Shakespeare's Myths

Apollo as main subject, or important characterSun God ApolloThe God of ArcheryApollo’s BeautyApollo’s Loves  — Apollo’s OracleApollo and MedicineApollo and LearningApollo and PoetryApollo and Music


Apollo as main subject, or important character

Geoffrey ChaucerThe Franklin’s Tale (c. 1386-1396), 1031-35:

[Faithful to her husband Arveragus, Dorigen puts off Aurelius’ importunate advances by promising she will yield to his entreaties when he has cleared the coast of Brittany from all its rocks. Aurelius’ prayer to Apollo (1031-79) asks the god to raise the level of the sea above the rocks. Apollo is addressed as:]

Appollo, god and governour

Of every plaunte, herbe, tree, and flour,

That yevest, after thy declinacion,

To ech of hem his tyme and his seson,

As thyn herberwe chaungeth lowe or heighe. [herberwe: position in the zodiac]

[Aurelius promises: “Thy temple in Delphos wol I barefoot seke” (1077), but in vain. He finally has recourse to the services of a magician, expert in the art of creating illusions]


John LydgateThe Assembly of Gods: Reason and Sensuality (c. 1422):

[At the court of Minos, Diana and Neptune lodge a complaint against Eolus. Judgement is withheld as Apollo invites court and contestants to a banquet where his moderation tries to reconcile the opponents: wisdom pacifies fools]

When they were come to the banquet,

The great Apollo, with his sad chere, [sad chere: earnest countenance]

So fair and courteously gan them entreat

That he made their beards on the new gete. [gete: fashion]

Lo, what wisdom doth to a fool. (237)


William CaxtonThe History of Jason (c. 1477) [Translates Raoul Le Fèvre’s Histoire de Jason (1477)] (STC 15383):

Fol. 46b: [Jason meets the knight Mopsius, son of Apollo, and king of Silice]

Fol. 52: [Peleus, the king of Myrmidons’ brother and Jason’s uncle, consults the oracle] … in the isle of Delphos, the god Apollo gave answers of things that were to come and of all destinies. [He wants to know the future of the realm] The devil which was in the idol that heard him, answered to him that the royaume should be taken from him by the hand of a man that he should meet having no hose nor shoe on that one foot.

Fol. 68-68b: [Jupiter, king of Athens, had three sons, Arropatreus (also called Mars), Apis, and Apollo, who reigned in Arcade (Arcadia)] This Apollo was a man of great government. He introduced the Arcadians for to live honestly. Certes he conquered many royaumes [realms]. He had great number of children. And finally, when they were grown to age, he delivered to them his lands to govern. And after that, departed right secretly from Arcade. And in the estate of a medicine or a physician, he went in the most part of the provinces of the world. He was thus wandering ten years.

Fol. 68b-69: [At the end of his peregrinations, Apollo returns to Athens to discover that his brother Mars has died. A temple has been erected, where Mars is now the object of a cult. As he prays there, Apollo hears Mars’ voice entrusting him with a mission:] “… it pleaseth us that thou go into Pyrre for to make an ark unto the semblance and likeness of that ark that Noe made some time to save him and his family from the deluge and flood; after that we will that thou do charge it with as great a number of Pyrrians as it may receive and that thou and they put you to the sea therein. And when you have done so, I shall bring you into the best isle, the most rich and the most fertile of all the world, which shall be inhabited by the Pyrrians.”   

Fol 72b: [Following Mars’ instructions, Apollo and his Pyrrians settle in the said island, where they build a city and set up laws. The people revere Apollo’s wisdom:] “Truly, Apollo, thou art the god of sapience; as long as we live, we will have none other judge but thee. And to thee we shall submit us and all our affairs. And desiring thine holy sacrifices, manners, and honest doctrines to ensue to our powers [translates literally Le Fèvres’s “ensuivir a nos pouvoirs], we will that thou be our pastour or herdsman and we shall be thy sheep.” [Apollo becomes their king]

[In the neighbouring island of Colchis, where Mars has strictly forbidden Apollo and his men to go, the Golden Fleece is kept by fire-blowing dragons. Some of the people disobey and lose their lives. Others try to rebel but lose the day. After restoring peace, Apollo decides to return to Greece; he entrusts his daughter Phavoles with a secret document that indicates how to conquer the Golden Fleece, with instructions never to show it to anybody until a knight comes along, worthy enough to see it. When she died, Phavoles handed out this document to her daughter Ortis, who herself handed it out to her daughter Medea, Apollo’s great grand-daughter in a straight line. After leaving his kingdom, Apollo had ended his life in Colchis. In the night after his death, his body disappears]

Fol. 85: And on the morn, when the day appeared, it happened that they found not the body of king Apollo. But in the place where they had left it the day to fore, they found an altar of crystal passing clear, upon which was an image of fine gold so quickly [true to life] made after the fashion of Apollo that it seemed properly his person. [Apollo is now among the gods and a temple is erected in his honour


George BuchananApollo et Musae Exules [Apollo and the Muses as Exiles] (1561) [Latin masque for the Scottish court. Online ed.]


