The Loves of Apollo

Apollo, the young sun god, was more glorious than tongue can describe or than mortal eye can behold. As he drove his golden chariot through the sky he dazzled the whole earth with his splendour. Small wonder, then, that the nymph, Clytie, fell in love with him. Apollo cared nothing for Clytie and would take no notice of her, so that at last her great longing for him drove her almost to madness. She refused to play with her sister nymphs any more, ate nothing, and drank only dew. All night she stood gazing at the heavens, waiting for her lord to appear. All day she followed him with her eyes as he moved slowly from East to West. At last the gods took pity on her, and since she could not die, they changed her into the tall, thin sunflower, which turns its face towards the sun all day as he moves across the sky.

Though Apollo was unkind to Clytie, he too could fall in love. One day in the woods he caught sight of the nymph, Daphne, daughter of a river god. Daphne was fair and white, as river nymphs are, and had rippling dark-green hair. She loved to roam the forests hunting with bow and arrow, and she had vowed to live unmarried like the huntress, Artemis. She, therefore, felt no more love for the god than he had felt for Clytie. Instead she was afraid of him, and when he approached her, she turned and ran from him, her long hair streaming in the wind. More beautiful than ever was she as she ran, and Apollo sped after her, begging her to stop and listen to him, offering her his throne and his palace, telling her not to be afraid. The nearer he came, the more terrified Daphne felt as she raced down the slope towards her father’s stream. She felt the radiant warmth of the god behind her, and his hand stretched out to catch her hair. She shrieked to her father to save her, and the river god made answer the only way he could. Suddenly the fight of Daphne was arrested, as her feet took root in the ground. Her body dwindled. her arms shot up, and as Apollo seized her in his arms, he found himself grasping a bush of laurel with shining leaves the colour of Daphne’s dark-green hair. For a second he felt the frightened heart of the nymph beat beneath the bark enclosing it. Then it was still.

Apollo sorrowed deeply for the loss of his love, and in memory of her he always wore a wreath of laurel. Laurel decorated his lyre, and at his festival the prize for athletes and musicians was a laurel crown.

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