Shakespeare's Myths

General or Complete Presentation of the GodApollo and HealthThe Golden MeanApollo and MusicMeasure and HarmonyApollo, God of Learning and WisdomApollo, God of PoetryApollo and Prophecy


General or Complete Presentation of the God

ServiusAd Ecl. (end of fourth century), V, 66:

… constat secundum Porphyrii librum, quem Solem appellavit, triplicem esse Apollinis potestatem, et eundem esse Solem apud superos, Liberum patrem in terris, Apollinem apud inferos. Unde etiam tria insignia circa eius simulacrum videmus: lyram, quae nobis caelestis harmoniae imaginem monstrat; grypem, quae eum etiam terrenum numen ostendit; sagittas, quibus infernus deus et noxius indicatur, unde etiam Apollo dictus est “apo tou apollein”. Hinc est quod et Homerus eundem tam pestilentiae quam salutis auctorem, et Horatius ait condito mitis placidusque telo supplices audi pueros, Apollo.

[…it is known that according to Porphyry’s book [Porphyry, On Images, from a lost fragment?], where he is called Sol, Apollo’s power is threefold, and the same is Sol in the sky, Father Liber on earth, Apollo in hell. Therefore, three attributes can also be seen in his representations: a lyre, which figures celestial harmony; a griffin, which shows that he also has a terrestrial power; arrows, by which are symbolised that he is an infernal god, and harmful, which is why he is called Apollo “apo tou apollein” [to destroy: this etymology derives from Cornutus]. For Homer, he generates a plague as well as good health, and Horace says: “Apollo, put aside your bow and listen mildly and kindly to the prayers of the boys” [Horace, “Carmen Saeculare”, 33-34].]

[Servius’ interpretation of Apollo as an infernal god opens up the possibility of a correspondence with the “angel of the bottomless pit”, Abaddon, or Apollyon in Revelation: 9: 11]


Macrobius. Saturnalia (c. 395-430), I, xvii:

[In Macrobius’ heliocentric interpretation of stoicism (and neo-platonism), Apollo is the sun god, whose diverse powers have been given the names of other gods. Apollo is that energy in the sun which presides over health and prophecy. All etymologies refer his name to some property of the sun. His bow and arrows are the rays of the sun; he holds the Graces in his right hand and his bow and arrows in the left because he heals faster than he harms; he is also called Apollo of apello, “to drive away” (diseases) — when the heat of the sun is moderate; but his arrows represent the pestilence he can send when the heat is immoderate. All his other names (Loxias, Delius, Phoebus, Smintheus) identify him with a different property of the sun. He is god of shepherds because the sun feeds everything that the earth brings forth. His golden locks allude to the brightness of the rays of the sun. Python was a coil of infectious vapour spiralling up from the earth and rolling back down. Delphian Apollo brings to light what was invisible.

Other properties of the sun are given the names of Bacchus (I, xviii), Mercury (I, xix), Hercules (I, xx), Adonis (I, xxi) or Pan (I, xxii)]


MacrobiusCommentary on the Dream of Scipio (c. 395-410), II, iii, 3:

[Apollo, the sun, is leader of the Muses, that is of the spheres, as chief and regulator of the other planets, mind and moderator of the universe]


FulgentiusThe Mythologies (c. 5th-6th century), I, xii-xvii :

[Apollo is the sun: his name (from apoleipo, “leave, lose, deprive”) means that its heat ruins the plants. He is the god of prophecy because sunlight disperses obscurity, or because sunrise and sunset give rise to several interpretations. His chariot is drawn by four horses, which allude to the four seasons or the four parts of the day. They are called Erythraeus (erythros, “red”), of the colour of dawn, Acteon (aktis, “sun beam”), like the resplendent sun, Lampus (lampas, “torch, light”), burning like the midday sun, and Philogeus (phileo, “love” and , “the earth”), as the sun returns towards the earth.

The raven is attributed to Apollo because it lays its eggs in the heat of summer, or because its name is supposed to have sixty-four interpretations.

The laurel is one of his attributes because of the fable of Daphne, and because laurel leaves on a sleeper’s head ensure that his dreams are true.

With the nine Muses, he constitutes a group of ten and his lyre has ten strings: there are ten organs of articulation for the human voice.

His tripod means that he knows past, present and future. He killed Python, or false belief (from pithanos, “credulous”)]


Fulgentius.  The Mythologies (c. 5th-6th century), II, x, “The Fable of King Midas and the river Pactolus”.


Isidore of Seville. Etymologies (early 7th century), VIII, xi, 53-55:

[A prophet or a doctor according to some, but mainly the sun, sol in latin, from solus, “alone”, because of all the Titans he alone did not rebel against Jupiter. Called Phoebus from ephebus, “adolescent”, because he renews himself every day and is ever young. Also called Pythian because he killed Python and instituted Pythian games to commemorate his victory]


First Vatican Mythographer (c. 875-1075), I, xxxvii, “Fabula Latonae et Astaries” [“Of Latona and Asterie”]:

[Diana was born first, Apollo second, for day comes after night. The Island of Delos is so called because delon means “clear” in Greek: Apollo gives clear oracles there, even though they might seem obscure elsewhere]


First Vatican Mythographer (c. 875-1075), II, xii, “Fabula Apollinis vel Solis” [“Of Apollo, or the Sun”]:

