Daphne, whose name means laurel, was a character from classical mythology who experienced an extraordinary metamorphosis* after an encounter with the god Apollo. The most famous version of the story of Daphne and Apollo is in the great poem Metamorphoses by Ovid.

In Ovid’s account, Apollo provoked Cupid, the Roman god of love, by insulting his skill as an archer. Angered, Cupid retaliated by shooting Apollo with a golden arrow that made him fall in love. The love god also struck Daphne, the beautiful daughter of the river god Peneus, with a lead arrow that made her despise the thought of love. Although her father wished her to marry and have children, Daphne rejected all of her suitors and decided to live as a huntress in the forest, like the goddess Diana.

When Apollo spied Daphne in the forest, she became the object of his desire. The love-struck god chased her through the woods, pleading with her to stop. Hearing the voice of Apollo, one of the most powerful of deities, Daphne realized she could not escape. In desperation, she prayed to her father for help. (In other versions of the story, she prayed to Zeus.) At the moment she felt Apollo’s breath on her neck, Daphne became transformed into a laurel tree, and Apollo embraced only limbs of wood. Because of his unfulfilled love, Apollo adopted the laurel tree, or bay tree, as his sacred symbol. He vowed always to adorn himself with a wreath of laurel leaves. (See also Artemis; Myths, Greek; Myths, Roman.)

* metamorphosis change in form, structure, or substance by supernatural means

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