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Greek Mythology Trivia Quiz: Apollo
Greek God of Light and So Much More
This Greek mythology trivia quiz spotlights Apollo. How much do you know about this most Greek of Greek gods?
Don't worry if you don't get every question; this quiz was originally written for students. Give it a try, then browse the "mini-myths" and Greek art following the quiz to learn more facts and fun tidbits about Apollo.
Apollo: Greek Myth Trivia Quiz
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The Birth of Apollo and Artemis
Divine Twins, the Children of Leto
Once upon a time, two Greek islands had a marketing campaign. Both Delos and Ortygia claimed to be the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. The Homeric Hymn to Apollo resolved this religious controversy by declaring that Artemis was born first on Ortyia, then mother Leto zipped over to Delos to finish giving birth. This story got a credibility boost through the new medium of the alphabet.
It said it in writing. Heck, the booksellers claimed it was written by Homer. It must be so!
That gap between the twin's births provided the opportunity to explain another age-old puzzle of Greek mythology: why did women in childbirth pray to Artemis, if she was a virgin? Late classical authors penned a new chapter of the myth to provide a charming if improbable answer: after Artemis was born, she helped deliver her baby brother Apollo. That earned her midwife credentials. (Source: Frazer's notes for Homeric Hymn to Apollo)
Above: My photo of the sacred lake and palm tree where myth says Apollo was born. (Delos)
The Affairs of Apollo
They never seem to end well
If you didn't get this question right, don't feel bad. Myths about the affairs of Zeus are far more well-known than those of Apollo. So here's a gossip column on some of Apollo's girlfriends -- and boyfriends!
(A) Killed by Apollo's discus throw: Unlike the ladies, Hyakinthos seems to have returned the god's affections. Unfortunately, that slated the youth for a bad end. During an athletic contest, Apollo accidentally struck him in the head with a flying disc. That doesn't sound so bad until you realize that this was thousands of years before Frisbees, and back then discuses -- disci? -- were made of stone. Hyakinthos' blood was said to have stained the the flower named for him.
(B) Artemis turned her into a crow: No, Artemis just shot poor Koronis dead when Apollo got miffed at the girl for sleeping around (something Greek gods did with impunity). Crow was the tattletale who blabbed to Apollo about his lover's infidelity.
(C) Turned into a laurel tree: The nymph Daphne managed to escape being Apollo's lover, but she could not evade his clutches entirely. While he was pursuing her, she prayed to her father Peneus to save her. in answer, Peneus turned her into a laurel tree. Gee, thanks, Dad. Afterwards, Apollo wove wreaths of laurel leaves to remember the one that got away.
(D) Given the gift of prophesy, but cursed never to be believed: That would be Kassandra of Troy, who like Daphne had the nerve to refuse Apollo. He could not revoke the gift he had given her, but he tacked a nasty curse onto it after she rejected him.
Apollo, God of....What?
Sorry, you don't get to drive the car
Surprisingly enough, Apollo was not originally the Greek sun-god; that was Helios!
Instead, Apollo was the "god of the silver bow" (Homer's Iliad), god of prophecy, medicine, plague (he could heal or harm), the lyre and medicine. Also surprisingly, shepherds prayed to Apollo as a god of wolves, begging him to spare their flocks! Strange gig for the god of math and music. In fact, I saw a freighter at the port of Nauplion named Apollo Lykos, "Apollo the Wolf."
So why do we think of Apollo as a sun-god?
After Alexander the Great, Greeks traveled all over the Mediterranean and got used to international fusion -- not just in their food, but also in their mythology. Some Hellenistic Greeks dreamed up a combined deity, Apollo Helios, a little like Jack Skellington trying to be Santa Claus. However, it really was not until the late Roman period that it became customary to refer to Apollo as a sun-god.
Ancient Greek Music
Read a translation and listen to the song First Delphic Hymn to Apollo, music from 163 BC!
I saw this hymn carved on a stone at the museum in Delphi.
The Oracle of Apollo at Delphi
What is that lady smoking?
The priestess of Apollo at Delphi was traditionally named the Pythia. For hundreds of years, people from all over the Mediterranean visited her to learn the future or get political endorsements.
Legend had it that she would sit on a large tripod (a pot-stand) and chew laurel leaves or breathe vapors from a chasm to enter her prophetic trance. In modern times, petrochemicals have been detected seeping up under the temple.
The Pythia's name comes from the Python, the great serpent which once guarded Delphi when it was the sanctuary of the goddess Gaia. Young Apollo slew the Python to take control of the ancient sanctuary.
Right: The goddess Themis impersonates the Pythia in order to deliver an important oracle.
Photo Gallery: Apollo and Delphi - From my trip to GreeceClick thumbnail to view full-size
Oedipus and the Oracle of Delphi
You can't cheat fate
Actually, at least three different oracles from Delphi feature in the tragedy of Oedipus.
(1) His parents exposed him after hearing from the Oracle of Delphi that he would kill his father and marry his mother.
Unknown to them -- or to Oedipus -- he was rescued by a shepherd and given to a childless king and queen. As a young man, he visited the oracle of Delphi and (2) learned he would kill his father and marry his mother. Yikes!