[God of divination because the sun brings everything to light. Named Sol because the only Titan not to oppose Jupiter. Called Phoebus, of ephebus: renews itself daily. Called Pythius because he killed Python. His four horses: analysis taken from Fulgentius]


First Vatican Mythographer (c. 875-1075), II, xiv, “Fabula Apollinis et corvi et Coronide filiae Phlegyae” [“Of Apollo, the raven, and Coronis, Phlegyas’ daughter”]:

[Recalls Fulgentius’ interpretation of the raven. Adds the story of the raven and the figs, and that of Coronis]


First Vatican Mythographer (c. 875-1075), II, xv, “Fabula Apollinis et Daphnidis seu lauri” [“Of Apollo and Daphne, or the laurel”]:

[Daphne and laurel from Fulgentius. Adds brief summary of the story of Hyacinth]


First Vatican Mythographer (c. 875-1075), II, xvi, “Fabula Apollinis et Eridani” [“Of Apollo and Eridanus”]:

[Story of Eridanus or Phaeton. Apollo killed the Sicilian smiths (Cyclops) who had forged the thunderbolts with which Jupiter struck Phaeton. To expiate this crime, Apollo had to keep Admetus’ cattle]


First Vatican Mythographer (c. 875-1075), II, li, “Fabula Apollinis et Sibyllae” [“Of Apollo and Sybil”]


First Vatican Mythographer (c. 875-1075), II, lxxviii, “Fabula Apollinis et Cassandrae [“Of Apollo and Cassandra”]


Second Vatican Mythographer (11th century?), XXVII, “Latona ejusque soror” [“Latona and her sister”]:

[based on First Vatican Mythographer, I, xxxvii]


Second Vatican Mythographer (11th century?), XXVIII, “Triplex Apollinis potestas” [“Apollo’s threefold power”]:

[Apollo is the Sun among the gods, Father Liber on earth, Apollo in the Underworld. His lyre symbolises celestial harmony, his chariot shows his terrestrial power, and his arrows signal his destructive powers as god of the Underworld. Apollo means “Destroyer” (appolymi, “ruin, destroy”). From Servius, Ad Ecl., V, 66]


Second Vatican Mythographer (11th century?), XXIX, “Varia Apollinis nomina [“Apollo’s various names”]:

[Apollo called Titan by the Achaemenians [Persians. Of Achaemenes, founder of the first Persian dynasty], Osiris by the Egyptians, Mithras by the Persians. Apollo means “destroyer”, because he sends pestilence, or because his heat destroys the moisture of plants. Called Pythian and god of divination: recalls Fulgentius’ analysis. Called Sol and Phoebus: expatiates on Isidore’s interpretations]


Second Vatican Mythographer (11th century?), XXX, “Apollinis tripos, arcus, tela” [“Apollo’s tripod, bow and arrows”]:

[Apollo’s tripod is his knowledge of past, present, and future. His arrows are the rays of the sun, or his science, which pierces through the mist of doubt. His four-horse chariot is the image of the four seasons of the year. His oracles are delivered at Lycia for six months and at Delos for six months]


Second Vatican Mythographer (11th century?), XXXI, “Quatuor equi Apollinis” [“Apollo’s four horses”]:

[Follows Fulgentius]


Second Vatican Mythographer (11th century?), XXXII, “Apollinis corvus” [“Apollo’s raven”]:

[Partly follows Fulgentius and First Vatican Mythographer]


Second Vatican Mythographer (11th century?), XXXIII, “Apollinis laurus” [“Apollo’s laurel”]:

[Daphne and laurel from Fulgentius]


Second Vatican Mythographer (11th century?), LXXV, “Phaeton”.


Second Vatican Mythographer (11th century?), CIX, “Sybilla” [“the Sybil”].


Second Vatican Mythographer (11th century?), CCXXIII, “Cassandra”.


Third Vatican Mythographer (second half / end of 12th century), VIII:

[The name Apollo means “destroyer” because the sun dries up plants with its heat. He is called Pythius because he overcame Python — peitho (“credulity”) was dispelled by his light — or from putho (“ask”), because men consult his oracles, or from phutios, “bringing faith”. He is called Sol because the sun is unique among the planets. On Delos island, he was born after Diana, for night precedes day. Delos is so called of delon (“clear”), because Apollo’s oracles are clear there, although they are obscure everywhere else. The sun brings forth everything; a universal father, he is depicted beardless because he renews himself every day. Sunlight is represented by his golden hair and sun rays by his arrows.

Apollo is the sun, the god of prophecy, wisdom, and medecine, or he is a soothsayer; or again, he is the world, or a wise man, or the human voice. He is attributed the laurel because of Daphne, and because laurel placed near a sleeper’s head ensures true dreams. The tripod is a three-rooted laurel standing for knowledge of past, present, and future. Development about the place where oracles are given. Recalls Fulgentius’ interpretation of the four horses. Development on Phoebus’ crown and on the Zodiac.

The raven is attributed to Apollo because it is the only bird to lay its eggs in the heat of summer, or because it is an oracular bird. Development on Phaeton. Apollo god of medecine because the sun makes medicinal herbs grow; or because the course of the seasons generates balance or imbalance in the humours.

