(A Greek Myth)
Once upon a time long ago, Apollo came upon Cupid on the top of Mount Parnassus, home of the Muses. It was a place sacred to the god of music and healing, and he loved to visit. This day he was especially proud, for he had killed Python, the dragon of Delphi, and thus he had saved thousands of lives. Now he was certain he was the most powerful god who had ever lived — stronger even than his father, Zeus.
As he walked along, he came upon Cupid, who was staring out in search of the next victim of his mighty arrows. When Apollo saw him, he began to laugh, and Cupid turned on him. “What do you laugh at?” he said, and he flapped his wings with pride.
“I’m laughing at your arrows,” Apollo said. “Cupid, you should leave weapons of war for gods like me.”
This infuriated Cupid. “You think you’re strong?” he cried. “I’ll prove to you there is something far stronger than you,” and with that he took two arrows from his quiver — one cast in gold with a barbed tip, with which he inflicted wounds of love. The other arrow was made of silver, and it was softer. Its tip had another kind of power; it inflicted hate.
Just then the nymph Daphne appeared. Daughter of the river king, Peneus, Cupid had struck her with his silver arrow. Daphne no longer desired the company of men. Indeed, when a handsome young man named Leucippus fell in love with her, he dressed in women’s clothing and joined her band of huntresses in order to be by her side. But when Daphne learned he was a man, she killed him.
Now Cupid aimed his golden arrow at Apollo. “I am more powerful even than you, Apollo!” he cried. “And so is love,” and he shot the god with the arrow of love.
Apollo only laughed and walked away, but as he was moving through the forest, he spotted Daphne, who was chasing a deer. Her long golden hair billowed in the wintry wind. She took the poor god’s breath away as he noticed that her eyes were so bright that they were like stars, and she was as graceful as the deer she chased. Apollo fell instantly in love.
Daphne was as fast as light, but Apollo was swift too, and he gave chase. When Daphne saw the way the god looked at her, she began to run faster than the deer, and Apollo chased after her.
“Daughter of Peneus,” he called, “why do you run away from me? I am not a common man. I am a great god. I have the greatest power of any god, and still, beauty, you have power over me.”
“Leave me alone!” Daphne called over her shoulder, running on.
“Dear Daphne!” Apollo cried, picking up speed. “I am the god who discovered the art of healing, yet now I see Cupid was right. He has wounded me with love. I know that I will never heal if I cannot love you. Please, Daphne, please, wait for me!”
But Daphne did not stop running. “I want no one’s love,” she called. “I will never love a soul. Not even a god.” And on she ran, and on Apollo chased her, down from the highest mountains, through valleys and gorges, toward the coastal wetlands.
Meanwhile, Cupid watched the chase, a smile on his face. He knew that even the greatest god of all could not resist the power of love, and as for the nymph, she would always run away from those who loved her. The power of the arrow of hate was just as strong.
At long last, Daphne reached the riverbank, and there she slowed. Apollo saw her slowing down, and he picked up his pace, and soon he was close, then closer still. Daphne could feel his skin on her breath.
“Father,” she cried to the river god, “save me, please.”
Poor Daphne, she was trembling, pale as the snow on mountain peaks. She could no longer catch her breath, for she had run out of all that she had, and now her heart filled with fear. She looked down at the dark river and called again. “Father, please, save me from Apollo. He will never rest until I am his, but I want freedom. I want to live in these woods forever. I want to live among the deer and birds. I want to feel the sun on my face and the wind in my hair. Father, please, hear my prayer and rescue me.”
Just at that moment, Apollo reached her side. She could feel him leaning close and reaching for her, but as he did, Daphne felt something come over her. A heaviness descended, weighing down her limbs. She turned to run, but she could no longer raise her leg, it had grown so thick. She tried to reach to push away Apollo, but her arms had grown hard and thick, and now Apollo saw. The girl was changing.
He gasped as he saw bark begin to cover her. Her long, golden hair turned darker and darker, and then it was green, and when she tried to shake her head, a gown of leaves covered her altogether. She managed to move one step back, but that was all. She was finished. Her feet were rooted to the earth, and a moment later, her legs were one thick trunk.
Cupid floated overhead, and when he saw her transformation, it was his turn to laugh.
But as for Apollo, he could not breathe, so struck was he by the sight. No one spoke. As Cupid’s laughter died on the wind, the only sound was the river god gurgling just beneath the water’s surface, promising his daughter would always be safe, and the wind rustling that gown of leaves.
Now Apollo understood. Daphne had been turned into a laurel tree, her father’s answer to her prayers.
His heart felt heavy, and he reached out and embraced the tree. “I cannot marry you,” he wept, “but you shall be my tree. From now on I shall be adorned with laurel leaves, and your leaves will become wreaths signifying victory in battle. You shall wear those leaves in every season,” he said.
When he had finished speaking, the laurel tree bent toward him, as if in thanks. Cupid smiled, and whispered to himself, “The god himself has learned.”
Ever since that day, the laurel has been praised for its beauty and for its strength, and everyone understands the power of love.