Appollon (Apollo) is one of the twelve Olympian Gods. He is best known as the God of Prophecy who spoke through the Oracles at Delphi, the center of the world. His other attributes include plague and disease as well as healing; music, song and poetry; archery and the protection of young children. He is a handsome God often depicted with long hair with any combination of a myriad of accoutrements such as a wreath or a branch of laurel, a bow and quiver, a raven or a lyre.
The tale of his birth begins with his Mother, Leto, beloved of Zeus, being pursued relentlessly by Hera from the moment she discovered Leto was with child. Leto was driven from land to land to prevent her from giving birth. There was no rest for her during the entire length of her pregnancy. Hera declared that no land shall grant her refuge, and so the floating Island of Delos, which was not fixed land, offered a safe place for Leto to rest and bear her children, for she gave birth to twins, Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt and patron of young women and Apollon, youthful God of prophecy, music and healing.
There are many tales of Apollon performing great feats, such as the slaying of the Python that guarded the oracular shrine at Delphi and Tityos, the giant who attempted to steal his mother, Leto, but some of the most beautiful stories of love and music are found in the lore surrounding the young God. He fell in love with Hyakinthos, and when he was killed by a discus throw, the God transformed him inot a flower, the hyacinth. The Nymph, Daphne, was counted among his loves, but when she left him, she was transformed into a laurel tree. He fell madly in love with Koronis, but she was slain by Artemis for infidelity. During the Trojan War, he even brought a plague to the Greeks and helped Paris to slay Akhilleus.
There are many tales that illustrate the great bardic prowess of the God. In the Iliad (i. 603), he entertained the mortals with his playing on the phorminx during their banquet. The Homeric Bards were said to have derived their art of song from Apollon and the Muses. But the most revealing tale to the bard is the story of his music contest with the Satyr, Marsyas. Marsyas of Phyrgia was a flautist. The flute was invented by Athene, but she became disgusted with it when she saw in a reflective pond the bloating of her cheeks as she played. As luck would have it, Marsyas was nearby when she discarded the instrument and immediately picked it up. The flute, having been blessed with the breath of a Goddess, emitted a beautiful sound upon first blow. Over time, Marsyas became quite skilled, and in his hubris, he challenged Apollon to a music contest. Apollon inquired of the conditions, and Marsyas, assuming he would win, declared that the victor shall do what he pleased with the loser and even asked the Muses, who were known to be loyal to Apollon, to sit as judges for the affair. Marsyas held his own in the first round, he on his flute and Apollon on the lyre. In the second round, however, when Apollon added his voice to the beautiful music, the Nymphs swooned, the trees swayed and the flowers turned their faces toward the voice of the shining God. After Apollon was declared the winner, he had Marsyas bound to a tree and flayed alive. His blood flowed out and became a river, which Apollon named after him (Strabo, Geography 12. 8. 15).
In many ways, the modern-day bard is a reflection of the God, Apollon, who entertained, competed and was revered for his skill. For this, among many other reasons, we call out to him as a source of Inspiration as we prepare to greet the Gods round our fires.