The Daphne Contest!
The Contest: Write a story of 5,000 words or less about the myth below.
Deadline: March 31 by midnight
Entry Fee: FREE!
The myth of Daphne is one of the most popular stories in Greek mythology.
We know this one—Apollo fell in love with Daphne, but she wasn’t interested. So he chased her, intending to have his way, just like a typical Greek god with self-important patriarchal values. But Daphne called out to the river god to spare her from Apollo’s lustful advances, and so Daphne was transformed into a laurel tree on the banks of the river. Apollo was sad about this, but made himself a wreath of the laurel leaves and felt a little bit better.
And to this day, wreaths of laurel are a sign of victory . . . because Apollo was poetic and liked irony.
(Really, why are laurel wreaths a symbol of victory? This seems like a super Pyrrhic victory to me—the kind that comes at such a great loss that it might not have really been worth it in the end. I’m going to have to explore that a bit more.)
There’s more than the bare bones of the story going on in the myth of Daphne, though.
And—as with all myths—there are different branches of it (ha ha, couldn’t help myself) that lend us different ways to look at the story and its messages. First, there’s the basic myth that we have above, and that’s a popular version that we see retold in many places. Let’s call that Version A.
In version B . . .
Daphne is the daughter of a river god, Penieus. She’s a follower of Artemis, and just like the goddess (who happens to be Apollo’s twin sister), Daphne shuns the company of men. She wants to remain unmarried all her life, and she enjoys hanging out in the forest and hunting with other wild women.
There’s a local king named Leucippas who falls in love with Daphne, but he knows she won’t have anything to do with him. So he tricks her. He was already growing his hair long, and now he braids it, shaves his face smooth as a baby’s bum, and puts on a dress. He disguises himself as a maiden and joins Daphne’s crew, eventually becoming her closest friend.
Meanwhile, Apollo has also taken notice of Daphne, and is jealous of this cross-dressing mortal king who has managed to get close to the woman.
One day, the girls decide to go bathing at the river, and Leucippas says in his blushing-maiden falsetto voice, “Oh, I um, I don’t think I’m actually dirty, uh, you girls go on without me, ha ha!”
The women suspect something, and strip off his dress at the river. When they realize that he’s really a man, they go all Actaeon on him and murder him. (Artemis’s women REALLY don’t like to be intruded on by men.)
So at this point, Apollo steps in (a weird and unexpected twist), and we get the famous chase that ends with Daphne becoming a laurel tree.
In version C of the myth . . .
Daphne isn’t the daughter of the river god at all, but is the daughter of Teiresias, taken as a prisoner of war and given as a gift to Apollo. She then serves as the Oracle of Delphi.
Most of us are familiar with Ovid’s version of the myth, which is similar to version A. You can read Ovid’s version (and other mentions of Daphne throughout historical sources) here on Theoi.
I’ll judge entries based on:
— Word count. Please stick to 5,000 words or less. It can be much less, if you want. (I only have so much time to read entries, and it would be a shame to toss yours out because it’s too long!)
— Writing prowess. You don’t have to be the god of poetry, but do give it your best shot. An understanding of how to structure a story, how to use dialogue, and all that jazz will work in your favor. (Spelling, grammar, and typos count.)
— An understanding of the myth itself.
Send your entry to my email: HelloL@Mythraeum.com. Please paste your entry in the body of your email, since I won’t open attachments. The subject line should be “Daphne Contest.” Please write your entry in English and in prose. You can email me any questions at the same address. I’ll have a winner by April 10. Subscribe to Mythraeum to see the winner.
Have questions? See if your answers are in the Writers FAQ.
There are different interpretations of the myth’s symbolism.
There’s the obvious “the patriarchy sucks” interpretation, which is always valid.
Related to that, there’s an interpretation that says this myth is a metaphor for when the sky-god people swept into a matriarchal goddess culture and overtook them, forcing their priestesses to serve the sky god and taking away their voices (the Pythia had no voice of her own, but only channeled Apollo’s words).
There’s Joseph Campbell’s interpretation—in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he cites the story of Daphne as an example of a “Refusal of the Call.” That is, the heroine heard the call to adventure—her higher self, a call of the god within her to embrace her own growth and become who she was meant to be—and instead of saying yes to the call, she turned away from it, and thus turned away from her own adventure and growth. A big theme of myth, and Campbell’s work, is that the hero’s ultimate goal is to grow spiritually until he unifies with the God. In this case, Daphne definitely fled her destiny. (From a psychological standpoint, the river she called out to for help was even her father, symbolizing how she’d rather remain childlike forever than embrace the responsibilities, new territories, possibilities, and fears associated with womanhood and marriage.)
I have also seen it suggested that Daphne DID actually metamorphose into her higher self, since the tree is a sacred symbol that can be seen as the Tree of Life, or the tree that gods hang from in order to gain knowledge (like Odin) or to make a supreme sacrifice (like Jesus Christ). This is especially interesting considering the tradition that sees Daphne as the Pythia of Apollo, who voiced his prophecies at the Oracle of Delphi. Perhaps Apollo’s goal all along was for her to become the laurel?
You can use some of these ideas in your story, or none of them. Your Apollo can be the god that brings all light, an overbearing boss, or a cruel crazy grandmother. Your Daphne can be a nymph, a princess, or a shop girl. Your story doesn’t have to be set in Ancient Greece (but it can be). You can set it in modern times or on a spaceship. Turn it into a Western or steampunk, or even do the Jane Austen version.
You don’t have to tell the whole story. You can write a quick vignette, or get as sweeping and epic as you can in 5,000 words. You can focus on Daphne, or Apollo, or the story from the point of view of a tree. Get creative!
Good luck arche-typers!
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