Apollo is one of the most significant gods in Greek mythology. He is the patron god of the infamous Delphic oracle, known for its great prophecies. Along with his son Asclepius, Apollo is commonly associated with medicine and healing as well. According to the myths, Apollo invented archery along with his sister Artemis. He also invented the concept of stringed musical instruments, and is commonly considered to be a god of music. In addition to all these titles, some traditions also consider Apollo as the personification of the sun.
Apollo also plays a prominent role in many myths involving heroes. He was involved in the Trojan war, and is best known for guiding Paris’ arrow into Achilles’ heel. Apollo was the god who commanded Heracles to repent for his sins by serving the king Eurystheus for 12 years. Among the Olympians, Apollo was Zeus’ favorite, and his throne was placed immediately right of Zeus’. But did you know that Apollo was once forced into slavery for 9 years by Zeus?
The Story of Apollo’s Punishment
To understand the reason for Apollo’s punishment, you need to know about his origins. Apollo was the child of Zeus and the goddess Leto. and as any fan of Greek myths knows, Hera was extremely jealous of Zeus’ mistresses. She forbade Leto from giving birth on land in order to torment her. Leto traveled to many regions, struggling with her pregnancy, but she was turned away from all of them as no one wanted to incur Hera’s wrath.
The unborn child Apollo then told his mother to travel to an island called Delos. Delos was not a regular island. Leto’s sister, Asteria, had transformed into this wandering island in order to escape Zeus’ advances. Thus, Leto was able to successfully give birth to Apollo and his sister, Artemis, on the island of Delos.
However, Hera had suspected that Leto might escape her torment on such a technicality. Thus, she also sent a serpentine monster named Python to hunt down Leto and her children. Python was not able to catch Leto before she gave birth, but managed to attack her on the island of Delos. However, the young Apollo was already a powerful god and was able to kill Python with one of his arrows.
Unfortunately for Apollo, Python was a child of Gaia, the personification of mother Earth. Enraged at the death of her child, Gaia demanded that Apollo be sentenced to eternal damnation in Tartarus, the deepest pit in the underworld. Zeus did not want to do this to his favorite son, and thus Zeus punished Apollo by making him a slave for 9 years instead.
At the end of his punishment, Apollo had to travel to the Vale of Tempe and bathe in the river Peneios. There, Zeus himself conducted the purification rites that would wash away Apollo’s crimes. Gaia forgave Apollo and gave him the shrine at Delphi, which would later be home to Apollo’s oracle. To appreciate Gaia’s magnanimity, Apollo established the Pythian games, a sporting event similar to the ancient Olympics, in Gaia’s honor.