Determined to avoid this awful crime, Oedipus fled to Thebes. Along the way, an old man driving a chariot tried to run him over. Oedipus killed the driver in self-defense. Ignorant of what he had done, the young hero then saved Thebes from a ferocious sphinx and married the queen.
Years later, a plague descended on Thebes. Oedipus sent to Delphi for advice and learned from the Oracle that (3) the murderer of King Laios was pollutiing the city. During the ensuing investigation, Oedipus finally discovered the truth, and was so horrified that he blinded himself before exiling himself from his kingdom.
Last but not least, the playwright Sophocles adds one more oracle to the myth: (4) wherever he was buried would be blessed. Oedipus had suffered so much that he had become a Job-like figure, a living example that no one can escape the will of the gods.
Apollo and Artemis Versus the Niobids
Apollo was a Momma's boy
As far back as Homer (Il. 24.600), the hubris of Niobe is the stuff of legend.
At a festival in honor of Leto and her divine children, Niobe boasted that she outshone Leto, because she had twelve (or in later stories, fourteen) beautiful children to Leto's two.
Apollo and Artemis opted to teach the prideful woman a lesson by culling her children. Apollo shot the boys with poisoned arrows; Artemis the girls.
Niobe turned to stone, still weeping, and may be seen today as a weeping outcrop in Turkey.
Herakles/Hercules vs. Apollo
Brothers will be brothers
Juno, never easy on the children of her husband's adulterous affairs, had a habit of driving them crazy.
Apollo seems to have avoided the wrath of his stepmother, but she struck Herakles with madness on more than one occasion (or at least that's what he told the judge). Herakles killed his own children in a rage and gave his wife Megaera to his old friend Iolaus for safekeeping.
After performing twelve labors in penance, Herakles decided to remarry. His would-be-bride's father Eurytion was understandably reluctant to agree to the match. During the ensuing disagreement, Herakles snapped again and killed Iphitus, son of Erytion -- ironically, after Iphitus sided with the hero.
Once again, Herakles had to purify himself for a murder. He had fairly well cleared Greece of ravening monsters by this time, so he went to the Pythia at Delphi for advice, perhaps even an official purification. The priestess blew him off. Herakles flipped out again and seized the god's tripod, declaring he'd set up an oracle in his own name instead.
Apollo and Artemis came down to wrestle with their half-brother. The struggle ended rather anticlimactically when Father Zeus restored order between the squabbling siblings with a thunderbolt before anyone could knock down Mt. Parnassos. (Source: Apollodorus 2.6)
Above: My photo of the Siphnian Treasury in the Delphi Museum. Zeus, center, restrains Herakles on right and Apollo on left. Artemis grips Apollo's elbow.
Hermes, Cattle Thief in Diapers
What a great way to break into Olympus
The Homeric Hymn to Hermes is a hoot. You've got to love a god who became a cattle thief on the day he was born.
Not only did he steal a couple of Apollo's cows and sacrifice them to himself, not only did he play the innocent and claim he was a baby who had never heard of cows when Apollo stopped by to grill him, but he farted loudly when Apollo started to carry him off to Olympos for judgment. There Hermes distinguished himself further by brazen perjury. He finally appeased Apollo by handed over the lyre which he had just invented to the god of music.
Apollo was more amused than offended by his roguish little brother, and played the lyre ever afterwards.
Above: Cup from Delphi Museum showing Apollo holding the lyre Hermes gave him. My own photo.
Asklepios, son of Apollo
God of medicine, the first therapist
Apollo had his lover Koronis killed when she cheated on him, but he saved the unborn child and raised him as a god. Asklepios, Asclepius in Latin, learned and exceeded his father's skills in medicine.
In fact, he became so proficient that Athena gave him a powerful gift, two vials of the blood of Medusa which could cure or kill anyone or anything. Unfortunately, not all the gods were as pleased by the young god's powers. When Asklepios brought a dead man back to life, Zeus slew him with a thunderbolt.
According to most myths, Asklepios was brought back from the dead himself by his father's will. Because he had tasted death himself, he was a compassionate figure for those suffering pain, sickness and injury.
You can learn more about Asklepios and how his cult was the inspiration for modern psychotherapy in my photo diary of my visit to Epidaurus.
Apollo's Entrance in Homer
The very beginning of Greek myth -- or at least our record of it
The Iliad begins with Khryses, priest of Apollo, begging King Agamemnon to release his daughter who was taken captive in the raids around Troy. After getting a resounding no, the priest presents his case to a higher power:
He went by the shore of the sounding sea and prayed apart to King Apollo whom lovely Leto had borne. "Hear me," he cried, "O god of the silver bow, that protectest Chryse and holy Cilla and rulest Tenedos with thy might, hear me oh thou of Sminthe. If I have ever decked your temple with garlands, or burned your thigh-bones in fat of bulls or goats, grant my prayer, and let your arrows avenge these my tears upon the Danaans."
Thus did he pray, and Apollo heard his prayer. He came down furious from the summits of Olympus, with his bow and his quiver upon his shoulder, and the arrows rattled on his back with the rage that trembled within him. He sat himself down away from the ships with a face as dark as night, and his silver bow rang death as he shot his arrow in the midst of them. First he smote their mules and their hounds, but presently he aimed his shafts at the people themselves, and all day long the pyres of the dead were burning.-- Translation of the beginning of the Iliad by Samuel Butler
© 2009 Ellen Brundige