Gateway to the Classics: Gods and Heroes by R. E. Francillon
Gods and Heroes by  R. E. Francillon

The Laurel

O NE day, Apollo, while following his flock of sheep, met a little boy playing with a bow and arrows. "That isn't much of a bow you've got there," said Apollo.

"Isn't it?" said the boy. "Perhaps not; but all the same, I don't believe you've got a better, though you're so big and I'm so small."

Now you know that Apollo never could bear to be told that anybody could have anything, or do anything, better than he. You remember how he treated Marsyas and Midas for saying the same kind of thing. So he took his own bow from his shoulder, and showed it to the boy, and said, "As you think you know so much about bows and arrows, look at that; perhaps you'll say that the bow which killed the great serpent Python isn't stronger than your trumpery little toy."

The boy took Apollo's bow and tried to bend it; but it was much too strong for him. "But never mind," said he. "My little bow and arrows are better than your big ones, all the same."

Apollo was half angry and half amused. "You little blockhead! how do you make out that?" asked he.

"Because," said the boy, "your bow can kill everybody else—but mine can conquer you.  You shall see."

And so saying he let fly one of his arrows right into Apollo's heart. The arrow was so little that Apollo felt nothing more than the prick of a pin: he only laughed at the boy's nonsense, and went on his way as if nothing had happened.

But Apollo would not have thought so little of the matter if he had known that his heart had been pricked by a magic arrow. The boy's name was Cupid: and you will read a good deal about him both in this book and in others. Oddly enough, though the boy was one of the gods of Olympus, Apollo had never seen him before, and knew nothing about him. Perhaps Cupid had not been born when Apollo was banished from the sky. However this may be, there is no doubt about what Cupid's arrows could do. If he shot into the hearts of two people at the same time with two of his golden arrows, they loved each other, and were happy. But if he shot only one heart, as he did Apollo's, that person was made to love somebody who did not love him in return, and perhaps hated him: so he became very miserable.

So it happened to Apollo. He became very fond of a nymph named Daphne. But though he was so great and glorious a god, and she only a Naiad, she was only afraid of him and would have nothing to do with him—because Cupid, out of mischief, shot her heart with one of his leaden arrows, which prevented love. Apollo prayed her to like him; but she could not, and when she saw him coming used to hide away at the bottom of her river.

But one day she was rambling in a wood a long way from her home. And, to her alarm, she suddenly saw Apollo coming towards her. She took to her heels and ran. She ran very fast indeed; but her river was far away, and Apollo kept gaining upon her—for nobody on the earth or in the sky could run so fast as he. At last she was so tired and so frightened that she could run no longer, and was obliged to stand still.

"Rather than let Apollo touch me," she said, "I would be a Hamadryad, and never be able to run again!"

She wished it so hard, that suddenly she felt her feet take root in the earth. Then her arms turned to branches, and her fingers to twigs, and her hair to leaves. And when Apollo reached the spot, he found nothing but a laurel bush growing where Daphne had been.

That is why "Daphne" is the Greek for "Laurel." And forever after Apollo loved the bush into which Daphne had been turned. You may know Apollo in pictures by his laurel wreath as well as by his lyre and bow.

It is a very ancient saying that "Love conquers all things." And that is exactly what Cupid meant by saying that his toy-bow was stronger even than the bow which had killed Python, and could conquer with ease even the god of the Sun.

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