Apollo, one of the most powerful gods and a great warrior, mocked the god of love, Eros (Cupid), for his use of bow and arrow, saying, “What are you doing with powerful weapons, naughty boy?”; “that equipment of yours are fitting my shoulders, which are able to give certain wounds to the wild animals, and to the enemies, which recently killed the swollen Python with countless arrows, the Python who was pressing down so many acres with his disease bearing stomach! You will be content to provoke some loves by your fire, not to claim my honors.”
The insulted Eros then prepared two arrows: one of gold and one of lead. He shot Apollo with the gold arrow, instilling in the god a passionate love for the nymph Daphne. He shot Daphne with the lead arrow, instilling in her a hatred for Apollo. Having taken after Apollo’s sister, Artemis (Diana), Daphne had spurned her many potential lovers, preferring instead woodland sports and exploring the forest. Due to her identity as an “aemula Phoebes” (female rival or emulator of Artemis), she had dedicated herself to perpetual virginity. Her father, the river god Peneus, demanded that she get married and give him grandchildren. She, however, beseeched her father to let her remain unmarried; he eventually complied.
Apollo continually followed her, begging her to stay, but the nymph continued her flight. They were evenly matched in the race until Eros intervened, helping Apollo catch up to Daphne. Seeing that Apollo was bound to reach her, she called upon her father, "Help me, Peneus! Open the earth to enclose me, or change my form, which has brought me into this danger! Let me be free of this man from this moment forward!" And with Peneus answering her plea, “a heavy numbness seizes her limbs; her soft breasts are surrounded by a thin bark, her hair changes into foliage, her forearms change into branches; her foot, just now swift, now clings because of sluggish roots.” She was turned into a laurel tree.
In spite of Daphne’s rejection, Apollo vowed to love her forever: “Always my hair will have you, my lyres will have you, my quivers will have you, laurel tree. You will be present to two Latin places, when the happy voice will sing a triumph and they will visit the great ceremonies at the Capitoline Hill.”
Apollo also used his powers of eternal youth and immortality to render Daphne ever green. For this reason, the leaves of the Bay laurel tree do not decay.
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