Apollo ex machina in French Drama

This paper traces the evolution of the mythological figure of Apollo in selected plays of the 17th century. Apollo makes his first appearance as a deus ex machina in pastoral machine-plays. At the conclusion of Charles de L’Espine’s tragedy La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers (1614) he descends in a cloud machine to musical accompaniment to comfort the grieving shepherds after Orpheus’s death. His role is more central in two other machine plays, where he plays the immortal lover. In Boursault’s Les Yeux de Philis changez en astres (1665) the god, while driving his chariot across the heavens, becomes enamoured of the shepherdess Philis. He descends in a cloud, and makes love to her. In Gabriel Gilbert’s Les Amours de Diane et d’Endimion (1657) Apollo, jealous god, arrives in his chariot to surprise Diana and her mortal lover Endymion.

Two of the earliest French pastoral operas featured Apollo as a leading character, Dassoucy’s Les Amours d’Apollon et de Daphne (1650) and Gilbert and Robert Cambert’s opera Les Peines et les Plaisirs de l’Amour (1672). In both cases, Apollo is portrayed not as a grieving lover, but as the god of music, poetry, and dance. As the god of light and of the sun, Apollo was closely identified with Louis XIV, the Sun King who ruled over the Muses in France. Images of Louis’ gradual assumption of this emblem can be seen in the costume designs for the Ballet de la Nuit,1653, and in Werner's painting of the King as Apollo in his chariot of 1670.

John Powell
Symposium Title: 
Roi Soleil and Soleil Dieu – 2003
Author affiliation: 
University of Tulsa, Oklahoma