AnonA Mask of Apollo, the Nine Muses, and Lady Peace (1572) [A court masque, lost]


George PettieA Petite Pallace of Pettie his Pleasure (1576), “Admetus and Alcest” (STC 19819):

… this prince possessing such a pleasant life, took great delight in good housekeeping and gave such good entertainment to strangers that his fame was far spread into foreign countries; yea, the rumour thereof reached to the skies in so much that Apollo, as the poets report, having occasion to descend from heaven to the earth, went to see the entertainment of Admetus; who was so royally received by him that the god thought good with some great kindness to requite his great courtesy. And as Philemon and Baucis, for their hearty housekeeping, were preserved by the gods from drowning when all the country and people besides were overflown, so the god Apollo meant to preserve his life when all his country and people then living should lie full low in their graves. And of the destinies of death obtained thus much for him that, if when the time and term of his natural life drew to an end, if any could be found who would willingly die and lose their own life for him, he should begin the course of his life again and continue on earth another age.

[When Admetus is on the verge of dying, his wife Alcest sacrifices herself so that he can enjoy Apollo’s gift of a second life; moved by this devotion, Proserpina sends her back to her husband. See Apollodorus, The Library, I, ix, 15; Euripides, Alcestis.]


George PeeleThe Arraignment of Paris (c. 1581-1584, 1581), IV.iv (STC 19530):

[The gods in council. Apollo settles both the quarrel between Juno, Minerva and Venus and the debate between the gods by proposing that Diana should be asked to decide who most deserves the disputed ball. Diana attributes it to Queen Elizabeth.]


Robert Greene [Transl. of Louise Labbé, Débat de Folie et Amour, 1555].  The Debate betweene Follie and Loue (1584) (STC 12262):

[Apollo pleads on behalf of Love and Mercury on behalf of Folly]


Thomas LodgeThe Wounds of Civil War (1587-1592), IV.ii.154-66 (STC 16678):

[A soldier beheads Mark Antony]

1. Soldier:

Even in this head did all the Muses dwell;

The bees that sat upon the Grecian’s lips  [the Grecian: Homer]

Distill’d their honey on his temper’d tongue.

2. Soldier:

The crystal dew of fair Castalian springs,

With gentle floatings, trickled on his brains.

The Graces kiss’d his kind and courteous brows,

Apollo gave the beauties of his harp

And melodies unto his pliant speech.


Leave these presumptuous praises, countrymen …

See here the guerdon fit for Marius’ foe,

Whom dread Apollo prosper in his rule.

[The captain brushes away a gracious Apollo, god of poetry, beauty and harmony, associated by the soldiers to dead Antony, to substitute to him a fearsome Apollo, god of powerful rule, associated with Antony’s conqueror Marius]


John LylyMidas (1589-1590) (STC 17083):

[Midas’ judgment in favour of Pan against Apollo and its punishment is dramatized in IV.i; in V.iii, Midas goes to Apollo’s temple in Delphi to pray for his ass’s ears to be removed. The god accepts his repentance and on the promise of a yearly sacrifice, the punishment is repealed]


Philip SidneyArcadia (1593),

II, xxviii: [Apollo’s oracle. Hymn to Apollo]

III, xxvii: [Basilius consults Apollo’s oracle again]

III, xxxv: [Basilius’ sacrifice to Apollo]

III, xxxvii: Therewith he [Dorus] told her [Mopsa] a far-fetched tale: how that many millions of years before, Jupiter, fallen out with Apollo, had thrown him out of heaven, taking from him the privilege of a god; so that poor Apollo was fain to lead a very miserable life, unacquainted to work and never used to beg; that in this order, having in time learned to be Admetus’ herdsman, he had — upon occasion of fetching a certain breed of beasts out of Arcadia — come to that very desert where, wearied with travel, and resting himself in the boughs of a pleasant ash tree stood a little off from the lodge, he had with pitiful complaints gotten his father Jupiter’s pardon, and so from that tree was received again to his golden sphere. But having that right nature of a god, never to be ungrateful, to Admetus he had granted a double life; and because that tree was the chapel of his prosperous prayers, he had given it this quality, that whatsoever, of such estate and in such manner as he then was, sat down in that tree, they should obtain whatsoever they wished.

IV, i: [Mopsa takes Dametas to be Apollo, and asks for her wish to be fulfilled]

IV, iv: [Basilius swears that] it was the very force of Apollo’s destiny which had carried him thus from his own bias.


Ben JonsonThe Masque of Augures (1621), 277-81:

[Apollo described as:]

… far-shooting Phoebus, he

That can both hurt and heal; and with his voice

Rear towns, and make societies rejoice;

That taught the Muses all their harmony,

And men the tuneful art of augury.

[Marginal notes explicit Apollo’s functions as god of archery, medicine, music and augury. For the last mentioned, Jonson quotes Virgil, Aeneid, IV, 345-46, which alludes to Lycian Apollo’s oracles (“Lyciae sortes”), Horace, Odes, I, 2, 30, “Tandem venias precamur, / nube candentis umeros amictus, / augur Apollo” (We pray you to come, with a veil over your bright shoulders, augur Apollo), and Horace, Carmen saeculare, 61-64, “Augur et fulgente decorus arcu / Phoebus acceptusque novem Camenis, / Qui salutari levat arte fessos / Corporis artus” (Phoebus the augur, adorned with his shining bow, and companion of the nine Camenae, Phoebus, whose salutary art alleviates bodily pains.]

[Apollo calls his sons Linus, Orpheus, Branchus and Idmon back to life, as well as his daughter Phoemonoe. They all present the king with favourable auguries.]