Apollo represented in human form in Delphi, like a wolf in Lycia, a snake at Delos. He is the sun in heaven, Liber on earth, Apollo in hell. His lyre represents celestial harmony, his griffin shows him to be an earthly deity, and his arrows symbolise hellish malevolence, when he causes pestilence; they show him angry and his cithara shows him peaceful. The lyre also represents the harmony between warmth and moisture.

After killing the Cyclopes, Apollo was condemned to keep Admetus’ herds: the sun produces the grass necessary to feed herds. Apollo is called Nomius from nomoi, “pastures”.

Development on the Muses and on Orpheus


AnonOvide Moralisé (early 14th century)

[Python, the devil, killed by Apollo or Christ (I, 2661-78); competition between Cupid, good love, and Apollo, wisdom (I, 3261-3407); Apollo is the Christ, or good shepherd; his arrows represent the sting of repentance; his lyre is predication, its seven strings being the seven articles of faith (II, 3582-3777)]


Giovanni BoccaccioGenealogia (1350-1374), III, xix, “De Apolline, primi Vulcani filio” [Of Apollo, son of the first Vulcan”]:

[Apollo, son of Vulcan and Minerva, invented medicine and discovered the medicinal properties of herbs]


Giovanni BoccaccioGenealogia (1350-1374), V, iii, “De Apolline II° Jovis secundi filio” [“Of the second Apollo, son of the second Jupiter]:

[Repeats after Cicero (De Natura Deorum, III, lvii) that there were several Apollos, whose diverse properties tend to be assigned to Jupiter’s son. God of divinity and learning, invented the art of medicine: the harmonious touch of the several strings of his cithara represents the healthy beats of a well regulated pulse. Because his medical knowledge allowed him to predict recovery or death, the art of prophecy was attributed to him, as well as the bay tree: a man sleeping with bay leaves tied around his head will see the truth in his dreams; the raven, as prophetic bird, is also attributed to Apollo. Killed Typhon: the light of the sun reveals the truth. God of wisdom for the good advice he gave. He is beardless because the sun, that renews itself everyday, is ever young. With his harp (given by Mercury), he presided over the Muses on mount Helicon, which means that the sun regulates the music of the spheres, of which the harp is a symbol. He is called Apollo from “losing” because everything is ruined in the countries where his heat is excessive (elaborates on Fulgentius, Mythologies, I, xii). He is the sun in Heaven, Liber on earth, and Apollo in hell. Of his attributes, the lyre symbolises his power in heaven, the shield on earth, and his arrows in hell, because they send pestilence as well as health. He is called Nomius, which in Latin means “shepherd”, because after killing the Cyclops, he was condemned to keep king Admetus’ herds. For the same reason, pastorals and bucolics are dedicated to him.]


Christine de PisanÉpître d’Othéa (1400-1401) [Transl. Stephen Scrope, The Epistle of Othea, c. 1440-1449], IX:

Apollo or Phoebus, that is the sun, to whom the sunday is given and also the metal that is called gold. The sun by his clearness showeth things that be hid; and therefore truth, the which is clear and showeth secret things, may be given to him.

Apollo, the which is for to say the sun, by whom we notify truth, we may take that man should have the verray [true] knight Jesus Christ and flee all falseness.

[Another translation by R. W. [Robert Wyer] (1549) (STC 7272)]


AnonOvide Moralisé en prose (15th century), XLIV:

[Python, the devil, is killed by Apollo, or Christ, god of wisdom, true sun and light of the world.]


William CaxtonEneydos (1490), XV (STC 24796):

[Eneas’ beauty compared with Apollo’s]

[Eneas] appeared above all the other, without any comparison, the most fair, like as the beauty of the god Apollo, that is, the sun, doth appear and show upon the flood of Exanco [of Xanthus (Énéydes: “le fleuve de Xantho)], when he cometh in winter into the city of Pathere in Lycia [Patara: a city in Lycia where Apollo gave his oracles during the winter months (Servius, In Aeneidos, IV, 143)] to give his answers and keep the court of his great godhead. And from thence, when the six months of the winter be passed and that he will return in to the isle of Delos for to make, semblable [similarly (Énéydes: “semblablement”)], his answers during the six months of the summer, the places particular of Crete, as Agatyrse and Dryopes [Worshippers of Apollo. Agathyrse: Agathyrsians, a people neighbouring Scythia, Dryopes: a people neighbouring mount Parnassus. From Servius, In Aeneidos, IV, 146. The author of Énéydes took them to be Cretans] do rise and go against him [against him: to meet him (Énéydes: devant)] for to see his great beauty when he, coming, casteth his beams upon coasts and mountains of the country in manner of golden hair descending from his head, and as the light of torches sparkling, well enflamed, whereby all things renew them [selves] at his coming, as the trees that to them make garlands of leaves green; the earth taketh a new coat full subtly weaved after the work of fine grass, powdered with flowers of a hundred thousand manners of colours; the birds renew their sweet song gracious; the beasts become fierce and of proud manner; the air purifieth and cleanseth himself for to receive the impressions of influences of this god Apollo, to his new coming, which is so fair and sore desired of all things.

[The author of the French Livre des Énéydes, translated by William Caxton, elaborates on Virgil, Aeneid, IV, 143-50, incorporating several mythographic elements so as to create a conjunction of beauty, light, and spring-like renewal as a background of Dido and Aeneas’ nascent love]


Lilio Gregorio GiraldiDe Deis Gentium (1548), VII.


