Valentine’s Day Special: Apollo and Daphne

Hello Bloglandia,

It’s not my normal day for a Behind the Book post, but since it’s Valentine’s Day and you might have cupid-themed e-cards appearing in your inbox, I thought it would be the perfect time to explore a pair of mythical lovers in one of the legends that went into the creation of The Battle of Ares: Book Five of the Osteria Chronicles.

First of all, we’ve got to take a peek at quite possibly the most famous bit of art surrounding this ill-fated pair…Bernini’s “Apollo & Daphne” sculpture…Gorgeous, right?

If you don’t understand what’s going on in this marvelous hunk of marble and how it relates to my upcoming novel, keep reading.

Apollo and Daphne in Myth

Let’s set the stage. Apollo, god of the sun and archery and a bunch of other things, is toodling around Greece one day.

Possibly revealing some of his own self-confidence issues, Apollo starts making fun of Eros (aka “Cupid”) for using a bow and arrow to work his wooing wonders on unsuspecting humans.

Well, Eros might be a little guy who is meant to represent love, but he’s got a wicked streak hidden in his wings. To get back at Apollo, Eros shoots the god with an arrow that will make him fall madly in love with the nymph Daphne.

Oh, that’s not much of a revenge plot, you say. After all, it’s Valentine’s Day and being in love isn’t such a bad thing.

No, it’s not…unless you happen to have pissed off an arrow-toting immortal who has also shot an arrow into the object of your affection. An arrow that makes her hate you.

Daphne, a nymph who liked to hang around in forests doing forest-y things, really didn’t want anything to do with love and sex to begin with, but after Eros shot her with the anti-romance arrow she REALLY didn’t want anything to do with it. Especially if it was Apollo seeking said love and sex.

But thanks to Eros’s trick, Apollo can’t just let Daphne’s snubbing slide. He keeps pestering her and she keeps rejecting him. Being a sporty kind of gal, Daphne sets off running and nearly got away, but Eros wasn’t done playing his tricks yet.

Eros, being a tricky little bastard, makes it so Apollo can catch up to Daphne. Just as he does, Daphne calls out to her father (a river god) to save her.

Um, so this is one of those times when she really should have clarified what exactly she wanted done, because instead of making Apollo twist an ankle, get mauled by a bear, or something helpful like that, her father turns his daughter into a tree.

Yes, a tree. I’m guessing he wasn’t winning any Dad of the Year awards. And it’s this transformation from girl to tree just as Apollo catches Daphne that Signore Bernini captured so beautifully in his sculpture.

Anyway, Apollo is utterly distraught and uses his powers to keep his love forever vibrant by making her into an evergreen, specifically a laurel…and that is also why Apollo wears a laurel crown and why winners of the Phythian Games (held in his honor) received crowns of laurel leaves.

Romantic? Maybe not, but at least he was devoted.

In the Book

The story line of Apollo and Daphne isn’t a big one in The Battle of Ares. It only appears in two chapters, but their relationship does play a strong role in the war that is emerging between the gods and the titans.

In the book, Apollo hasn’t been tricked into loving Daphne. Instead, he’s caught sight of her sketching by a river and has fallen pretty hard for her.

After finally getting up the nerve to speak to her, she rejects him, telling him in no uncertain terms that she isn’t into gods because they have a nasty habit of getting women pregnant then disappearing.

Apollo sees this as great news. After all, Daphne doesn’t hate him specifically, she just doesn’t trust gods in general. So he bides his time, watching her draw, talking to her, minding his manners. She starts warming up to him, but it’s still not what he’s hoping for.

He enlists Aphrodite to make Daphne love him, but Aphrodite has a trick up her sleeve. I won’t give away exactly what she does, but let’s just say Apollo is out for revenge once he realizes what she’s done.

If you’d like a sample of a god falling sappily in love, you can read or listen to the first Apollo & Daphne chapter below (don’t worry, it won’t spoil anything for the rest of the book). But first….

An Osterian Commercial Break…

The Battle of Ares comes out 24 March. If you need to catch up on this series in which the gods, myths, and heroes of Ancient Greece come to life, I’ve just launched a Box Set of Books 1-3.

As part of the release celebrations, I’ve also reduced Book 4, The Bonds of Osteria, to 99c for a very limited time (regular retail price: $3.99).

Okay, back to the lovey-dovey stuff.

Sample Chapter (with audio…again!)

If you’d like a good chuckle at my voice acting skills, you can listen to this chapter by clicking HERE.

Or, if you prefer reading with your eyes, here you go…

Chapter 14 – Apollo

“You’ve got a great eye,” I tell the woman sketching by a creek. She’s mortal yet intriguingly beautiful, with rich, dark skin and long hair that’s braided back today. And I’m not lying, the drawing really is good. She glances up, narrows her hazel eyes, then turns her attention back to her work. “Don’t I even get a hello?”

“I’ve told you before I want nothing to do with you.”

“But yet you keep coming back to this same spot where I first saw you,” I point out teasingly.

I sit down beside her. She heaves a disgruntled sigh and shifts away just enough to put space between us. I suppose it’s better than when I first met her and she ran like the wind from me. Of course, I could have caught her if I wanted to, but I just didn’t feel that would be very sporting. 