John Beaumont.  The Theater of Apollo, Where Fires of Joy are raised: sacred to the very happy and eternal memory of our sovereign the Great Apollo, and his most Royal Offspring (1625):

[A masque in praise of Prince Charles, addressed as "the greatest of Majesty, our Sovereign, glorious Emperor of Parnassus, most happy King of the Muses, and incomparable Monarck of Light". The masque is set is on Parnassus. Apollo is revealed "seated in a high, and glorious throne, crowned with laurels”; he “holds in his hand a crown, the reward of some noble poet, whom he pleaseth to honour”. Beneath Apollo is placed Prince Charles, in a chariot drawn by Fame. After the first Chorus, music is sounded, then:]

Happy Charles, O Eye of Fame,

Let me sing thy sacred name,

Thou that art in all this Quire,

Placed next Apollo's fire.

Prince Charles eclipses Apollo. As the last Chorus sings:

And thus bright Apollo shines,

While the Sun his way declines.

Since the heaven, upon his sphere,

Cannot two Apollos bear.


William HawkinsApollo Shroving (1627) (STC 12963):

[Parodic school play, presented at Hadleigh School, Suffolk, 6 February 1627, on the theme of learning: Apollo frequently alluded to as patron of the Muses]


Sun God Apollo

John LydgateTroy Book (1420), II, 5591-95:

And next Apollo, so clear, so schene and bright, [schene: resplendent]

The day’s eye, and voider of the night,

Cherisher of fruit, of herb, flower, and corn,

The which god, like as is said a-forne, [a-forne; before]

In Delos is worshiped and honoured.


Barnabe GoogeEglogs, Epytaphes, and Sonnettes (1563), “An Epytaphe of Maister Thomas Phayre” (STC 12048):

[Thomas Phaer supersedes all other translators of Virgil’s Aeneid] As much as does Apollo’s beams the dimmest stars in light.


H. GA Pleasaunt Disport … entituled Philocopo (1567) [Translation of Boccaccio’s Filocopo (1334?)], Prologue, sig. A4v (STC 3180):

Apollo was now with his chariot of light mounted to the meridian circle, and did scarcely behold with levelled eye the new apparelled earth, when as these dames, damsels and young gentlemen, being thus all assembled in that place, setting their feasting apart, seeking forth by sundry quarters of the garden the delightful shade, and flying the noisome heat that might offend their delicate bodies, took by divers companies, divers delights.  


James VI of ScotlandThe Essays of a Prentice in the Divine Art of Poesie (1584), VI (STC 14373):

… take heed, that what name ye give to the sun, the moon, or other stars the one time, if ye happen to write thereof another time, to change their names. As if ye call the sun Titan at a time, to call him Phoebus or Apollo the other time.


Christopher Marlowe2 Tamburlaine the Great (1587-1588, 1587), II.iv.18-21:


Apollo, Cynthia, and the ceaseless lamps

That gently looked upon this loathsome earth,

Shine downwards now no more, but deck the heavens

To entertain divine Zenocrate.


Edmund SpenserThe Faerie Queene, II, xii, 13 (1590):

As th’isle of Delos whilom men report

Amid th’Aegean sea long time did stray,

Ne made for shipping any cerain port,

Till that Latona, traveiling that way, [traveiling: both travelling and travailing]

Flying from Juno’s wrath and hard assay,

Of her fair twins was there deliverèd,

Which afterwards did rule the night and day.

Thenceforth it firmly was establishèd,

And for Apollo’s honour highly herried. [herried: praised]

[Apollo’s birth narrated in Virgil, Aeneid, III, 73-77 and Ovid, Metamorphoses, VI, 186-91, 332-34]


George ChapmanOvids Banquet of Sence (1595), stanza 71 (STC 4985):

[Beauty’s emblems]

The third was an Apollo with his team

About a dial and a world in way;

The motto was Teipsum et orbum,      [Yourself and the world]

Graven in the dial.

[Side note: The sun hath as much time to compass a dial and therefore the world is placed in the dial, expressing the conceit of the imprese morally, which hath a far higher intention]


Thomas HeywoodThe Golden Age (1609-1611), I.i.12-13 (STC 13325):


I placed divine Apollo

Within the Sun’s bright chariot.


Mary WrothThe Countesse of Mountgomeries Urania (1621), I, sig. Q2 (STC 26051):

For this place, it is that anciently reverenced and honoured island of Delos, famous for the birth of those two great lights, Apollo and Diana; the ruins of Apollo’s and Latona’s temples remaining to this day on the other side of that mountain called Cynthus, once rich and populous, now poor and peopleless.


George ChapmanThe Masque of the twelve months (1619), Third song:

[The king as Apollo, source of life]

Quick offerings still to our Apollo give,

In whose creating beams ye shine and live.


William DavenantThe Triumphs of the Prince d'Amour (1635) (STC 6308):

[Mars, Venus and Apollo conjoin in the person of the Prince Elector. After the temple of Mars and the temple of Venus, the scene changes to the temple of Apollo]

… strait was perceived, in a grove of laurel trees, the temple of Apollo, being round, and transparent, of the order of Composita [the fifth of the classical orders, a blend of the Ionic and the Corinthian], the columns and ornaments being heightened with gold, his statue of gold standing in the middle of the temple, upon a round pedestal; behind and between the columns did appear a prospect of landscape.

[A song celebrates Apollo as the life-giving sun]

His radiant beams Apollo strives

So much to strengthen and increase,

As growth and verdure ne’er should cease.


Thomas HeywoodA Challenge for Beauty (1634-1636), II.i.339-47 (STC 13311):


There lived a Spanish princess of our name,

An Isabella too, and not long since;

Who, from her palace windows, steadfastly,

Gazing upon the sun, her hair took fire.

Some augurs held it as a prodigy.

