Who is Apollo? - Ancient Greek Gods
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Who was Apollo?

Sun
Apollo was a sun god

December 2016 - Apollo is a younger god, the son of Zeus and the nymph Leto, and the twin brother of Artemis. The Greeks often thought of Apollo as being the same as Helios, the Sun god, or the same as the sun, and so he is one of the sky gods who always beat out the earth gods in Greek myths. Apollo's younger brother is Hermes.

Apollo does not marry or have many children, though sometimes he falls in love. Apollo is a wise god, the god of reason, logic, self-control and calm - like Spock in Star Trek. He can tell the future, and his temple at Delphi was a famous oracle, a place where people went to find out what was going to happen. One of his sons is Asclepius, the god of medicine. Apollo is also a musician who plays the lyre.

Apollo temple at Delphi
Apollo's temple at Delphi

The Greeks told a story that when Apollo first came to Delphi there was a great snake living there, a sort of dragon, the Pythia. Apollo killed the dragon and that was how Delphi became his temple. This might mean that there was an earth goddess that people worshipped at Delphi before the Greeks came with their new god Apollo.

Apollo metope
Apollo driving the chariot of the sun
on a metope

This story parallels the story of Medusa, where Athena defeats snakiness, or the story of how snakes attacked the baby Herakles. Other cultures have the same kind of stories: check out the Ramayana, or Beowulf fighting Grendel. These stories represent the triumph of order over chaos.

Another story about Apollo is the story of Cassandra. Also check out the story of Helios and Phaethon. In Greek plays, Apollo appears as the oracle who warns Oedipus of his fate, and he shows up to help Orestes at his trial.

Learn by doing: act out one of these stories about Apollo
More about the oracle at Delphi

Bibliography and further reading about Apollo:

D'aulaire's Book of Greek Myths, by Edgar and Ingri D'Aulaire.

Greek Religion, by Walter Burkert (reprinted 1987). By a leading expert. He has sections on each of the Greek gods, and discusses their deeper meanings, and their function in Greek society.

More about Delphi
Ancient Greece
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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