Gavin DouglasEneados (printed 1553), IV, iv (STC 24797):

Lyk quhen Apollo list depart or ga [ga: go]

Furth of his wintring realm of Lisia, [Lisia: Lycia]

And leif the flude Exanthus for a quhile, [Exanthus: Xanthus]

To vesy Delos his moderis land and ile,  [vesy: visit]

Renewand ringis and dancis, mony a rowt; [rowt: troop]

Mixt togiddir, his altaris standing abowt,

The peple of Crete, and thaim of Driopes, [Dryopes: worshippers of Apollo (Servius, In Aeneidos, IV, 146]

And eik the payntit folkis Agathirces, [Agathyrcians: a people neighbouring Scythia (Servius, In Aeneidos, IV, 146]

Schowtand on their gise with clamour and vocis hie; [schowtand: shouting; gise: manner]

Apon thi top, mont Cynthus, walkis he,

His wavand haris, sum tyme, doing down thring

With a soft garland of lawrere sweit smelling,

And wmquhile thaim gan balmyng and anoynt,

And into gold addres, at full gude point;

His grundin dartis clattering by his side. [grundin: sharpened]

[Translates Virgil, Aeneid, IV, 143-50]


Gavin DouglasEneados (printed 1553), IX, x (STC 24797):

Down from the regioun of the hevin tho

The brycht curland haryt Appollo,

Apon a clowd syttand quhayr he wald, [wald: command]

The ostis of Italianis can behald.

[Translates Virgil, Aeneid, IX, 638-40]


Gavin DouglasEneados (printed 1553), XII, vii (STC 24797):

Now was thar than new present in the pres

Iapis, that was son of Iasydes.

Abuf all vtheris to the God Phebus he

Was best belovyt and haldyn in dante; [dante: regard]

Wyth quhais favour vmquhile strangly caucht,

This God Appollo glaidly has hym taucht

His craftis and his offices, by and by,

Of divinatioun or of augury,

The musik tonis to play on harp rycht sle, [sle: skilful]

And for to schute and lat swyft arrowis fle.

Bot this Iapis, for till prolong, perfay,

His faderis fatis, quhilk as beddrell lay [bedrell: bedrid]

Befor his yet, of hys lyfe in dispair,

Had lever have knawin the sciens and the layr,

The mycht and fors of strengthy herbys fine,

And all the cunnyng of use of medicyne,

And with sik secrete craftis prevely

To leyd his lyfe and tyme mair esely.

[Translates Virgil, Aeneid, XII, 391-97]


Charles EstienneDictionarium (1553):

[Represents four faculties: music, divination, medicine, archery. The sun: dispels obscurity from human matters; makes medicinal plants grow. Controls the principles of generation and corruption, health and pestilence. In the middle of all other planets, controls their harmony, symbolised by his lyre]


Henry Howard, Earl of SurreyThe Aeneid, IV (first printed 1554), 182-92:

Like when Apollo leaveth Lycia,

His wint’ring place, and Xanthus floods likewise,

To visit Delos, his mother’s mansion,

Repairing eft and furnishing her quire;

The Candians and folks of Dryopes  [Candia: another name for Crete; Dryopes: a people worshipping Apollo (Servius, In Aeneidos, IV, 146)]

With painted Agathyrsies shout and cry, [Agathyrcians: a people neighbouring Scythia (Servius, In Aeneidos, 1V, 146]

Environing the altars round about,

When that he walks upon mount Cynthus top:

His sparkled tress repress’d with garlands soft

Of tender leaves, and trussed up in gold;

His quivering darts clatt’ring behind his back.

[Translates Virgil, Aeneid, IV, 143-50]


Vincenzo CartariImagini (1556), II, “Apollo, Febo, Il Sole” [Apollo, Phoebus, the Sun]:

[Apollo ever young; his lyre; Apollo and the Muses; Apollo kills Python; the wolf, the crow, the swan, the cock, the vulture as Apollo’s attributes; Lycian Apollo; Apollo’s bay tree; Apollo as god of medecine; four-eared Apollo; Apollo kills the Cyclops; Apollo, father of Esculapius; Sminthean Apollo; sacrifices to Apollo]


William Whittingham.  The Geneva Bible (1560), “A Brief Table of the Interpretation of the Proper Names which are chiefly found in the Old Testament”:

Apollo, a destroyer. 18, 24. The name also of an idol.

[The Table erroneously sends back to Acts 18: 24, “And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, came to Ephesus, an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures”. In reality, it refers to Revelation 9: 11, “the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is named Apollyon”. A marginal note explains: “that is, destroyer”.]


Thomas CooperThesaurus (1565) (STC 5686).

Apollo. Called also Phoebus, and Sol. The son of Jupiter and Latona, born at one birth with his sister Diana. When he came to age, he killed with his bow the serpent Python, and afterwards the Cyclops, for that they had made the lightning werewith his son Aesculapius was cast into hell. For which act, he being for a time by Jupiter deprived of his deity, kept the beasts of Admetus, king of Thessaly, by the river Amphrysus. He first invented the use of physic and thereby deserved the name of a god. He overcame the cunning minstrel Marsyas that provoked him in contention of music; and when he had gotten the victory, flayed him, and for his proud attempt, pulled off his skin. He is counted god of music, physic, poetry, and shooting; and hath by poets given him a triple name and power. In heaven he is called Sol, in earth Liber pater, in hell Apollo. He flourishes always with perpetual youth, and therefore is described without a beard.