I rather think she was Latona's brood,

And that Apollo courted her bright hair;

Else, envying that her tresses put down his,

He scorched them off in envy.


The God of Archery

George TurbervilleThe Eclogues of Mantuan (1567) [Translation of Baptista Spagnolo’s Eclogues (1498)], IV, fol. 36v (STC 22990):

Duke Agamemnon all inraged

with Chrysis’ beauty brave,

Did fret and fume in furious wise

and felt Apollo’s wrath. [From Homer, Iliad, I]


Ben JonsonThe Masque of Augurs (1621):

[Apollo called “far-shooting Phoebus”. Jonson’s marginal note explains:] Sagitanti peritiam, unde apud Homerum, frequens illud epitheton ekebolos, longe jaculans [talented in the art of archery, hence Homer’s frequent epithet, ekebolos, far-shooting. Jonson is referring to Chapman’s translation of Homer’s Iliads, I, 39; XV, 214]


Thomas MiddletonThe Entertainment at Bunhill on Shooting Day (1621), 16-18 (STC 17886):

[In praise of archers]

Music and archery from Apollo came:

He calls himself great Master of this sport,

In whose bright name fair Wisdom keeps her Court.


Apollo’s Beauty

Barnabe BarnesParthenophil and Parthenophe (1593), Madrigal 23 (STC 1469):

Phoebus, rich father of eternal light,

And in his hand a wreath of heliochrise [heliochrysos or heliochrysum: “The herb chrysanthemum, some call it marigold” (Thomas Thomas, Dictionarium, 1587)]

He brought, to beautify those tresses,

Whose train, whose softness, and whose gloss more bright

Apollo’s locks did overprize


Richard BarnfieldCynthia (1595), XVII (STC 1484):

His cheeks the lily and carnation dyes

With lovely tincture which Apollo’s dims.


Edmund SpenserThe Faerie Queene, VI, ii, 25 (1596):

[Sir Calidore addresses Tristram:]

Fair, gentle swain, and yet as stout as fair,

That in these woods amongst the nymphs dost won, [won: dwell, abide]

Which dayly may to thy sweet looks repair,

As they are wont unto Latona’s son,

After his chase on woody Cynthus done.


Ben JonsonCynthia's Revels (1600-1601), V.iv.512-13:

[Composite feminine beauty]

Her beauty is all composed of theft; her hair stolen from Apollo's goldy-locks; her white and red lilies and roses stolen out of Paradise, ...


Thomas HeywoodHow a Man May Choose a Good Wife from a Bad (c. 1601-1602), 2065-67 (STC 5594):

[Compare with Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost, IV.iii.316-19]


... wires from your head,

Wherewith Apollo would have strung his harp

And kept them to play music to the gods.


David MurrayCaelia (1611), Sonnet 2 (STC 18296):

Apollo graced her with her golden hair.  


John Fletcher and Francis BeaumontCupid’s Revenge (c. 1607-1612), I.i.293-94; 298-303 (STC 1667):

[Dialogue between Cleophila and Hidaspes about Zoylous. Cleophila describes him as “deformed”, while in Hidaspes’ eyes he “doth resemble Apollo”].


John MarstonThe Insatiate Countess (c. 1610-1613), I.i.57-60 (STC 17476):

[Masculine beauty as a composite of several gods and goddesses’ attributes]


Apollo gave him locks, Jove his high front,

The god of eloquence his flowing speech, [Mercury]

The feminine deities strewed all their bounties

And beauty on his face …


Thomas MayContinuation of Lucan’s Civile (1630), 251-54 (STC 17711):

[Description of Aeneas’ beauty, imitating Virgil, Aeneid, IV, 143-50]

Such was his shape, so shone his cheerful face

As young Apollo’s when he goes to grace

His native Delos and in height of state

That festival intends to celebrate.


Apollo’s Loves

Stephen GossonThe Ephemerides of Phialo (1579), III, “An Apologie of the Schoole of Abuse”, sig. L4v (STC 12093):

Apollo was a buggerer and a schoolmaster of perjury.


R. D. [Robert Dallington].  Hypnerotomachia. The Strife of Loue in a Dreame (1592) [transl. of Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499)], sig. G2v (STC 5578.2):

In the quadriture upon the right side, I beheld the jealous Clymene, with her hair transformed into a herb called Venus’ maid, or Lady herb [According to the Italian 1499 text, which has “li capilli immobile fronde convertiva”, Clymene’s hair is changed into “still leaves”], and Phoebus in a cruel indignation and wrathful displeasure, she following of him weeping, from whom he fled hastening on forward his swift horses, as one that flieth from his mortal and deadly enemy. [A conflation of the stories of Clymene (Ovid, Metamorphoses, I, 756 sq.) and of Clytia (Ovid, Metamorphoses, IV, 234-70)]

Upon the table over the columns on the left side in a curious and rare unusual carving, there was the resemblance historied of the uncomfortable and still mourning Cyparissus holding up his hands and arms toward the sun and making his moan to Apollo for the wounded Cerva. [A doe, where Ovid mentions a stag (cervus), Metamorphoses, X, 106-42]

In the third table next the last mentioned, in a work answerable to the precedent and former, I beheld Leucothoe, wickedly slain of her own father, changing and transforming her fair, young and tender flesh into smooth bark, shaking leaves and bending wands. [Ovid, Metamorphoses, IV, 190-255]

In the fourth table was represented the discontented and displeasant Daphus [Daphne] at the burning desires of the curled headed Delius [Apollo], rendering up by little and little her virgin’s body undefiled towards the hot heavens, being metamorphosed most pitifully into a green laurel.


