Daphnis – Legendary Hero of Sicily

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In Greek mythology, Daphnis was a shepherd from Sicily and a legendary hero. He became famous for inventing pastoral poetry and featured in a number of minor myths, the most famous being the one where he was blinded for his infidelity.

Who was Daphnis?

According to the myth, Daphnis was the mortal son of a nymph (thought to be the nymph Daphne) and Hermes, the messenger god. He was left in a forest of laurel trees surrounded by a mountain, although none of the sources clearly state why his own mother abandoned him. Daphnis was later discovered by some local shepherds. The shepherds named him after the tree they had found him under and they raised him as their own child.

The sun god, Apollo, loved Daphnis very much. He and his sister Artemis, the goddess of hunting and wild nature, took the shepherd out hunting and taught him as much as they could.

Daphnis and the Naiad

Daphnis fell in love with a Naiad (a nymph) who was either Nomia or Echenais and she, too, loved him in return. They swore that they would always be faithful to each other. However, a king’s daughter who had her eye on Daphnis threw a grand party and invited him to attend.

When he did, she got him drunk  and then seduced him. Things didn’t go well for Daphnis after that. Echenais (or Nomia) subsequently found out about this, and she was so angry at his infidelity that she blinded him.

In other versions of the tale, it was Clymene, the wife of King Zeo, who had seduced Daphnis and the nymph, instead of blinding him, turned the shepherd into stone.

The Death of Daphnis

In the meantime, Pan, the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, was also in love with Daphnis. Because the shepherd was helpless without his eyesight, Pan taught him how to play a musical instrument, known as the pan pipes.

Daphnis played the pan pipes to console himself and sang shepherds’ songs. However, he soon fell off a cliff and died, but some say that Hermes took him up into the heavens. Hermes made a fountain of water gush out from the place where his son had been just before he was taken.

Ever since then, the people of Sicily made sacrificial offerings every year at the fountain, for Daphnis’ untimely death.

The Inventor of Bucolic Poetry

In the ancient times, the shepherds of Sicily sang a national style of song that was supposedly invented by Daphnis, the hero of the shepherds. These often had several subjects: the fate of Daphnis, the simplicity of a shepherds life and their lovers. Stesichorus, the Sicilian poet wrote several pastoral poems which told of the story of Daphnis love and how he came to his tragic end.

In Brief

Daphnis was a minor character in Greek mythology who’s said to have inspired bucolic poetry. It’s said that in certain parts of Greece,  many of the pastoral poems that were written in ancient times are still sung by shepherds as they tend to their sheep. In this way, Daphnis’ name, just like his poetry, continues to live on through the poetry style that he supposedly invented.