Arthur GoldingMetamorphoses (1567), I, 627-36 (STC 18956):

In Delphos is my chief abode; my temples also stand

At Claros and at Patara within the Lycian land, [Claros: “A city in Greece, where was an oracle of Apollo” (Thomas Cooper, Thesaurus); Patara: “A city in the country of Lycia, where Apollo was chiefly honoured (Thomas Cooper, Thesaurus)]

And in the isle of Tenedos the people honour me. [Tenedos: An isle in the sea called Aegeum, between Mytilene and Hellespontum, not far from Troy (Thomas Elyot, Dictionary)]

The king of gods himself is known my father for to be.

By me is known that was, that is and that that shall ensue.

By me men learn to sundry tunes to frame sweet ditties true.

In shooting have I steadfast hand; but surer hand had he

That made this wound within my heart that heretofore was free.

Of physic and of surgery I found the arts for need;

The power of every herb and plant doth of my gift proceed.

[Translates Ovid, Metamorphoses, I, 515-22]


Natale ContiMythologia (1567), IV, x:

[Interpretations: Apollo is the sun. The light of the sun dispels shadows and uncovers the truth; medicinal herbs grow in sunny fields; the heat of the sun creates health or disease; at the centre of the planetary system, the sun controls the music of the spheres: Apollo’s cithara had the same number of strings as there are planets.

Apollo’s representation: he was sometimes shown holding the Graces in his right hand and a bow and arrows in the left, because the sun is more beneficial than harmful. Apollo’s long hair is an image of the rays of the sun; the god is a young man because the strength of the sun is always the same.

That Apollo killed Python means that the sun dispelled the unhealthy moist vapours of the newly created earth]


Stephen BatmanThe Golden Booke of the Leaden Goddes (1577), p. 2-3 (STC 1583):

By Apollo is meant the sun, and being without a beard, lustiness of youth, which for the time is likened to the sun, whose beauty or pulchritude is always one; and standing by a bay tree, always green, figureth the freshness of lusty youth; the bay tree was first found growing on the hill Parnassus consecrated to Apollo, whose vertue is not to be subjected neither to beasts, nor lightnings, as authors have reported. Tiberius, as often as it thundered, for his better preservation against the same, was crowned with the bay, called among the Latins laurus [Suetonius, “Tiberius”, LXIX]. By the crow is signified vigilance to overlook all things betimes, as also the crow, when he is sick, remedieth his disease by eating the leaves. Apollo his treading upon the dragon betokeneth the crooked course of the sun into the twelve signs of the zodiac: the three heads of the dragon, whereof the one is a lion’s, the other a wolf’s, the third the head of a dog, generally doth represent time; and particularly, by the head of the lion, time present, the head of the wolf time past, as it were suddenly snatched from us; by the head of the dog is signified time future or to come, because hoped time flattereth each estate according to each vocation, to gain or to revenge; his burning lamps in his crown resemble his divers beams, which give light to the earth; his harp in his left hand betokeneth the harmony of the celestial spheres; and his bow in his right hand signifieth his wasting of some part of the earth by the arrow of extreme and intemperate heat.


Richard StanyhurstAeneis (1582), IV, 148-56 (STC  24806):

Like when as hard frozen Lycia and Zanth floods be relinquished [Zanth: Xanthus]

By Phoebus, to Delos, his native country seat, hastening;

He points a dancing, forth with the rustical hoblobs

Of Crete, of Dryopes, and painted clowns Agathirsi [Agathyrsians]

Do fetch their gambols, hopping near consecrate altars.

He trips on Zanthus mountain, with delicate hairlocks [Zanthus: mistake for mount Cynthus]

Trailing, with green shrubs and pure gold neatly becrampound; [becrampound: set, like a jewel: his head crowned with green leaves and pure gold]

His shafts on shoulder rattle; the like haughty resemblance

Carried Aeneas with glistering comeliness heavenly.

[Translates Virgil, Aeneid, IV, 143-50]


Thomas Phaer and Thomas TwyneAeneidos (1584), IV, 154-62 (STC 24802):

Most like unto Apollo clear, when to his country land

To Delos down he comes and winter cold he doth forsake,

And feasts among his country lords and banquets great doth make,

The dancers do disguise themselves, and altars round about,

The husbandmen do hop and cry, with noise and joyful shout;

Himself aloft on hills doth walk, his wavering locks behind

He wags, and they with garlands gay and twists of gold are twined;

His arrows on his shoulders clattering hangs; in manner like

Aeneas went …

[Translates Virgil, Aeneid, IV, 143-50]


Thomas Phaer and Thomas TwyneAeneidos (1584), XII, 414-17 (STC 24802):

And now Iapis came, to Phoebus dear the rest above, [Iapis: Iapyx. Not otherwise known. Estienne (Dictionarium) quotes this passage from the Aeneid to make him an augur and a musician]

Iasus’ son, with whom, surprised sometime in fervent love,

Apollo gladly gave him gifts, his arts that he should know

In things to come, in music’s sweet, in skill of shafts and bow.

But he, the rather to prolong his bedrid father’s days,

Chose secret skill in power of herbs, and physic’s noble praise,

And such like knowledge dumb, devoid of honour, to frequent.

