The Little Maiden Who Became A Laurel Tree
A Greek Legend
Cupid was a beautiful little boy. Between the wings on his shoulders he always carried a quiver full of tiny arrows. Bow in hand, he started out every morning ready, like any boy, for mischief. One day he came to drink from a fountain with some thirsty doves who were his friends.
Apollo saw the little fellow and, to tease him, asked:
"What do you carry arrows for, saucy boy? It is for great gods like myself to do that. My arrow shot the terrible python, the serpent of darkness. What can you do?"
"Apollo may hit serpents, but I will hit Apollo," said Cupid, and taking out two tiny arrows, one of gold and one of lead, he touched their points together and then shot the golden one straight into Apollo.
Quick as a flash of Apollo's sun-crown, Cupid shot the other, the leaden one, into a river cloud he saw floating by. In it he knew Daphne, the daughter of the river, was hidden. The leaden arrow hit her true, but she drifted away on the swift breeze.
Apollo, the sun-god, can see through everything except fog and mist, but as Daphne fled he caught one glimpse of her face, and Cupid laughed to see how his arrow did its work. His arrows never kill; sometimes, indeed, they make life happier. Apollo now loved Daphne more than anything else on earth. Daphne was more afraid of him than of anything else in the sky.
On flew Daphne, hoping her misty cloud would hide her till she could reach her river home. On flew Apollo, begging her to stop for fear his arrows might hurt her. His great arrows of sunlight must do their work even if his friends should perish by them.
As they neared the river he saw her face again. She sank on the river bank. She was faint and he would comfort her but she cried to her father, the river, "O father, help!" The earth opened, and before Apollo could reach her he saw her waving hair change into glistening leaves. Her arms became branches. Her skin changed to dainty bark, and her face to a tree-top whose pink flowers show, even yet, the beauty of Daphne's cheek. Apollo reached out and gathered the leaves and made them into a crown.
"This tree shall be called laurel, and it shall be mine," he said. "I cannot grow old and the leaves of this tree shall be always green. Daphne has won the race against Apollo, the wreath of these leaves shall be her gift and mine to the bravest in every race. Kings and captains shall be proud to wear it."
Apollo hid his face for days behind dark clouds. Heavy rains fell. The immortal gods cannot weep, but these great drops seemed like tears for lost Daphne.
Even saucy Cupid mourned, and he did not dare go out till the storms were over, for fear Apollo's grief would spoil his wings.
In cold northern lands you can find Daphne's tree in greenhouses among the roses and lilies. And if you ask for Daphne, the gardener will point her out, for he calls the tree by her name.
Sources And Further Reading
Project Gutenberg Classic Myths Retold by Mary Catherine Judd with drawings entirely from classic sources