The son of Zeus and Leto, and the twin brother of Artemis. Apollo was the god of music (principally the lyre, and he directed the choir of the Muses) and also of prophecy, colonization, medicine, archery (but not for war or hunting), poetry, dance, intellectual inquiry and the carer of herds and flocks. He was also a god of light, known as “Phoebus” (radiant or beaming, and he was sometimes identified with Helios the sun god). He was also the god of plague and was worshiped as Smintheus (from sminthos, rat) and as Parnopius (from parnops, grasshopper) and was known as the destroyer of rats and locust, and according to Homer’s Iliad, Apollo shot arrows of plague into the Greek camp. Apollo being the god of religious healing would give those guilty of murder and other immoral deeds a ritual purification. Sacred to Apollo are the swan (one legend says that Apollo flew on the back of a swan to the land of the Hyperboreans, he would spend the winter months among them), the wolf and the dolphin. His attributes are the bow and arrows, on his head a laurel crown, and the cithara (or lyre) and plectrum. But his most famous attribute is the tripod, the symbol of his prophetic powers.
Apollo’s first achievement was to rid Pytho (Delphi) of the serpent (or dragon) Python. This monstrous beast protected the sanctuary of Pytho from its lair beside the Castalian Spring. There it stood guard while the “Sibyl” gave out her prophecies as she inhaled the trance inducing vapors from an open chasm. Apollo killed Python with his bow and arrows (Homer wrote “he killed the fearsome dragon Python, piercing it with his darts”). Apollo not only took charge of the oracle but rid the neighboring countryside of widespread destruction, as Python had destroyed crops, sacked villages and polluted streams and springs. However, to make amends for killing Python, as the fearsome beast was the son of Gaia, Apollo had to serve king Admetus for nine years (in some versions eight) as a cowherd. This he did, and when he returned to Pytho he came in the guise of a dolphin bringing with him priests from Crete (Apollo’s cult title “Delphinios” meaning dolphin or porpoise, is probably how Delphi was so named). After killing Python and taking possession of the oracle, the god of light (Phobus) became known as “Pythian Apollo”. He dedicated a bronze tripod to the sanctuary and bestowed divine powers on one of the priestesses, and she became known as the “Pythia”. It was she who inhaled the hallucinating vapors from the fissure in the temple floor, while she sat on a tripod chewing laurel leaves. After she mumbled her answer, a male priest would translate it for the supplicant. Delphi became the most important oracle center of Apollo, there were several including Clarus and Branchidae.