alexandra.bolintineanu at alexandra.bolintineanu at
Mon Sep 27 17:52:36 EDT 1999

Laurel makes me think of Lorelei, the German enchantress who sang ships to
their doom; but Laurel has her own myth, too.

According to Ovid's "Metamorphoses", Daphne (who was changed into the
laurel tree) was a nymph, daughter of the river god Peneus, and first love
of Apollo, god of the sun and the arts, and great player on the lyre.
("She likes them musical"--and also fair-haired and good-looking.)  Apollo
falls in love with Daphne because Cupid, in a fit of spite, shoots him
with an arrow that inspired burning passion, and Daphne with an arrow that
repels it.  Apollo courts Daphne, but she is unmoved; he pursues her, and
he, in an attempt to save herself from being ravished, asks her father's
help.  And here comes a passage gorgeous even in translation:

"Scarce had she made her prayer when through her limbs
A dragging languor spread, her tender bosom
Was wrapped in thin smooth bark, her slender arms
Were changed to branches and her hair to leaves;
Her feet but now so swift were anchored fast
In numb stiff roots, her face and head became
The crown of a green tree; all that remained
Of Daphne was her shining loveliness.

And still Apollo loved her; on the trunk
He placed his hand and felt beneath the bark
Her heart still beating, held in his embrace
Her branches, pressed his kisses on the wood;
Yet from his kisses still the wood recoiled."  
			--trans. A. Melville

Reading Ovid's version, my sympathies are completely and unmitigatedly on
Daphne/Laurel's side; and yet, reading the story in the light of DWJ's
portrayal of her own Laurel, one wonders whether the erstwhile nymph's
gesture of running from Apollo was not a denial of the things that make us
human rather than, well, vegetation--desire, love, art, the possibility of


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