Daphne was Apollo’s first love.
Cupid was playing one day with his little bow. Apollo saw him, and fresh from the pride of conquering Python, the mighty snake who had crept out of the floodwaters and slime of the original earth, who had become the terror for all the people. Apollo killed him with his arrows deep in the caves of Mount Parnassus.
So when Apollo saw the boy god playing at warrior, he teased him about it.
“What have you to do with warlike weapons saucy boy?”
Venus’s boy heard these words and angrily answered,
“Your arrows may have murdered the Python whose enormous body covered many acres of land, but mine shall strike you.”
And Cupid drew two arrows from his quiver, one gold, to excite love, the other lead to repel love. He shot Apollo through the heart with the sharp gold one. The blunt lead tipped shaft struck the nymph Daphne, the daughter of the river god Peneus.
Now, Apollo fell deeply in love with Daphne. But she hated the thought of it. She loved sporting in the woods and delighted in the chase. Many lovers sought her but she had no use for them; or Cupid, or Hymen. Her father often said to her,
”You owe me a son in law and grandchildren.”
But Daphne considered marriage to be a hateful crime. With her beautiful face tinged with blushes she threw her arms around her father’s neck and begged,
“Dearest father, grant me this one favor, that I may remain unmarried, like Diana.”
To this request Peneus consented.
Now Apollo who felt not arrow’s sting, still was struck. He sees Daphne, for the first time, her hair flying loose over her shoulders and thought, “so charming in disorder, imagine how beautiful if arranged.”
Her eyes were as bright as stars. Her nimble limbs barely touched the ground. He imagined her lips to kiss. He admired her hands and arms naked to the shoulder. Whatever else was hidden he imagined more beautiful still. He followed her.
The nymph stood laughing on the sands
Her eyes were irresistible commands,
They seemed to beckon him.
He started slowly, then realizing
a growing madness, began to run,
but with the smoother grace of summer breeze
she also ran,
as if her pleasure were the race.
Pursuing her was vanity,
but lured from sense Apollo chased her far….
there would have been more sanity
in seeking rainbows or a star.
“Stay”, said he. “Daughter of Peneus. I am not your enemy. Do not fly like the Lamb from the Wolf, or the Dove from the Hawk. It is out of love I pursue you. Don't run so fast and I will run more slowly too for fear you might fall and I be the cause. I am not a Fool, nor am I a rude fellow. Jupiter is my father. I am Lord of Delphos and Tenedos. I am the god of song. My lyre will calm your startled heart. I am the god of medicine. Alas, I have no balm for the misery of not holding you.”
But Daphne only flew faster away and even as she fled she charmed him. The wind blew her garments and her unbound hair streamed loose behind her. The God, sped by Cupid, gained upon her in the race. Like the hound close on the hare, with open jaws to seize, snaps as the feebler hare darts around, slipping past its very grasp. The virgin and the god flew… he on wings of love and she on dreading fear. His panting breath blows upon her hair. Her strength begins to fail, and ready to sink, she calls upon her father, the river god: “Oh, help me Peneus!” Scarcely had she spoken, when a stiffness seized all her limbs; her bosom began to be enclosed in tender bark, her arms sprouted branches and leaves while her legs rooted to the ground; all in an instant. Apollo stood amazed. He touched the stem, and felt the flesh tremble under the new bark. He embraced the branches, and lavished kisses on the wood. The branches shrank from his lips.
Daphne now was a Laurel tree.
“Since you can’t be my wife,” said he, “You shall surely be my tree. I will wear you as a crown. I will decorate my lyre and quiver with you and champions of the Games shall wear you on their heads.”
Apollo, through his oracles at Delphi and Tenedos could give advice to anyone. He knew all things present and future. But to himself he was blind.
“I love this Daphne! And want no cure.”