Richard BarnfieldCynthia (1595), VII (STC 1484):

And yet, alas, Apollo loved a boy,

And Cyparissus was Sylvanus’ joy.


Apollo’s Oracle

Geoffrey ChaucerTroilus and Criseyde (c. 1382-1387), III, 537-44:

[To cover up for his absence when he spends time with Criseyde, Troilus pretends he goes to Apollo’s temple]

If that he were missed, nyght or day,

Ther-while he was aboute his servyse, [his servyse: that is, to Criseyde]

That he was gon to don his sacrifise,


And moste at swich a temple alone wake, [wake: pray all night]

Answered of Apollo for to be;

And first to sen the holy laurer quake,

Er that Apollo spak out of the tre,

To telle hym next whan Grekes sholde flee.


Geoffrey ChaucerTroilus and Criseyde (c. 1382-1387), IV, 1397-1411:

[Criseyde wants to persuade Calchas that Apollo’s prediction of the fall of Troy is wrong]

For al Appollo, or his clerkes lawes,

Or calkullinge, avayleth nought three hawes. [are not worth three hawthorn berries]

For goddes speken in amphibologies,

And for o soth they tellen twenty lyes. [o soth: one truth]

… Drede fond first goddes … [fear first made gods]

… his coward herte

Made hym amys the goddes text to glose,

Whan he for fered out of Delphos sterte. [fered: fear; sterte: ran away]


John LydgateTroy Book (1420), II, 5391-5940, “How Agamemnon … sent Achilles and Pirodus unto Delphos to have answer of Apollo whether they should have the victory of the Trojans or no” [Pirodus: Patroclus (sometimes spelt Patrodus)] :

[Achilles and Patroclus sail]

Toward Delphos, and in prosperity,

They ben arrived and y-come to land.

The which isle, as I understand,

And as my author says, without les, [les: lying]

Haveth its site among Cyclades,

Where men with rocks have so much ado,

Amid the sea called Hellespont. (5402-08)

For in this isle, Isidorus, in sooth,  [Isidore of Seville, Etymologies, XIV, vi, 21]

Rehearseth plainly how Latona, the queen,

Apollo first, and Diana the schene, [schene: bright]

Y-childed hath, by Jupiter her lord,

When he and Juno were at discord,

As writ Ovid … (5412-17)

… in this little isle,

There was a temple whilom dedicate

Unto Apollo, and also consecrate

In his worship, of old foundation,

That was honoured with great devotion,

Because Apollo, with his beams clear,

After the flood, first there did appear

To show his horns rather there and sone [rather there and sone: before anywhere else]

And Diana eke, that called is the moon.

Of which showing, this isle beareth the name

Into this day, that is of so great fame,

Only by appearing of this ilke twain, [ilke: same]

For Delos is in Greek no more to say

Than a showing or an appearance. (5418-31)

And Apollo is called eke Titan,

That in his time so much worship wan,

Long to-forn or he was made a star [to-forn or: before]

With Jupiter when that he held war [held war: made war]

And he also y-called is Phoebus,

And of some y-named Phicius, [Phicius: Pythius]

For of Pheton he had the victory [Pheton: Python]

When he him slew, to his increase of glory,

The great serpent here in earth low,

With his arrows and his mighty bow. (5449-58)

And of Pheton, that Phoebus made fin, [made fin: put to death]

Come Phetonysses, that can so divine, [Pythonesses]

I mean women that ben devineresses

Through dead men, these false sorceresses,

As one whilom raised Samuel

For love of Saul, the Bible can you tell. [The witch of Endor, 1 Samuel 28: 7-20]

And in his temple large, long, and old,

There was a statue all of pure gold,

Full great and high, and of huge weight,

And therein was, through the devil’s sleight,

A spirit unclean, by false illusion,

That gave answer to every question

(Not the idol, dumb as stock or stone).

And thus the people, deceived every one,

Were by the fiend brought in great error

To do worship and such false honour, [mawmentry: superstition]

And in this wise began idolatry. (5463-80)


John LydgateThe Siege of Thebes (1421), 532-44:

But Oedipus will no longer dwell,

But took leave and in haste gan ride

To a temple, fast there beside,

Of Apollo, in story as is told,

Whose statue stood in a char of gold  [char: chariot]

On wheels four boornid bright and shene;   [boornid: burnished; shene: resplendent]

And within, a spirit full unclean,

By fraud only and false collusion,

Answer gave to every question,

Bringing the people in full great error,

Such as to him did false honour

By rites used in the old daws  [daws: days]

After custom of paganism’s laws.


John StudleyHercules Oetaeus (1566, 1581), “The Argument” [added by the translator] (STC 22221):

[Nessus’ shirt caused Hercules unbearable torment]. For remedy whereof he sent to Apollo his oracle at Delphos, from whence he received answer that he should be carried unto mount Oetaeus and there, that a great fire should be made; and for all other things, they should be referred to the pleasure and direction of Jupiter.


Thomas BlagueA schole of wise Conceytes (1569), “Of a wicked man”, p. 244-45 (STC 3114):

A wicked man went to Apollo which is in Delphus to try his cunning, for which purpose he took a sparrow with him in his hand, which under his cloak he hid; who, as he stood near to the golden table in Apollo’s temple, asked the god, saying: “Apollo, that which I hold in my hand, is it alive or dead?”. If he had said “dead”, he would have showed the sparrow alive; if “alive”, he would have strangled it and showed it dead. But god Apollo, knowing his wicked pretence, said: “Whither thou wilt, do, for it is in thy power to show him alive or dead”.  