[Translates Virgil, Aeneid, XII, 391-97]


George WhitneyA Choice of Emblemes (1586), p. 218, “Perversa judicia” [wrong judgements], [Apollo and Midas] (STC 25438)


Abraham FraunceThe Third part of the Countesse of Pembrokes Yvychurch (1592), sig. I2v-Kr (STC 11341):

Apollo hath long yellow hair, noting his rays and beams, which heat and hit, like darts, afar off ... He is young, fresh, and without any beard, for his force never fadeth, and his heat is always quickening. Phoebus ... is not only young and fresh, but he is also the author of physic, the founder of music, the governor of the Muses, and father of oracles, all which excellencies proceed from the operation of the sun. His beams be pestiferous if too hot, and therefore doth Homer make him plague the Grecian army; but healthful if moderate and temperate. Of this moderate heat of the sun comes the temperature of the air: of a temperate air grow wholesome herbs and flowers, the simples and ingredients of every physical composition, and therefore Phoebus the author of physic. … Now, he is also musical; and therefore Mercury gave him a lute, whereon he playeth; alluding to the harmony of the celestial Globes, and the constancie and uniformitie which the Sun observeth most strictly in his course, as ever keeping the ecliptical line: for which cause he is the master of the nine Muses, ruling the concert and melody of the nine spheres. ... lastly, Phoebus is the father of oracles and prophecies, the eye of the world, seeing and hearing all things first, as Homer was wont to say, and Ovid in imitation of Homer, Videt hic deus omnia primus [Metamorphoses, IV, 173: “This god sees everything first”]. Therefore laurel is his tree, both for that it is always green and never touched with lightning — noting that the fame of vertue and learning is ever flourishing, and never dieth — as also hot and odoriferous and, as it is reported, causeth true dreams, being applied to a man’s head and temples; and being cast into the fire, portendeth good luck if it makes a great noise or crackling, bad if either none or but a little. Corvus, the crow, is his bird, whose different chirps and prognostications of rain were observed of soothsayers and diviners, whose master is Apollo. Cicnus, the swan, is also his bird: the swan is white and bright as the sun; a singer as Phoebus, a foreteller of his own death, and so a diviner as Apollo. Cicnus was king of Liguria; he loved music, and is therefore of Ovid turned to a swan [Metamorphoses, II, 367-80]. Lastly, the cock is Apollo’s bird, who dutifully saluteth him, and bids him good morrow every morning. He is figured a young, fresh youth, having long hair, no beard, a lute in the one hand, a bow in the other, in a chariot drawn with four coursers, Pyroeis, Eous, Aethon, Phlegon (Ignitus, Matutinus, Ardens, Comburens) [The horses’ names come from Ovid, Metamorphoses, II, 153-54; their interpretation (respectively “fiery”, “of the morning”, “hot and bright”, “burning down”) could be found in a marginal note to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, II, 153-54 in Georg Schuler’s edition (Cambridge, 1584)] being all epithets incident to the nature of the sun, whose palace and chariot are described by Ovid, 2 Metam. [Metamorphoses, II, 23-30, 107-10].

Apollo being banished from heaven for killing the Cyclopes, fed Admetus his sheep, kine, and oxen, by the river Amphrysus [A river in Thessaly, by which Apollo kept the sheep of Admetus (Thomas Cooper, Thesaurus)]. Oxen set forward husbandry, and the vital heat and influence of the sun is the chief cause of increase: so, then, Apollo may well be called a pastor, because, as Pontanus sayth, he feedeth and maintaineth all that liveth, “Quod pascat quicquid sub coeli nascitur oris” [“Because he pastures whatever is born under the sky”, Pontano, Urania, I].

Phoebus killed Python: the heat of the sun consumed those pestilent vapours left after the deluge, causing putrefaction, signified by this word pytho; whereupon some think he was called Apollo, of the verb apollymi, to kill.

Apollo garnished his lute and quiver with laurel leaves: so should only famous poets, worthy of Apollo’s lute; and renowned conquerors, figured by his quiver, be crowned with laurel in token of their never-dying glory. Laurel is long kept, so is the fame of learned and valiant men; laurel is always green, so is their praise eternal and ever-flourishing; laurel is hot and odoriferous, so doth the heavenly-inspired spirit of poets, and all-contemning courage of heroical minds, breathe forth the sweet savour of vertue’s excellency. Lastly, laurel is never touched with lightning, and their names are never defaced by oblivion.


Richard LincheThe fountaine of ancient fiction (1599), “Apollo”, sig. Ev-G4v (STC 4691).

... he is Apollo, Sol, and Phoebus, which three I do make all one, him therefore the ancients (as I have already said) shaped with a very youthful countenance, beardless, and young-yeared.  ... Many that have depictured the shape of Apollo, make him holding in his hand a harp with seven strings, agreeing in number with the planets of the heavens, which moving with a due distinction, yield forth a pleasing harmony. Macrobius saith that the sun continually standeth amidst the planets, commanding them to hasten or enslack their revolutions, in manner as an efficient vigour and strength they receive from him their virtues and operations. ... The harp which ... he holdeth in his hand denotateth the celestial and incomparable music of the heavenly orbs ... and some also give him a quiver of arrows ... which may signify that as they once loosed from the bow, penetrate and enter in with great force where they hit, so the forcible virtues of the sun’s transparent rays, search out and pierce through the smallest craze or voidance on the earth. Others that say Apollo is called dio dell’ inferno, and give those arrows so appropriated unto him, doe mean that from the over-vehement ardour and riscaldation of his beams, pestilences and infections are engendered and nourished on the earth; but yet say they, not so universally dispersed, or undoubtedly mortal, but with the moderate warmth and temperature thereof, they are chased away, and healthy airs and natural increases spring up and re-succeed. [Why the wolf, the crow, the swan, the cock, the sparrow-hawk, the laurel. Several statues of Apollo or the god sun interpreted] … besides the many names ascribed to Apollo, he was likewise sometimes called a shepherd, from which it may be intended that as from the temperate heat and virtue of the sun, all things here are nourished and increased, so by the diligent care of the shepherd, his flock receiveth healthiness, soundness, and increase. [Assyrian and Egyptian statues of sun god]


