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Once upon a time, Apollo left his shining sun palace to roam the Earth. Before long he met Cupid, who stood with his bow bent, his string drawn. Cupid was ready to shoot humans with his arrows of love.
“What are you doing with a bow?” the great god laughed. “Warlike arms are not for boys like you. You must not use my weapon!”
“So you think!” Cupid said angrily. “Let your bow shoot what it will, and I shall shoot those I wish to shoot,” and with that Cupid beat the air with his wings and drew two magic arrows from his quiver. One was cast of shining gold, and with its barbed point, Cupid inflicted wounds of love. The other arrow was made of soft silver, and its tip had the power to create hate.
Cupid took aim and let the silver arrow fly into the nymph Daphne, daughter of Peneus, the river king. The moment Daphne was wounded, she fled into the woods, for she no longer desired the company of men.
Then Cupid turned and shot his golden arrow at Apollo, piercing his arm. “Ha, though you think you are powerful, love is more powerful even than you,” Cupid said.
Apollo laughed again and walked into the forest, but suddenly he spotted Daphne. She was chasing a deer, and as she ran, her golden hair billowed around her slender neck. Her eyes shone brightly as stars and her form was as graceful as the deer she chased. Apollo fell instantly in love with her.
The nymph was swifter than light, but Apollo gave chase. “Oh, nymph,” Apollo called, “daughter of Peneus, why do you run from me? I am no common man. I am god of the sun, and my force is great. Alas, Cupid has wounded my heart, and though I am the god who discovered the art of healing, I cannot heal my love for you. Please, Daphne, please come to me.”
But Daphne did not stop. She flew from Apollo, calling out, “I want the love of no one.”
As the two ran through the forest, Cupid hovered above, a smile on his face, for he knew that even the great god Apollo could not overcome the power of love. And as for Daphne, Cupid knew that the arrow of hate had pierced her thoroughly. She would run forever now from those whose hearts brimmed with love for her.
Apollo raced on, close on Daphne’s heels as she ran toward the river, home of her father. “I am coming, my beloved,” Apollo called. “I am close now. You will be mine.”
Daphne could feel the god’s breath on her skin. She quickened her pace until, at last, she reached the river’s edge.
There, on the banks of the river, Daphne stopped. “Father,” she called, and she felt Apollo’s hand touch her shoulder. “Father,” she called again. She trembled and turned pale, and could no longer catch her breath. She was exhausted.
Daphne looked down at the river, her heart filled with fear and sorrow. “Save me, father,” she called to Peneus. “Save me from Apollo. Cupid has wounded him, and he will never rest until I am his. I want only the freedom to live in these forests forever. I want to be forever free. Save me, father. Help your daughter, Daphne.”
A moment later, as Apollo stood beside her, his arms ready to embrace her. Daphne felt a heaviness come over her limbs. She raised her arms, but as she did, they grew thick and hard. Apollo leaned close, but his eyes widened as he watched his beloved. She was changing, right before his eyes.
Bark covered her limbs. Her golden hair turned dark, then green, and soon she wore only leaves. She took one step backward, and when she did, her feet became rooted to the ground. Her arms were now tree limbs, her legs a trunk.
In the sky above, Cupid smiled in triumph. Apollo watched in wonder. Neither spoke, so the only sounds in the forest were the wind as it gently swept through Daphne’s leaves and the gentle rippling of the river.
Peneus had granted his daughter’s only wish. In the deep silence of the forest, Daphne had become a laurel tree.
“No,” Apollo cried. Tears filled his eyes. “I love you,” he whispered, and embraced the tree.
“Beautiful Daphne,” he said, “since I cannot marry you, I will make you my tree. From now on my hair, my lyre and my quiver will be adorned with laurel leaves. I shall make certain that conquering chiefs receive your wreaths as signs of victory. You will wear your green bay leaves forever, winter and summer. You will never be bare, my beloved.”
When Apollo finished speaking, the laurel bent her boughs in assent and her leaves murmured.
Cupid looked with happiness upon Apollo, who had learned the strength of love.
And ever since that day, all men and women seek the laurel and praise it for its beauty and strength.
by Amy Friedman and Meredith Johnson
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Jamaican Medium Contributing Author