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“The Daphnephoria” by Frederic Leighton

Frederic Leighton - Daphnephoria

“The Daphnephoria” by Frederic Leighton

“The Daphnephoria” by Frederic Leighton depicts an ancient Greek religious festival held every ninth year at Thebes in Boeotia, Greece in honor of Apollo.

During the festival procession, the people held laurel branches and sung to Apollo. At the head of the procession walked a youth who acted as the chosen priest of Apollo. He was given the special title of the “Daphnephoros.”

Leighton’s depiction features a procession of young people with a richly dressed “Daphnephoros,” wearing a golden crown.

The Daphnephoros leads the procession to the temple of Apollo, where he will dedicate to Apollo two bronze tripods. The tripods are carried on the shoulders of the youth at the far left of the painting.

The youth who was selected as the “Daphnephoros,” which in Greek meant the “laurel bearer,” had to come from a prominent family, had to be of noble appearance, and his parents had to be healthy. 

In the procession, immediately in front of the “Daphnephoros” walked one of his relatives, carrying an olive tree pole hung with laurels and flowers and having at the top a bronze ball from which hung several smaller balls. 

Another smaller ball was placed in the middle of the pole, which was then twined round with colored ribbons. The balls symbolized the sun, stars, and moon, while the ribbons symbolized the days of the year.

The Daphnephoros was followed by a chorus of maidens carrying suppliant branches and singing a hymn to the god. For the young participants, the Daphnephoria combine rituals, which signified an essential rite of passage. 

Thebes in Boeotia

Thebes is a city in Boeotia, central Greece. It played an important role in Greek myths, as the site of the stories of Oedipus, Dionysus, Heracles, and others.

Archaeological excavations in and around Thebes have revealed a Mycenaean settlement of importance during the Bronze Age.

It was a major rival of ancient Athens, and before its destruction by Alexander in 335 BC, Thebes was a major force in Greek history.


Apollo is one of the Olympian deities in classical Greek religion and mythology. The national divinity of the Greeks, Apollo, has been recognized as a god of archery, music and dance, prophecy, healing, the Sun, and more.

He was the son of Zeus and the twin brother of Artemis, goddess of the hunt. Seen as the most beautiful god and the ideal of the kouros (athletic youth), Apollo is considered to be the most Greek of all the gods.

As the patron deity of Delphi, Apollo was the prophetic deity of the Delphic Oracle. Medicine and healing are associated with Apollo, mediated through his son Asclepius.

As the god of the art of Muses, Apollo presides over music, songs, dance, and poetry. The lyre is a common attribute of Apollo.

Temples of Apollo

Many temples were dedicated to Apollo in Greece and the Greek colonies. They show the spread of the Greek architecture, in which the architects were trying to achieve esthetic perfection.

Thebes had one of the oldest temples dedicated to Apollo, first built in the 9th century B.C. The ruins visible today point to a curvilinear Doric temple built later in the early 7th century B.C.

The most significant Apollonian festivals were:

  • The Pythian Games held every four years at Delphi; they were one of the four great Panhellenic Games.
  • The Delia held every four years on Delos.
  • The multiple Athenian annual festivals included the Boedromia, Metageitnia, Pyanepsia, and Thargelia.
  • The annual Spartan festivals were the Carneia and the Hyacinthia.
  • Thebes, every nine years, held the Daphnephoria.

The Daphnephoria

  • Title:                  The Daphnephoria
  • Artist:                Frederic Leighton
  • Created:           1874 – 1876
  • Media:              Oil paint on Canvas
  • Dimensions:     Height: 226 cm (88.9 in); Width: 518 cm (16.9 ft)
  • Museum:          Lady Lever Art Gallery

Frederic Leighton

Sir Frederic Leighton, the artist, was successful and famous during his lifetime, with many works depicted historical, biblical, and classical subjects.

Leighton was the bearer of the shortest-lived peerage in history,  1st Baron Leighton. After only one day, his hereditary peerage became extinct upon his death. Leighton remained a bachelor with no legitimate children.

Leighton’s house in Holland Park, London, has been turned into a museum, the Leighton House Museum.

It has many of his drawings and paintings, as well as some of his former art collection, including works by Old Masters and his contemporaries.

Frederic Leighton

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Virtual Tour of the Lady Lever Art Gallery

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“The Daphnephoria” by Frederic Leighton

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Apollo and the Oracle of Delphi

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“The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo.”
– William Shakespeare


Photo Credit:1) Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; 

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