Thomas NorthPlutarch’s Lives (1603) [Transl. from Jacques Amyot], “Pelopidas”, p. 294 (STC 20068):

Not far from these marshes standeth the temple of Apollo Tegyrian, where was an oracle in old time, but left off at this day, and had never long continuance, but only until the time of the wars of the Medes, when Echecrates was master and chief priest there. And some hold opinion that Apollo was born there, for they call the next mountain to it Delos, at the foot whereof the marshes of the river of Melas do end, and behind the temple are two goodly springs, from whence cometh great abundance of good sweet water; whereof the one of them is called to this day the Palm, and the other the Olive. And some say also that the goddess Latona was not brought to bed between two trees, but between these two springs. For mount Ptôon is hard by it also, from whence the wild boar came of a sudden that flighted her. And the tale that is told of the serpent Python and of the giant Tityus do both confirm it, that Apollo was born in the same place. I pass over many other conjectures confirming the same, for that we do not believe in our country that Apollo is among the number of those who, from mortal men, have been translated to immortal gods, as are Hercules and Bacchus, that through the excellency of their virtue did put off mortality and took immortality upon them; but we rather take him for one of those that never had beginning nor generation, at the least if those things be to be credited, which so many grave and ancient writers have left in writing to us, touching so great and holy things.


George ChapmanThe Iliads of Homer (1611), II, 679 (STC 13634):

[Eumelius has the best mares in the Greek army,] Whom silver-bow’d Apollo bred in the Pierean mead.


George ChapmanThe Iliads of Homer (1611), XV, 219-20 (STC 13634):

Thus from th’ Idaean height

Like air’s swift pigeon-killer, stooped the far-shot god of light.


George ChapmanThe Iliads of Homer (1611), XV, 240-42  (STC 13634):

[Apollo to Hector]

Apollo with the golden sword, the clear far-seer, see,

Him who betwixt death and thy life, twixt ruin and those towers,

Ere this day oft hath held his shield.


George ChapmanThe Crowne of All Homers Workes (c. 1624?), “An Hymne to Apollo” [Transl. of Homer’s Hymn to Apollo] (STC 13628a):


Thomas HeywoodPleasant Dialogues and Dramas (1635), “Vulcan and Apollo” [Transl. of Lucian] (STC 13358):

[Apollo complains about the newly-born Cyllenius (Mercury), who, not content with stealing his quiver and his bow, pretends to rival with him with musical instruments]


Th’invention too he seeks to make his own:

Having the shell of a dead tortoise found,

He makes an instrument thereof for sound,

To which a crooked neck he first made fast,

Boring therein round holes, and in them plac’d

Pins to wind up the chords by; to th’ shell’s back,

A belly frames: seven strings, which he doth slack,

And sometimes stretch, he fixeth; which but touch,

They yield a sweet sound that delighteth much;

Whose notes I envy, be they flat or sharp,

Since he contends to exceed me in my harp.


Thomas HeywoodPleasant Dialogues and Dramas (1635), “Mercury and Apollo” [Transl. of Lucian] (STC 13358):

[Sent by Jupiter, Mercury asks Apollo to stop his chariot for three days, which will become a long continuous night for the king of gods to dally with Alcmena — the night of Hercules’ conception. Apollo obeys, albeit reprovingly.]


Apollo and Health

Andrea AlciatiEmblemata (1531), Emblem C, “In juventam” [“On youth”]

[With his wine, Bacchus drives cares away, Apollo ensures health. Both prolong youth and delay old age. Adapted into English by Whitney, A Choice of Emblemes, p. 146: see below]


George WhitneyA Choice of Emblemes (1586), p. 146, “In juventam” [“On youth”] (STC 25438)

[Apollo, with his lyre, faces Bacchus, holding a bunch of grapes]

Two sons of Jove that best of man deserve,

Apollo great and Bacchus, this imparts:

With diet good the one doth health preserve,

With pleasant wine the other cheers our hearts.

And these, the world immortal gods would have,

Because long life with sweet delight they gave.

[Adapts Alciati, Emblemata, C: see above]


The Golden Mean

[Horace turned Apollo’s ambivalence as both destroyer and musician into an image of the golden mean, the harmonious combination of the bow and the lyre: “quondam citharam tacentem / suscitat Musam, neque semper arcum / tendit Apollo” (“Sometimes Apollo sollicits the silent Muse of his cithar, he does not always bend his bow”), Odes, II, x, 18-20. Ovid implicitly suggests similar balance in Metamorphoses, X, 107-08: “ illo / qui citharam nervis et nervis temperat arcum” (“he who combines the strings of the lyre and the strings of the bow”). Three different versions of Horace’s ode (II, x) appeared in Tottel’s Miscellany (1557):]

Tottel’s Miscellany  (1557), 28 (STC 13860):

once Phoebus to lower,

With bow unbent, shall cease, and frame to harp.