Morality: God cannot be deceived, neither is anything hid from him.


Barnabe GoogeThe Shippe of Safegarde (1569), “A priest of Apollo strangely converted” (STC 12049):

[Christ overrides Apollo]


Christopher Marlowe1 Tamburlaine the Great (1587-1588, 1587), I.ii.212-13:


Nor are Apollo’s oracles more true

Than thou shalt find my vaunts substantial.


Robert GreenePandosto (1588), “Dedication”, sig. A2r (STC 12285):

Apollo gives oracles as well to the poor man for his mite [any small coin of small value (OED 1a)], as to the rich man for his treasure.


Robert GreenePandosto (1588), sig. Cv-C2r (STC 12285):

[Bellaria pleads to Pandosto] that it would please his majesty to send six of his noble men whom he best trusted to the isle of Delphos, there to enquire of the oracle of Apollo whether she had committed adultery with Egistus or conspired to poison him with Franion; and if the god Apollo, who by his divine essence knew all secrets, gave answer that she was guilty, she were content to suffer any torment, were it never so terrible.

Within three weeks, they arrived at Delphos, where they were no sooner set on land but with great devotion they went to the temple of Apollo, and there, offering sacrifice to the god and gifts to the priest, as the custom was, they humbly craved an answer of their demand; they had not long kneeled at the altar but Apollo with a loud voice said: “Bohemians, what you find behind the altar take, and depart”.


Thomas NashePierce Penniless his Supplication to the Devil (1592), sig. H3v (STC 18372):

Besides, there are yet remaining certain lying spirits, who, although all be given to lie by nature, yet are they more prone to that vice than the rest, being named Pythonists, of whom Apollo comes to be called Pytheus.


Christopher MarloweDoctor Faustus (1592-1593), I.i.141-43:


Then doubt not, Faustus, but to be renowned,

And more frequented for this mystery

Than heretofore the Delphian oracle.


Ben JonsonSejanus His Fall (1603), V.525-27 (STC 14752)

[Senate held in the temple of Apollo Palatine]


And thou, Apollo, in whose holy house

We here are met, inspire us all with truth,

And liberty of censure, to our thought.


John DaviesMicrocosmos (1603), 4008-10 (STC 6333):

Four kinds of divine fury are observed:

The first — and first by right — prophetical,

Which by Apollo is ruled and conserved.


Apollo and Medicine

George PuttenhamThe Arte of English Poesie (1589), I, xii (STC 20519):

… the Gentiles prayed … for skill in music and leechcraft to Apollo.


Edmund Spenser The Faerie Queene (1590), III, iv, 41 (STC 23080):

[Marinell’s wounds tended by sea nymphs]

Though when the lily-handed Liagore [Leagore is a Nereid: Hesiod, Theogony, 240]

— This Liagore whilom had learned skill

In leeches craft by great Apollo’s lore,

Sith her whilom, upon high Pindus hill,

He loved and at last her womb did fill

With heavenly seed whereof wise Paeon sprung — [Paeon (or Paion): physician who cured the wounds received by the gods during the Trojan war. Virgil, Aeneid, VII, 769; Ovid, Metamorphoses, XV, 535; Homer, Iliads, V, 401, 899]

Did feel his pulse, she knew there stayed still

Some little life his feeble sprites among.


Edmund Spenser.  The Faerie Queene (1596), IV, xii, 25 (STC 23082):

[Marinell’s mother gets Apollo to cure her son]

Unto the shiny heaven in haste she hied,

And thence Apollo, king of leeches, brought.

Apollo came, who soon as he had sought

Through his disease, did by and by out find

That he did languish of some inward thought,

The which afflicted his engrieved mind;

Which love he read to be, that leads each living kind.


George Wilkins. Pericles Prince of Tyre (1608), VII (STC 25638.5):


… this consideration made him so to apply his time in letters and in searching out the nature of simples that he grew so excellent in the secret of physic, as if Apollo himself, or another Aesculapius, had been his schoolmaster …

[Cerimon revives Thaisa]

… invoking Apollo to be gracious to his empiric …


Richard BromeThe Antipodes (1638), V.xi (STC 3818):

[A dance led by Harmony dispels Discord’s troop]

After a while they [Discord and her followers] are broke off by a flourish, and the approach of Harmony followed by Mercury, Cupid, Bacchus and Apollo. Discord and her faction fall down.

Letoy: See Harmony approaches, leading on,

’Gainst Discord’s factions fear great deities;

Mercury, Cupid, Bacchus, and Apollo.

Wit against Folly, Love against Jealousy,

Wine against Melancholy, and ’gainst Madness, Health.


Apollo and Learning

Roger AschamThe Scholemaster (1570), I (STC 832):

… the self same noble city of Athens … did wisely, and upon great consideration, appoint the Muses, Apollo and Pallas [Minerva] to be patrons of learning to their youth. … Apollo was god of shooting and author of cunning playing upon instruments.


Christopher MarloweDoctor Faustus (1592), Version A and B, Epilogue:


Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,

And burnèd is Apollo's laurel bough,

That sometime grew within this learned man.


Barnabe RichBrusanus (1592), II, 10 (STC 20977.5):

For science and wisdom, is there not a Pallas as well as Apollo?


