The eternal desires of humans are fraught with bad decisions and malcontent, which to the ancient Greeks and Romans, were conveyed by folk tales, myths, and stories of the deeds of their imperfect gods. The allegory of the Sun god Apollo and his ill-fated quest for an unrequited love still teaches us about what it is to yearn as well as what it is to practice wisdom.
The following is my interpretation of the story of Daphne the nymph and her pursuer:
One day the Sun god, Apollo saw the boy, Eros, putting into order his bow and arrows upon the ground; and being generally prideful and a braggart through and through said to him,
"What is a child like you doing with weapons like those? Why would you need or desire such things? You may as well hand them over. Don't you know the battles I have won. Have you not heard of my countless victories? Why don't you conjure up a, 'flame,' as you would call it, and leave the weaponry with me?"
Eros hearing these words replied,
"Your arrows may strike many things, Apollo, but mine are aimed at you."
So being wise, Eros climbed upon the rock of Parnassus, and drew two arrows of from his quiver. Each arrow had its own usage, and had been made for this express purpose. The first, was an arrow that would make anyone fall in love. The second arrow, were anyone to be shot by it, would only ever be able to give someone to spite and resentment. The Love arrow was made of gold and was crafted to be very sharp. The Spite arrow was made with a rounded head, so as to be blunt, and was made of lead. Vengefully, Eros, nocked his lead arrow and aimed for the nymph Daphne, who was the daughter of the river god Peneus. Then turning with a smile, he aimed the Love arrow at proud Apollo's chest, and shot him straight through the heart. Immediately Apollo was overtaken with an obsessive love of Daphne, and upon seeing the lusty greed in his eyes, she immediately was appalled and quite afraid of the love-struck god.
Apollo could not resist, and took to chasing Daphne, who simply could not return his love. In fact she couldn't return the love of any man, and preferred instead to wander through the woods. So, when her father, frustrated and anxious that she would turn down every man that asked for her hand, told her that she had no choice but to marry, she pleaded with him and begged that he not force her into an arrangement, because to her the very idea of love was disgusting, and so he could not help but acquiesce to his beautiful daughter's request.
All the while, Apollo never gave up his chase, and continued to pursue his love. If she would run he would run. Were she to hide, he had no choice but to seek her. The days wore on like this for some time, until Eros, becoming bored with his game, decided to intervene, and gave Apollo a the ability of greater speed, so that he could catch his love once and for all. He was after all, the god of love and easily tired at the continuous failure.
Enhanced in his new found swiftness, Apollo flew after his Daphne. Turning her head, she saw him mid-chase and despised him like a monster, with jaws agape. Still being a short distance ahead, Daphne stopped on a high hill overlooking the forest that she loved, and called out to her father,
"Help me father! Do something to protect me from this fate!"
And upon hearing her plea, he granted her request.
Suddenly, her skin started to firm and she felt her feet sinking into the ground and growing longer, deeper, and thirsting for water. Her legs, becoming thick and rough, grew a solid bark upon them. He arms compelled into the sky, wanting sunlight, reached higher and higher, sprouting branches and tender leaves. Apollo not far behind her, witnessed this strange transformation and threw himself upon her half rooted legs and cried out in anguish, declaring,
"Since I cannot have you in human form, I will have you as my symbol. I will adorn my instruments with your foliage. I shall wear your branches as a crown. To celebrate my triumph, all Roman victors shall do likewise as they parade back into their cities, and mostly, because I, my dear, am eternal, it is my wish to never be parted from you. I shall make you evergreen. No cold will tear your leaves from the branches. No heat shall wilt them from your boughs. This I swear."
The nymph, now fully changed into a Laurel tree, bowed its head in graceful acknowledgment. At last he had her and their race was done, but was it really still her?
This is the tragedy and beautiful melancholy of the chase of Daphne by the one who loves her still.
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