Developing in that one glance the Deity."


Daphne was Apollo's first love. It was not brought about by accident, but by the malice of Cupid. Apollo saw the boy playing with his bow and arrows; and being himself elated with his recent victory over Python, he said to him, "What have you to do with warlike weapons, saucy boy? Leave them for hands worthy of them. Behold the conquest I have won by means of them over the vast serpent who stretched his poisonous body over acres of the plain! Be content with your torch, child, and kindle up your flames, as you call them, where you will, but presume not to meddle with my weapons."

Venus's boy heard these words, and rejoined, ":Your arrows may strike all things else, Apollo, but mine shall strike you.:" So saying, he took his stand on a rock of Parnassus, and drew from his quiver two arrows of different workmanship, one to excite love, the other to repel it. The former was of gold and sharp- pointed, the latter blunt and tipped with lead. With the leaden shaft he struck the nymph Daphne, the daughter of the river god Peneus, and with the golden one Apollo, through the heart. Forthwith the god was seized with love for the maiden, and she abhorred the thought of loving. Her delight was in woodland sports and in the spoils of the chase. Many lovers sought her, but she spurned them all, ranging the woods, and taking thought neither of Cupid nor of Hymen. Her father often said to her, "Daughter, you owe me a son-in-law; you owe me grandchildren." She, hating the thought of marriage as a crime, with her beautiful face tinged all over with blushes, threw her arms around her father's neck, and said, "Dearest father, grant me this favor, that I may always remain unmarried, like Diana." He consented, but at the same time said, "Your own face will forbid it."