"O impious deed! O sacrilegious soul! O daring hand!“ - the destruction of Apollo's Temple in Daphne in 362

22 October 362, the famous temple of Apollo in Daphne, a fashionable suburb of Antioch, burned to the ground, allegedly set alight by Christian arsonists.

“How can we now expect to be honoured, in future, by those who have a veneration for temples and images! When fatigued in our mind, of what a relief, O Jupiter, are we deprived! How pure, how free from all tumults, was the region of Daphne! How much still purer was the shrine! Like a haven formed by nature within a haven; both being tranquil, but the inner affording the most tranquility.  Who did not there lose his diseases, his fears, his sorrows?  Who there wished for the island of the blessed? Ere long will be the Olympic games that annual festival will convene the cities; these cities too will come, bringing oxen as victims to Apollo. What then shall we do? Where shall we hide ourselves? Which of the gods will open the earth for us? What herald, what trumpet, will excite anything but tears? Who now will style the Olympic games a festival, as this late misfortune suggests so dire a lamentation?Bring me my bow of horn,says the tragedy.  I add, a little in the spirit of the prophecy,That thus I may attack, and thus destroy,The vile incendiary.O impious deed! O sacrilegious soul! O daring hand!“ (Libanius of Antioch, “A monody on the Daphnean temple of Apollo, destroyed by Fire, or, as it is said, by Lightning.”)

John William Waterhouse: "Apollo and Daphne" (1905)

Sometimes, arrogance, bragging and overconfidence can occur even with the most Apollonian types, including the deity himself. When Apollo Articenens, the bow-carrying god, mocked Eros for being an abysmal shot, love being blind and all that, the little winged imp showed the Olympian what’s what, hit him with a golden-tipped arrow and the nymph Daphne, an innocent bystander obviously, getting a leaden-headed one. Apollo fell madly in love with the nymph while poor Daphne went plumb crazy and ran away. Desperately calling for help to her father, a Thessalian river god, her old man acted at once and, at least according to Ovid, “heavy torpor seizes her limbs; and her soft breasts are covered with a thin bark. Her hair grows into green leaves, her arms into branches; her feet, the moment before so swift, adhere by sluggish roots; a leafy canopy overspreads her features; her elegance alone remains in her…” and Apollo loved her still and the laurel and laurel wreaths became sacred to the god. Usually, legend has it that Daphne’s metamorphosis happened at Apollo’s shrine in Delphi, but since the deity originally came from Asia Minor anyway, the good people of Antioch found it quite normal to relocate the scene to their own vicinity when the place became all Greek in the 4th century BCE and thus, a fashionable suburb of the second largest city of the Hellenistic world was called Daphne, a fountain named Castalia and the most important shrine of Apollo in the East emerged, complete with Apollonian games that rivalled those held traditionally at Olympia.

Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius' (1527 - 1598) remembrance of idyllic Daphne

However, the times they were a-changin’ in late antiquity and a new religion began to spread in the Roman Empire that did not suffer to have other gods before its own road to salvation. Indignant, the Pythia in Delphi walked off the job about mid-4th century and the oracle in Daphne fell silent when the remains of one of the alleged early Antiochene martyrs, one Bishop Babylas, were buried beside its Castalian Spring. When Julian the Apostate arrived in Antioch in the summer of 362 to revive the Hellenistic world and to plan his campaign against the Sassanians east of the Euphrates, the last non-Christian emperor gasped when the yearly festival of Apollo was attended by just an old man who was about to sacrifice a probably equally ancient chicken. The city was allegedly, by and large, Christian by then and first of all, the romantically heathen emperor ordered the bones of Babyas to be returned from the Castalia to the Domus Aurea, the Golden House of Antioch, the great church donated by Julian’s uncle Constantine the Great and finished by his cousin and predecessor Constantin II. And then a fire broke out in the temple of Apollo.

Edward Armitage: “Julian the Apostate presiding at a conference of sectarians“ (1875)

It was evident for Julian that the Christians had taken their petty revenge á la Herostratus and he promptly closed the Domus Aurea and while the city had to feed the emperor’s army of about 70,000 men, endure his particular brand of neo-platonic paganism and his peculiar sense of fashion, especially in regards to his philosopher’s beard, probably the worst thing out of the three for the trendy Antiochenes, unrest grew and Julian’s imitation of Alexander the Great out east ended in a catastrophe during the next year anyway. Later, according to the probably pagan Antiochene author Ammianus Marcellinus, it turned out that the destruction of the temple of Apollo was caused by the obviously quite scatterbrained cynic philosopher Asclepiades who “…placed before the lofty feet of the statue (the tall chryselephantine, i.e. gold and ivory statue of the god) a little silver image of the Dea Caelestis, which he always carried with him wherever he went, and after lighting some wax tapers as usual, went away. From these tapers after midnight, when no one could be present to render aid, some flying sparks alighted on the woodwork, which was very old, and the fire, fed by the dry fuel, mounted and burned whatever it could reach, at however great a height it was.” 1,500 years later, the Domus Aurea is a myth like the temple of Apollo, Antiochia is called Antakya, a Turkish town with 200,000 inhabitants close to the Syrian border in Hatay and Daphne became Harbiye, proud of the old myth and touristically quite over-developed.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini: "Apollo and Daphne"

Depicted above is Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s famous “Apollo and Daphne” sculpture (1622 – 1625), showing the climax of Ovid’s story and the metamorphosis of Daphne. The picture was found on:


More about Bernini’s marvellous sculpture on:


And more about Antioch, Emperor Julian and Daphne on: