Zeus and Apollo
Apollo was not only the son of Zeus, but he was also the perfect complement to his father. Read on to see how the god of youth and culture interacted with the god of age and law.
Zeus had many sons, but none was as widely revered among the Greek people as Apollo. The youthful and attractive god embodied virtually everything that the Greeks believed made their culture unique and superior.
Apollo and Zeus did not interact often in the myths. It was apparent, however, that Zeus took pride in the son he crowned with gold.
The two gods were of similar importance in the Greek world. While Zeus was the king of Olympus, Apollo was the god invoked most often in the lives of both urban citizens and rural farmers.
Apollo and Zeus may have had little in common at a glance, but together they represented the balance and achievements of Greek culture. Without either of them influencing the world of men, the Greeks believed their civilization could not exist.
Zeus and his Celebrated Son
Apollo was the son of Zeus. Of course, in Greek mythology that familial connection was not particularly unique.
He was, however, one of the most celebrated of Zeus’s many children. From the time of his birth he was lauded as an important god.
Although Hera tried to prevent his mother, Leto, from giving birth Apollo and his twin sister Artemis were born to great acclaim. Legends said that Apollo came into the world with a golden sword in his hand and at the moment of his birth the island of Delos was covered in gold.
With his first taste of ambrosia, Apollo broke free of the bindings that were used to swaddle him and declared himself the master of the lyre and archery. He claimed he also had the authority to interpret Zeus’s will to the people of Greece.
Zeus seemed to approve of this. As soon as Hera was mollified he appeared to place a golden headband around his new son’s head.
Zeus and his son appeared together rarely in mythology, but when they did Zeus appeared to be exceedingly fond of his son.
Apollo was often shown as the most impressive of the gods of Olympus. For example he beat Ares, the god of war, in a wrestling match and Hermes, the supernaturally fast messenger, in a race.
Apollo seemed to excel in every field. He became the patron of so many aspects of Greek life that rather than being called the god of any particular domains he was often just referred to as the god of Greek culture.
The special place Apollo held among the sons of Zeus was not only due to his spectacular birth. As the cultural god of the Greek people, Apollo was in many ways a balance of his father and a reflection of Zeus’s own status.
My Modern Interpretation
If Zeus was the high king of the gods, Apollo was the prince of Greece.
Zeus embodied the attributes of a king. He was an older man with wisdom and experience who could be stern but was ultimately concerned with matters of law and justice.
Apollo was the opposite of this in many ways. While Zeus was shown with the ideal attributes of an older rule, Apollo had the perfect form and physicality of a young man.
Zeus oversaw the laws that kept society functioning, while Apollo was the god of the arts and culture that made it thrive.
This list of Apollo’s domains is lengthy but included virtually every part of Greek culture that distinguished it from its neighbors. Music, poetry, and the arts were associated with Apollo just as law and oaths were associated with his father.
The Greeks also listed the sciences among the arts of Apollo, so the god was associated with skills such as medicine. Many of the great achievements of Greek culture were attributed to the influence of Apollo.
In some ways, he was the national god of Greece. Just as Zeus was universally worshiped as the king, Apollo was seen as the representative of Greek life and civilization.
Zeus would never lose his kingship, but in other circumstances Apollo would have been his apparent heir. He was the idealized prince to compliment Zeus’s king.
Apollo was the patron of young men. As Zeus represented rulers, Apollo represented the next generation that would grow to rule after them.
Zeus oversaw natural laws, tradition, and the structured ordering of the world. As was the case with younger generations of many cultures, Apollo both contrasted and contradicted this with his focus on art, innovation, and the pursuit of new knowledge.
The types shown in the figures of Zeus and Apollo would have been familiar to anyone who had witnessed the relationship between older rulers and young men of importance. The contrast of youthful expression and the wisdom of age was in many ways personified in the figures of the king of Olympus and his most revered son.
Together, the two gods represented the two most important foundations of Greek civilization. Zeus stood for order and governance, while Apollo represented the cultural achievements of the Greek people.
Without either of these aspects of the culture, Greek civilization could not have survived and flourished for so many centuries. The laws of Zeus and the cultural achievements of Apollo worked together to represent both Greek tradition and innovation.
As father and son, Zeus and Apollo were both opposites and compliments.
Zeus was a god of law who embodied the ideal ruler. Apollo was more like a prince, valuing art and innovation with youthful beauty.
Yet the two were of equal importance in the culture of ancient Greek. Both lawful wisdom and youthful artistry were aspects of the culture that the Greeks believed set them apart from their barbarian neighbors.
Together, the two gods represented the necessary balance between the values and ideals of generations. Like any young prince Apollo did not always see eye-to-eye with his royal father but valued the same culture.