I like to talk to you about a statue that I saw when I was in Rome. But first…
The Myth: The God Apollo sees Eros, the Greek god of love playing with his arrows and laughs at the young man pretending to be a warrior. Those of you that want to substitute the Roman Cupid in for this part, are free do so. Cupid/Eros claims to be the most powerful, and takes his arrow and hits Apollo with a golden arrow, sending him reeling into the state of love (and doomed to fall in love with the first woman he sees). The unfortunate victim is Daphne, a nymph and daughter to the River God Peneus. Daphne has been pierced with an iron arrow that makes her invulnerable to the entreaties of love. Apollo soon drives her crazy with his constant attentions. Being a god, he can be everywhere, and as you know having an unwanted suitor that won’t leave you alone can drive you CRAZY. Not wanting his attentions she tries to flee. Soon Apollo is chasing her, and she cries out to her Father to save her (even though he would love to have some grandchildren). Peneus then turns his daughter into a laurel tree. See how her legs are turning into bark. Notice how leaves are appearing in her hair, and how her arms are becoming the branches of a tree. Soon she is transformed, and at peace from his constant attentions. Of course, Apollo is still in love, and claims the tree “sacred.”
This statue is very pretty, from a distance. Let’s take a closer look at the faces.
What is this statue really about?
Look at the terror on Daphne’s face.
This statue is titled Apollo and Daphne, but it is the wrong title. It is not about Apollo at all. It could be called Lust or something more sinister The Stalker. Apollo is blank, unconcerned with her terror. Daphne was transformed into bark, a symbolic magical act to indicate the ‘hardness’ to his entreaties. His ardor turned her into bark, beyond anything of the flesh. Is this really a story of the power of love? Are we really talking about love at all? This is fixation, unrelenting and insane.
The work by Bernini is beautiful. If you are lucky enough to view it in person it will take your breath away. Bernini is a master. But what we are viewing is a crime (Terror in marble), like the constant news reports of the stalker that could not take accept the word…”no”.
We can say, “poor Apollo” but what of Daphne?