Article by Rebecca
Image by Will Hobbs (www.sirwilliamwesley.com)
If you’re like me, when you hear the name Daphne your brain goes to the redheaded damsel from Scooby-Doo. Crap, is that really just me? Well, the Daphne from Scooby-Doo was jokingly referred to as “Danger Prone Daphne”. The poor girl was constantly falling down the trap doors or being snatched by the villainous men in masks. Daphne Blake was, in fact, always the hapless victim. (Until Hanna-Barbera revamped the series and turned Daphne into a female MacGuyver of sorts.) The fact is Daphne made sure to end up involved with solving mysteries, and would pay the price by being the damsel of the story (with Velma being the brains, Fred, the brawn, and Shaggy and Scooby the bait). The Daphne we’re talking about is just as much a victim, but instead of seeking out mysteries to cause her trouble, she just needed to live during the time when Greek Gods visited the Earth.
When dealing with ancient myths you are likely to encounter many different versions of the same tales. That becomes multiplied by a dozen when you’re dealing with someone who A) wasn’t a god, and B) existed to justify essentially one custom. Welcome to the enigma of Daphne.
The consensus seems to be that Daphne was the daughter of the river god Peneus. A few sources describe Daphne as a priestess of Gaia and an extremely potent oracle. More sources describe Daphne as a woman who delighted in ranging the woods, much like the goddess Artemis, Daphne longed to stay chaste and free in the forest. Of course, the freakin’ Greek pantheon had to get in the way.
Apollo, who was the Greek god of light, truth, healing, medicine, and archery, fancied himself as quite the archer. He thought so highly of his skill that one-day he decided to smack talk Eros (known as Cupid to you Roman types) about his archery prowess. Eros, showing the personality traits we’ve come to know and love in the Greek pantheon, responded first by shooting Daphne (you know, the woman minding her own business) with a blunted lead arrow and then Apollo with a golden arrow. For smack talker’s sake, it should be noted that Eros hit both targets in one try. The lead arrow would dull the desires of love in an individual, not too tough considering Daphne wanted to remain unwed and chaste. The golden arrow was the infamous patented and trademarked arrow-o-love that Eros is famous for shooting at people.
Apollo became consumed with love and passion for Daphne. The chase was on. Daphne fled as Apollo followed professing his love for her. Now Daphne was in pretty good shape, she was young and spent most of her time outdoors, but come on, Apollo is a god. Eventually Daphne’s strength and stamina were fading and Apollo was getting ready to sweep in for the conquest.
That is when Daphne cried out to Gaia, or in some stories her father, and begged for help. Her pleas were heard, and Daphne was transformed into a laurel tree.
Apollo was filled with such sorrow at losing Daphne that he respectfully took a branch from the tree and made a circlet to wear upon his head. This made the laurel sacred to Apollo and his followers soon took to wearing similar circlets.
You can choose to see Daphne as some sort of embodiment of the feminine free spirit. Perhaps she’s an important piece to the Greek mythological puzzle. In my opinion, no matter how you view Daphne, or her tale, at the end of the day she’s stuck as a tree. That kind of sucks.