Daphne: The Myth

The pursuit of Daphne, daughter of river-god Peneus, by the sun-god Apollo, is a story in Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Cupid, having been goaded by Apollo, fires two arrows, one that inspires love and one that repels it. Apollo, hit by Cupid’s first arrow, is infatuated with Daphne, forced to love her without reason, and he is relentless in his chase. Daphne is a maiden who has turned down all suitors, preferring to remain as the unmarried goddess Diana. She fearfully flees Apollo’s grasp, but to him she is made but even more beautiful in flight.

“He sees the loose disorder of her hair                                                                                                  And thinks what if it were neat and elegant!                                                                              He sees her eyes shining like stars, her lips —                                                                              But looking’s not enough!—her fingers, hands                                                                            Her wrists, her half-bare arms—how exquisite!                                                                         And sure her hidden charms are best!”

To escape Apollo, she begs her father help her by destroying her beauty. He  complies, changing her into a laurel tree.

“Scarce had she made her prayer when through her limbs                                                          A dragging languor spread, her tender bosom                                                                              Was wrapped in thin smooth bark, her slender arms                                                              Were changed to branches and her hair to leaves;                                                                      Her feet but now so swift were anchored fast                                                                              In numb stiff roots, her face and head became                                                                            The crown of a green tree; all that remained                                                                                 Of Daphne was her shining loveliness.”

Apollo’s love does not end there but endures; he kisses her wood and can feel her heart trembling under the bark, which recoils.  “‘My bride’, he said, ‘since you can never be, At least, sweet laurel, you shall be my tree.”

Quotations from:                                                                                                                           Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Melville A. [e-book]. Oxford: OUP Oxford; 1998. Available from: eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), Ipswich, MA. Accessed March 1, 2018.