Enough Myth – Why Do Apollo’s Priests Eat Laurel? (Scholion to Lycophron’s Alexandra, Line 6)

“They are idle prattlers who claim that soothsayers exercise their art by first eating laurel leaves, because they think that Apollo delights in the sight and smell of the leaves and delivers prophecies to them in exchange. Inquiry makes this much clear to us. The Arcadian river Ladon coupled with Gaia, and with her gave birth to a child named Daphne, who was in the freshest bloom of beauty. Apollo fell in love with her and pursued her, but when she was about to be caught, she prayed to her mother Gaia, who split open and took her in. Gaia tried to appease Apollo by giving him a plant by the same name, which was also called Daphne. It is always blooming, and never withers away, because the maiden remained undestroyed from Apollo.

Apollo made a garland from the leaves of the plant and crowned himself with it because of his love for the girl of the same name. Thus it happens that shrines of Apollo are outfitted with crowns made of laurel leaves. From whence comes the idle prating about the oracles eating laurel leaves because they delight Apollo’s senses. These are all just tales and myths, but here is the real story.

Some soothsayers and prophets used to bear crowns of laurel because they were always blooming and were thought to avert evil. They would say these things when they were issuing their oracles, and would even take some of the leaves. Since they were nourished this way, the story was established that they were laurel eaters, both from the fact that they were crowned with laurel, and the fact that they spoke out their oracles when taking nourishment from that same plant.”

Note: Daphne = Laurel. Gaia = Earth.

ληροῦσι γὰρ ὅτι οἱ μάντεις

δάφνας ἐσθίοντες ἐμαντεύοντο ἵνα τῇ ὀπωπῇ καὶ τῇ ὀσφρή-

σει γαννύμενος ὁ θεὸς ἀντιδίδωσιν αὐτοῖς τὰς θεοπροπίας

*χαίρων*. ἡ δὲ ἱστορία ἡμῖν δηλώσει· Λάδων ὁ ἐν ᾿Αρκα-

δίᾳ ποταμὸς τῇ Γῇ συγγενόμενος ἐγέννησε παῖδα *ὀνόματι*

Δάφνην πάνυ ὡραίαν τῷ εἴδει. ταύτης ἐρασθεὶς ᾿Απόλλων

ἐδίωκεν αὐτήν. ἡ δὲ συλλαμβάνεσθαι μέλλουσα ηὔξατο τῇ

μητρὶ αὐτῆς Γῇ, ἡ δὲ χανοῦσα ὑπεδέξατο αὐτήν. ἡ Γῆ δὲ

τὸν ᾿Απόλλωνα παραμυθουμένη ὁμώνυμον τῇ κόρῃ φυτὸν

ἀνέδωκεν, ὃ καὶ δάφνη καλεῖται. ἔστι δὲ ἀειθαλὲς καὶ μηδέ-

ποτε μαραινόμενον ἐπεὶ καὶ ἡ κόρη ἄφθαρτος ἐκ τοῦ ᾿Απόλ-

λωνος ἔμεινεν T. ᾿Απόλλων δὲ συνείρας στέφανον ἐκ τῶν τοῦ

φυτοῦ φύλλων ἐστεφανώσατο διὰ τὸν τῆς ὁμωνυμίας κόρης

ἔρωτα ὅθεν καὶ τὰ ἐν τῷ ναῷ τοῦ ᾿Απόλλωνος στέμματα

ἀπὸ δάφνης ἦσαν κατεσκευασμένα. ὅθεν ληροῦσιν ὅτι καὶ T

οἱ μάντεις δι’ εὐφροσύνην ᾿Απόλλωνος T δάφνας ἤσθιον.

καὶ ταῦτα μὲν τὰ ληρώδη καὶ μυθικά, τὸ δ’ ἀληθὲς οὕτως

ἔχει· οἱ χρησμολόγοι καὶ μάντεις στεφάνους δάφνης φοροῦν-

τες ὡς ἀειθαλοῦς ὄντος τοῦ φυτοῦ καὶ ἀλεξικάκου καὶ οὕτω

τοῖς χρήζουσι τοὺς χρησμοὺς λέγοντες καὶ λαμβάνοντές τι ἐξ

αὐτῶν καὶ οὕτω διατρεφόμενοι *εἰς* τὸν μῦθον ἐτέθησαν

ὅτι δαφνηφάγοι εἰσὶν ἤτοι ἐκ τοῦ στεφανοῦσθαι δάφνῃ καὶ

λέγειν τοὺς χρησμοὺς ἔχουσι τὰς τροφάς. T

2 thoughts on “Enough Myth – Why Do Apollo’s Priests Eat Laurel? (Scholion to Lycophron’s Alexandra, Line 6)

  1. Not at all beyond the part about Daphne being chased and praying. However, in the Ovidian (and more well-received) version, she is the daughter of the river Peneus. She prays, in the middle of her flight, that her father will change her figure. I’ll post the Ovidian version up here tomorrow for comparison.

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