The Story of the Laurel
by Grace Kupfer
Once upon a time there was a great flood over all the earth. Some wicked people had angered the gods, and Jupiter sent all the waters of the earth and sky to cover the earth. He did not want the waters to dry up until all the people were drowned, so he shut fast in their caverns all the winds except the south wind, which was sometimes called the messenger of the rain. And Jupiter sent this messenger of his to wander over all the earth.
A mighty figure of ruin he was, as he swept along, emptying the clouds as he passed. His face was covered with a veil like the night, his hair was loaded with showers, and his wings and his cloak were dripping wet. The gods of the ocean and the river gods all helped him in his work; till, in a short time the whole earth was out of sight under a vast sea and all the wicked were drowned.
Then Jupiter was sorry to see the earth looking so empty and deserted, so he called home the south wind and set the other winds free. The north wind and the east wind and the gentle west wind swept over the earth until it was again dry and green. After that Jupiter sent a new race of better men and women to live upon it.
But, strange to say, the water had brought forth many queer new animals; and among them was a huge monster, so ugly that I will not even try to tell you what it looked like, and so wicked and cruel that the people for miles around the swampy land where it dwelt lived in constant terror. No one dared go near the hideous creature until one day, the archer Apollo, the sun-god, came with his glittering arrows, and slew it, after a fierce battle. The people were then very happy. They made a great hero of Apollo, and he left the country feeling very proud of himself.
As he was going along, whom should he meet but the little god Cupid, armed with his bow and arrows. Cupid was the young god of love, sometimes called the god of the bow, and there are many stories about how wonderful his arrows were.
Some of Cupid's arrows were sharp-pointed and made of shining gold, and whoever was pierced by one of these felt love very deeply, at once. But his other arrows were blunt and made of dull lead and, strange as it may seem, made the people whom they struck hate each other.
When Apollo met Cupid thus armed, he began to taunt him.
"What have you to do with the arrow?" he said in a boastful tone. "That is my weapon. I have just proved it by slaying the terrible monster. Come, Cupid, give up the bow which rightfully belongs to me."
Now, Cupid was a very quick tempered little god, and he cried in a passion, "Though your arrow may pierce all other things, my arrow can wound you." Then he flew off in a very bad humor, and tried to think of some way in which he could make Apollo feel which of them was a better marksman.
By and by, he came to a grove in which a beautiful nymph, Daphne, was wandering. This was just what Cupid wanted. He shot an arrow of lead into her heart, and the nymph felt a cold shiver run through her. She looked up to see what had happened, and caught a glimpse of Apollo's golden garments above the tree-tops.
Cupid saw him at the same instant, and, quick as a flash, he planted a golden arrow in Apollo's heart. Then he flew away, satisfied.
The golden arrow did its work only too well. No sooner had the sun-god caught a glimpse of the beautiful nymph, Daphne, than he began to feel a deep love for her. And, just as quickly, Daphne had been made to fear Apollo, and turned and fled from him into the woods.
Apollo followed Daphne in hot haste, calling to her not to be afraid and not to run so fast, for fear she might hurt herself on the thorns and brambles. At last he cried, "Do not try to run from me. I love you, and will do you no harm. I am the great sun-god Apollo!"
But Daphne was only the more terrified at these words and fled more swiftly, while Apollo still pursued her. He had almost reached her side, when she stretched out her arms to her father, the god of the river, along whose banks she was fleeing.
"Oh, father," she cried, "help me! Either let the earth open and swallow me, or so change this form of mine that Apollo will not love me."
Hardly had Daphne finished her plea, when her limbs grew heavy, and a thin bark began to cover her flesh. Her hair changed to green leaves, her arms to slender branches, and her feet, which had borne her along so swiftly, were now rooted to the ground. Her father had answered her plea. Daphne, the nymph, was changed into a laurel tree.
When Apollo saw that his beautiful Daphne had become a tree, he threw his arms about the newly-formed bark and cried, "Since you cannot be my wife, fair Daphne, at least you shall be my tree, my laurel. Your leaves shall be used to crown the heads of the victorious brave, and they shall remain green alike in summer and in winter."
And so it came to pass. The laurel, Apollo's emblem from that day on, became the sign of honor and triumph.