Apollo was one of the greatest Greek gods, for he was perfect in the qualities the Greeks loved and admired most. He was strong and beautiful, a god of wisdom and truth, justice and healing, and everything that is best in man's life.
At first perhaps he was a god of shepherds and keepers of animals, but later on the Greeks began to think of him as god of archery, medicine and music, and of prophecy. He was also a god of light (one of his titles is Phoebus, which means "bright" or "pure") and because of this people later began to think he was the god of the sun. Another idea was that as well as being the god of music he was also god of song and poetry, and leader of the nine Muses who looked after the arts. He was an enemy of all dark and evil things, though he could sometimes do evil to men when he was angry. Apollo was usually thought of as a handsome young man, often carrying a bow and a lyre (a kind of harp).
People all over Greece worshipped Apollo, and there were many temples in his honour. He also had several oracles, that is, places where people went to ask the god's advice; Apollo's chief oracle was at Delphi.
According to one legend he was the son of Zeus, the king of the gods, and his twin sister was Artemis (Diana). When Apollo was little more than a baby he slew the great dragon Python which guarded the oracle at Delphi.
Another story tells how Apollo first came by his lyre, which his brother Hermes (Mercury) invented. The crafty Hermes stole a herd of cattle that belonged to Apollo, but the theft was discovered and Zeus ordered the cattle to be returned to their owner. However, Apollo was so delighted when he heard Hermes play the lyre that he let him keep the cattle in exchange for it. Apollo's plant was the laurel. Apollo pursued a girl called Daphne, who prayed to her father, a river god, for help. He turned her into a laurel bush and saved her from Apollo. The laurel was sacred to Apollo in memory of her.