Thomas Dekker and Thomas MiddletonThe Magnificent Entertainment given to King James (1603) (STC 6512):

The middle great square that was advanced over the frieze of the gate held Apollo with all his ensigns and properties belonging unto him, as a sphere, books, a caduceus [Usually an attribute of Mercury’s], an octoedron, with other geometrical bodies, and a harp in his left hand; his right hand with a golden wand in it, pointing to the battle of Lepanto fought by the Turks, of which his Majesty had written a poem, and to do him honour, Apollo himself doth here seem to take upon him to describe.


Thomas GoffeThe Courageous Turk (1618), I.iv (Wing G 1006):

[In a masque of divinities, Apollo keeps company with Pallas]


Thomas DekkerLondon's Tempe, or the Field of Happiness (1629), Sixth and last presentation (STC 6509):

[After presenting Titan, the sun, the author justifies the presence of Apollo] Some hypercritical censurer perhaps will ask why, having Titan, I should bring in Apollo, since they both are names proper to the sun. But the youngest novice in poetry can answer for me, that the sun, when he shines in heaven, is called Titan, but being on earth (as he is here) we call him Apollo. [Apollo has settled in London, the seat of learning and wisdom] This is called Apollo's palace, because seven persons representing the seven liberal sciences are richly enthroned in this city ... Apollo is the chief person, on his head a garland of bays, in his hand a lute. [Apollo concludes the masque with a compliment to the king] Apollo never stuck in admiration till now, my Delphos is removen hither, my oracles are spoken here; here the sages utter their wisdom, here the sybils their divine verses.


Apollo and Poetry

Geoffrey ChaucerThe House of Fame (c. 1372-1382), III, 1091-1109:

O God of science and of light,

Apollo, thurgh thy grete might,

This litel laste book thou gye! [gye: guide]

Not that I wilne, for maistrye, [wilne: wish; maistrye: achievement]

Here art poetical be shewed, [shewed: shown]

But for the rym is light and lewed, [rym: rime; lewed: unsophisticated]

Yet make it somewhat agreeable,

Though some verse fail in a syllable;

And that I do no diligence

To shewe craft, but on sentence. [sentence: substance, meaning]

And if, divine virtue, thou

Will help me to shewe now

That in myn head ymarked is —

Lo, that is for to menen this,

The House of Fame for to descrive —

Thou shalt see me go as blyve [blyve: quickly]

Unto the next laure I see, [laure: laurel tree]

And kisse it, for it is thy tree.

Now, enter in my breast anon!


Barnabe GoogeThe Zodiac of Life [Transl. of Marcellus Palingenius Stellatus, Zodiacus Vitae, c. 1531-1535] (1565), IX, “Sagittarius” (STC19150):

Good verses fill thy mind,

That erst Apollo wonted was in bay tree words to tell,

While he by river stood that runs from out Parnassus’ well.


Barnabe GoogeThe Zodiac of Life (1565), XII, “Pisces” (STC 19150):

[God the only source of inspiration]

My mind, desiring now to thee [God] to climb, doth nothing need

Apollo, Muse, Parnassus hill, or springs that wont to feed

The prattling poets’ fancies vain when as they list to write

Disguised tales that frantic heads of country clowns delight.


George TurbervileThe Eclogues of Mantuan (1567) [Transl. of Baptista Spagnolo’s Eclogues (1498)], V, fol. 46v (STC 22990):

Us silly, poor and patchèd souls,

the Muses do disdain.

To us, that gruel sup

with greedy gaping gum,

As lean as rakes, the god of skill,

Apollo, scorns to come.


H. GA Pleasaunt Disport … entituled Philocopo (1567) [Transl. of Boccaccio’s Filocopo (1334?)], Prologue, sig. B1r-B2r (STC 3180):

Ascalion then rose him up and gathered certain twigs of a green laurel, the shade whereof did overspread the fresh fountain, and thereof made a rich coronet, the which he brought in presence of them all … [He proposes Fiammetta as queen of the gathering and offers to crown her with the laurel; Fiammetta accepts and replies:] “I will receive it and, as I hope, shall eke receive from the gods with it that stomack due to such an office; and through the help of him to whom these leaves were always acceptable [Apollo], I shall answer you all, according to my small knowledge. Nevertheless, I devoutly pray him that he will enter into my breast and renew my voice with that sound wherewith he caused the valiant, vanquished man Marsia [Marsyas] to deserve to be drawn forth of the sheath of his members.


John GrangeThe Golden Aphroditis (1577), sig. A3r, “To the right honorable and his singular good lord, the lord Sturton” (STC 12174):

And whereas I seem, as you shall hereafter perceive, to ground my paganical pamphlet upon the song of Apollo, most melodious song unto me as, methought, in a vision, I would not your Honour should think the painting of my pen to be verbatim spoken of Apollo his mouth, bur rather the ground thereof, which in most ample manner following, I have dilated …


John GrangeThe Golden Aphroditis (1577), sig. B2r, “To the courtlike Dames and ladylike Gentlewomen” (STC 12174):

Methought I heard Apollo sing full sweetly in the night,

And play upon his twinkling harp, whose warbling notes, methought,

Perforce constrained my pen to write what he in songs had taught.


Philip SidneyAstrophel and Stella (1591), Preface (STC 22536):

Put out your rush candles, you poets and rhymers, and bequeath your crazed quatorzains to the chandlers, for lo, here he cometh that hath broke your legs. Apollo has resigned his ivory harp unto Astrophel.


