What‘s in a name?

A butterfly of such a spectacular appearance has to have an impressive name. Although the exact reasoning behind its name is not clear, we can speculate why it’s called Parnassius Apollo.

Roots in mythology?

Both components of the name come from Greek. Parnassus is the name of a mountain in central Greece known as the mythological home of music and poetry. The mountain was sacred to Apollo and the Corycian nymphs and was the home of the Muses. Accordingly, in ancient Greek mythology Apollo was one of the most revered deities in mythology. He was known as the patron of the muses and arts, healer, and soothsayer. 

So how are the greek god and the butterfly related? This is not known for sure. Maybe the butterfly deserved such an honor due to its appearance. Apollo has always been considered the standard of beauty and attractiveness. The god was often described in the form of a young and beautiful young man, having a long list of love affairs. Among other things, the golden-haired god also personified the sun. So there is a possibility that the Apollo butterfly got its name for its love of warmth and sun-bathed alpine meadows. The butterfly is only out in good weather. When it is cloudy, it prefers to hide in a shelter.

Spreading beyond Earth’s orbit?

The butterfly is not the only one bearing the name. It is wildly used throughout Earth and further. The most famous example is a human spaceflight program Project Apollo run by NASA. The program succeeded in preparing and landing the first humans on the moon. Apollo set several major human spaceflight milestones. It stands alone in sending crewed missions beyond low Earth orbit. Moreover, the Apollo program transferred a massive amount of lunar rocks and soil to Earth, greatly contributing to the understanding of the Moon’s composition and geological history. It spurred advances in many areas of technology incidental to rocketry and human spaceflight, including avionics, telecommunications, and computers.

Extraterrestrial objects also carry the name. Apollo is called an enormous impact crater in the southern hemisphere on the far side of the Moon. And there is the 1862 Apollo asteroid. It is the namesake and the first recognized member of the Apollo asteroids, a subgroup of NEOs which are Earth-crossers. These are near-earth objects that cross the orbit of the Earth when viewed perpendicularly to the ecliptic plane.

Reflection in art?

The butterfly appearance is indeed a work of art worthy of the god’s name. Over the centuries Apollo, of course, was reflected in art multiple times. Thus, visitors can admire a 1.46 m unfinished marble sculpture of Apollo created by Michelangelo in the Bargello Museum in Florence. Stanisław Wyspiański designed a stained glass window depicting a god of the sun in 1904. It can be found in the Medical Society house in Krakow. And between 1927 and 1928 Igor Stravinsky composed a neoclassical ballet called Apollo.

Music didn‘t stay apart. The name was used by several bands, and music labels. It was also used in the names of music albums, such as, for example, Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks. This is the ninth solo studio album by British ambient musician Brian Eno, released in 1983 and inspired by the Apollo program. Also, a song called Apollo was performed by Swiss band Timebelle and represented Switzerland in the Eurovision Song Contest 2017. It was devoted to love and devotion to the arts and includes the refrain “I follow you Apollo”.

Taking a rightful place?

Apollo is quite a popular name used in different areas and for different species, too. A German Shepherd Dog that assisted with the rescue operations after the September 11 terror attacks was named Apollo. It was the first search and rescue dog to arrive at the site. At one point, Apollo was almost killed by flames and falling debris. However, he survived, having been drenched after falling into a pool of water just before this incident. It started working again as soon as his human partner had brushed the debris off him. In recognition of the work done Apollo was awarded the Dickin Medal, the animals’ equivalent of the Victoria Cross.

Looks like the butterfly is in good company and can pass the legacy and inspiration behind the name to the next in line.

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