Besides, perhaps I’m becoming a romantic because I want her to want me. I can’t stop thinking about her, but I’m not going to pressure her into being my lover. And, the longer I play this game, the more I’m coming to admire her for more than just a potential bedsport partner. I swear if she would only just look on me kindly, I might be happy. 

Zeus’s balls, how pathetic I’ve become!

“It’s a good view,” she says and I detect a slight blush to her cheeks.

I came to this spot to sulk after Aphrodite’s last rejection of me. I couldn’t bear to be on Olympus because I knew Hermes would come fluttering in one day telling me all he’d heard of Aphrodite and her latest lover. I had wanted to be that lover. We could have been like Zeus and Hera. I thought that’s what she wanted too. My sister kept luring me in closer, letting out her line, then pulling me back in. 

And then she cut the line to be with Ares. I had to get away. And that’s when Daphne strode into my life. I didn’t even speak to her for weeks. I just watched from farther down the streambank where she comes to sketch and sometimes nap. I first approached her one afternoon when she had just dozed off. I only wanted to watch her, but she woke when my shadow cast over her. She then cursed me six ways to Zeusday and stormed off. 

But yet she came back. And I spoke to her, telling her of my admiration, my devotion, my desire. She was having none of it and told me she wanted nothing to do with the gods. Still, she was speaking to me. Since then, she’s gotten more used to me. Like taming a wild rabbit, she no longer runs away and even lets me approach her. And like I said, she keeps coming back to this very spot. 

Sitting next to her now, I shift closer to her so our arms are touching. It’s the first time our skin has connected and I swear I feel a spark charging along the length of my forearm. I lock my eyes on hers and say, “It is an amazing view.” 

She doesn’t back away. This could be the day. After all this time of her resisting me, maybe she’s finally ready for the next stage of our little play. I angle my head and lean closer. She still doesn’t back away and I feel like a foolish boy at how excited I am over what will be our first kiss. 

I can feel the heat of her lips on mine. Then, just before they touch, there’s something sharp pressed against the underside of my jaw.

“I will not become one of your playthings,” she says and even her threat sends waves of joy through me because at least she’s speaking to me. “Now back off.”

I do as she says and the cold tip is withdrawn from my skin. She then sets the small knife she uses to sharpen her drawing tools into a box and picks up a stick of charcoal, ignoring me and focusing on the scene in front of her.

“But I think I love you.” I cringe at how sappy I sound, but it’s true. 

Daphne grips the charcoal so tightly it snaps and sends a shower of black dust over her paper. She curses, purses her lips  and blows away the mess, then glares at me, the fury in her eyes still bright.

“How many gods have used that line then left the woman pregnant and having to take care of a child on her own? Do you think that’s a thrill? For us to go through the pains of labor just so you can add another mortal notch to your records? And do you know how harshly those women are judged? You gods believe it’s an honor to carry your children, and maybe it once was, but these days too many women have claimed, ‘Oh, it was a god who did it,’ when they end up pregnant from an affair while their husbands are away. Now, when a god really is to blame, few people believe the woman and she becomes the hot topic for all the town’s gossips. I will not be fodder for their tales.”

I’m almost heartened that this is her only objection. It’s not that she doesn’t want me; she just doesn’t want to take any risks.

“I wouldn’t let that happen. There’s precautions we can take.”

I lean in again, tilting my head and kissing her shoulder. Her skin carries the sweet floral scent of roses and the smoky tang of her charcoal. I rest my hand on her knee. In a move that’s almost godlike in its speed, she leaps up and has the small blade pointing at my face again.

“You’ll keep that thing in your tunic and leave me alone.”

My shoulders sag. A god shouldn’t have to work this hard and I don’t know why I bother. I don’t know why I feel this artist might make me happy or why I feel I could make her happy. I stand, my bones feel heavier than when I arrived.

“I only wanted a kiss.” The words, which surprise me with their honesty, come out almost as a whisper. “Nothing more.”

The knife lowers. There’s something in her eyes that’s almost welcoming, almost curious. She steps forward and I swear all of Osteria must hear the thudding in my chest. She tilts her head. I lower my lips to hers and just at the moment they are about to touch, she says, “No,” and steps away, kneels down to her sketchbook and pulls out a fresh piece of charcoal.

My heart stops beating. Aphrodite has Ares. I’ve seen her in my gazing pools. She radiates her satisfaction with him and, even if she didn’t have Ares, Zeus arranged for Hephaestus to be her husband. Did Zeus see fit to pair me with any of the goddesses? No. Not even a nymph. I’ve been left floundering for love and each time I think I’ve found it, Aphrodite has played some trick on the woman and ruined my hope for happiness. 

Now, with Aphrodite distracted by Ares, I really thought I had a chance with Daphne. I thought perhaps if I befriended her, she’d eventually fall for me. I was wrong. Instead, it’s me who’s fallen for her and who endures the pain of her refusals.

But perhaps if Aphrodite is happy enough with Ares, she’ll be willing to help me. Not by making Daphne my mindless love slave, mind you, but maybe just giving her a little nudge in my direction. When the time is right, of course. I can’t give up on my efforts to charm Daphne yet, but if matters get desperate, I’ll ask for my sister’s help. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for us both to be happily in love?

At the exact moment I think of a love poem to recite to Daphne, the sound of my name floats on the wind. The others are calling me. In place of the words I’d planned to say, I dare to brush my hand along Daphne’s long braid. Then, before she can protest, I snap my fingers to return to Olympus.

***