Tottel’s Miscellany (1557), 194 (STC 13860):

Phoebus the fresh ne shooteth still,

Sometime he harps his muse to wake.


Tottel’s Miscellany (1557), 295 (STC 13860):

Not always bent is Phoebus’ bow; his harp and he

Ceased silver sound sometime doth raise.


Philip SidneyCertain Sonnets (1598), XII:

With cithern silent muse

Apollo wakes, and bow hath sometime spared.

[Translates Horace, Odes, II, x, 18-20]


George Wither.  A Collection of Emblems (1635), XXVI (STC 25900):

Apollo shoots not ev’ry day,

But, sometime on his harp doth play.

[It is wise to temper work with play: Apollo embodies measure. Adapts Horace, Odes, II, x, 18-20]


Arthur GoldingMetamorphoses (1567), X, 115-16 (STC 18956):

… the god that with a string

Doth arm his bow and with a string in tune his viol bring.

[Translates Ovid, Metamorphoses, X, 107-08]


Apollo and Music

Fulgentius.  The Mythologies (c. 5th-6th century), III, ix, “The Fable of Apollo and Marsyas”.


Christine de PisanÉpître d’Othéa (1400-1401) [Transl. Stephen Scrope, The Epistle of Othea, c. 1440-1449], XXVI [Apollo and Midas]


Arthur GoldingMetamorphoses (1567), VI. 487-510 (STC 18956).


George TurbervilleHeroycall Epistles (1567), XV, 181-82:

Great walls with lofty towers and Ilion shalt thou view,

Which stately buildings by the sound of Phoebus’ music grew.

[Translates Ovid’s Heroides, XVI, 181-82.]  


Cesare RipaIconologia (1593), CIV [The allegory of music holds Apollo’s lyre]


George ChapmanThe Iliads of Homer (1611), I, 583-84 (STC 13634):

[The gods’ banquet]

Nor had they music less divine, Apollo there did touch

His most sweet harp; to which, with voice, the Muses pleased as much.


Measure and Harmony

H. G. The Mirrour of Majestie (1618), Emblem 26 (STC 11496):

[Jupiter, Apollo and Minerva in an amphitheatre. Apollo, with bow, quiver and lyre]

Jove figured Providence, Minerva, wit,

Phoebus, content.


Apollo, God of Learning and Wisdom

Barthélemy AneauImagination Poëtique (1552), p. 141, “Qui ne se cognoist est beste, non homme” [Who does not know himself is a beast, not a man]

[Represents Phoebus Apollo standing (with bow, arrow and a viol) in front of his oracle, a temple inscribed with the words gnôti seauton]


Cesare RipaIconologia (1593), CXLIX:

The cock (attributed to both Apollo and Mercury), is one of the emblems of the allegory of Divine Wisdom. 


Cesare RipaIconologia (1593), CL:

The Allegory of Human Wisdom is given a quiver and Apollo’s flute.


H. G.  Mirrour of Majestie (1618), Emblem 24 (STC 11496):

[Apollo with his lyre and a sceptre, enthroned among ten muses. They sit in a semi-circle above a pool; on a mound in the centre, Pegasus digs out a spring with his hoof. The group is on an island surrounded with swans. An image of divine wisdom leading to eternity]


Apollo, God of Poetry

Andrea AlciatiEmblemata (1531), CLXXXIV, “Insignia Poetarum” [“The heraldry of poets”]:

[The swan sacred to Apollo and emblem of the poets]


Cesare RipaIconologia (1593), “Academia” [“Academy”]:

[In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, I, Apollo assigns the laurel tree to glorious conquerors, and crowns himself with laurel leaves as patron of poets, who are instilled with his divine inspiration]


Cesare RipaIconologia (1593), CXXXII: “Poesia” [“Poetry”]:

[Poetry wears a laurel crown and holds a lyre in one hand, representing lyrical poetry, and a flute in the other, representing pastoral poetry].


Christopher MarloweOvid’s Elegies (1600), I, xv, 35-36:

Let base-conceited wits admire vile things,

Fair Phoebus, lead me to the Muses’ springs.

[Translates Ovid’s Amores, I, xv, 35-36, substituting Phoebus for Apollo. See Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis, “Dedication”.]


Apollo and Prophecy

Andrea AlciatiEmblemata (1531), CCXI, “Laurus” [“The laurel-tree”]:

[Placed under the sleeper’s pillow, laurel leaves induce dreams that say the truth. The laurel also presented as the symbol of glorious victory]


Alexander NevilleOedipus (1563, 1581), II, 9-15 (STC 22221):


The oracle, most noble king, is dark and hidden lies.


Who doubtful health to sick men brings, all health to them denies.


Apollo’s use it is the truth in darksome dens to hold.


And Oedipus of gods it hath things hidden to unfold;  [It belongs to Oedipus to unfold gods’ secrets]

Speak out, tell all and spare not, man. All doubts I can discuss.


Apollo then, most noble king, himself commandeth thus:

By exile purge the prince’s seat …

[Translates Seneca, Oedipus, 212-17]

How to cite

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

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