Thomas NasheSummer’s Last Will and Testament (1592), 1275-79 (STC 18376):

[Poets are mythmakers]


If any town or city they passed by,

Had in compassion, thinking them madmen,

Forborne to whip them or imprison them,

That city was not built by human hands,

T'was raised by music, like Megara walls,  [On Megara’s musical walls, see Virgil, Ciris, 104-09 and Ovid, Metamorphoses, VIII, 11-16]

Apollo, poets’ patron, founded it.


George ChapmanThe Iliads of Homer (1611), Dedicatory poem to Prince Henry, 42-43 (STC 13634):

[Homer] Out-sung the Muses, and did equalise

Their king Apollo.


George ChapmanThe Iliads of Homer (1611), “To the reader”, 37-44 (STC 13634):

So with the dazzling beams of Homer’s sun,

All ancient poets lose their light.

Whom, when Apollo heard, out of his star,

Singing the godlike acts of honoured men,

And equalling the actual rage of war,

With only the divine strains of his pen,

He stood amazed, and freely did confess

Himself was equalled in Maeonides. [Maeonides: Homer, the Maeonian (or Lydian) poet]


Apollo and Music


Geoffrey ChaucerThe House of Fame (c. 1372-1382), 1229-32:

[Among the musicians in the House of Fame, there is:]

… Marcia that loste her skyn,

Bothe in face, body, and chyn,

For that she wolde envien, loo, [envien: contend]

To pipen bet than Appolloo.

[Chaucer feminizes Marsyas. See A. David, “How Marcia Lost her Skin: A Note on Chaucer’s Mythology”. In The Learned and the Lewed: Studies in Chaucer and Medieval Literature, ed. L. Benson. Harvard English Studies, 5. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974: 19-29]


Barnabe GoogeEglogs, Epytaphes, and Sonnettes (1563), “Cupido Conquered” (STC 12048):

[The melancholy lover enters a garden]

Whereas I heard such pleasant tunes, as heaven had been near.

I think that if Amphion had been present there to play,

Or if Sir Orpheus might have held his harp, that present day,

Or if Apollo with his lute had striven to excel,

None of them all by Music should have borne away the bell.


Stephen Gosson. The Ephemerides of Phialo (1579), III, sig. J4v (STC 12093):

[Against epicures]

Leave the epicure at his table, let it be furnished with all manner of cates, let Ganymede fill him the cup, let Beauty send out her daughters to bear him company, let Apollo tickle his ears with the lute, let the Muses be charged to sound in the service, and the Graces themselves to wait on his trencher, let him hear nothing but to delight him, touch nothing but to please him, see nothing but to ravish him: is this the happiness that you commend?


Anthony MundayZelauto (1580), I, “Zelauto and his companion being come to London, through the means of Roberto their guide, they are brought to the house of one Signor Giulio di Pescara, who entertained them very courteously” (STC 18283):

There was a brave and excellent device which went on wheels without the help of any man. Therein sat Apollo with his heavenly crew of music.  


Austin SakerNarbonus (1580), I, sig. C2v (STC 21593):

[In a list of oppositions, contrasts “the music of Apollo” and “the pipe of Pan”]


Thomas WatsonHecatompathia (1582), VII (STC 25118a):

Her fingers long, fit for Apollo’s lute.


Thomas WatsonHecatompathia (1582), XII (STC 25118a):

Nor Phoebus’ art in musical device,

Although his lute and voice accord in one …


Thomas WatsonHecatompathia (1582), XIV (STC 25118a):

[The lover] greedily laid open his ears to the hearing of his lady’s voice, as one more than half in doubt that Apollo himself had been at hand.

When first I gan to give attentive ear,

Thinking Apollo’s voice did haunt the place,

I little thought my lady had been there.


Thomas WatsonHecatompathia (1582), XV (STC 25118a):

[His lady’s melody praised over Music herself or the three Graces in Apollo’s judgement]


Thomas TomkisLingua (1607), III.v:

[A dialogue between Lingua and Memory. Lingua says what service she undertook for Queen Psyche] when her highness, taking my mouth for her instrument, with the bow of my tongue, struck so heavenly a touch upon my teeth that she charmed the very tigers asleep, the listening bears and lions to couch at her feet, while the hills leaped and the woods danced  to the sweet harmony of her most angelical accents. [Memory answers:] I remember it very well. Orpheus played upon the harp while she sang, some four years after the contention of Apollo and Pan, and a little before the excoriation of Marsyas.


Thomas TomkisLingua (1607), III.vii:

Auditus: Thanks, good Apollo, for this timely grace. Never could’st thou in fitter. O more than musical harmony!


Thomas TomkisLingua (1607), III.vii:

Phantastes: Hist, by the gold-strung harp of Apollo, I hear the celestial music of the Spheres, as plaintly as ever Pythagoras did.


George Wilkins.  Pericles Prince of Tyre (1608), VI (STC 25638.5):

[Pericles plays music] … he began to compel such heavenly voices from the senseless workmanship, as if Apollo himself had now been fingering on it and as if the whole synod of the gods had placed their deities round about him of purpose to have been delighted by his skill and to have given praises to the excellency of his art.


Philip MassingerThe Picture (1629), II.ii.195-213 (STC 17640):

[A masque presented, with Pallas singing and “Apollo with his lute attending on her”]


John DayThe Parliament of Bees (c. 1634-1640), Character 12:


Apollo and the Muses dance;

Art has banish'd ignorance,

And chas’d all flies of rape and stealth

From forth our winged Commonwealth.

How to cite

Claire Bardelman. “Apollo.”  2010.  In A Dictionary of Shakespeare's Classical Mythology (2009-), ed. Yves Peyré.

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