Jealous of Apollo’s victory over Python, Cupid points his bow at Apollo. Apollo tells Cupid to put down the bow because he, Apollo, is the only one who can shoot without missing. Cupid retorts that he will make Apollo yield to him like a mortal. Cupid then draws two arrows from his quiver: a gold one that causes passion, and a lead one that repels passion. Cupid shoots Apollo with the gold arrow and Daphne, daughter of the river Penéus, with the lead arrow. Afterwards, Daphne avoids all suitors and plays in the forest with no thought of marriage or sex. When her father asks her for a grandson, she begs him to let her be a virgin forever.
In this chapter, Cupid punishes Apollo by making the object of his desire resist him. Daphne is the first female character in the Metamorphoses who embraces chastity; many female characters after her will also embrace this lifestyle, but will struggle to keep it against the wishes of the men who want to be with them. This battle between men and women ensues throughout the Metamorphoses, often making love a tense, complicated, or non-consensual event. As the first “love story,” Apollo and Daphne’s antagonism casts love in a negative light.
By contrast, Apollo falls in love with Daphne and wants to possess her. Passion fills him like fire as he gazes at Daphne’s eyes, lips, and tempting limbs. He approaches her but she runs away. He runs after her, begging her to stop. He says he is not a predator trying to catch her but a man who loves her. He tells her that his father is Jupiter and that he’s an expert archer and healer, except that he cannot escape love’s arrow or heal from its disease.
Apollo believes that Daphne is misunderstanding the motivation of his actions. Apollo claims that he is pursuing Daphne out of love, not as a predator. However, because Daphne does not desire Apollo’s advances, his passion is no better than predation. Apollo also calls love an inescapable disease, suggesting that it is a force that causes a person to act against their will.
Daphne runs faster to escape Apollo. She looks even more beautiful running, and Apollo loses his patience. Like a predator closing in on its prey, he comes upon her. Desperate and afraid, Daphne prays to her father, the river Penéus, to take away her beauty. At once, Daphne turns into a tree. Still in love with her, Apollo clutches the tree and feels Daphne’s heart beating beneath the bark. Although he can’t marry her, he decides he’ll crown heroes with her leaves and flank palaces with her saplings. He makes her immortal like himself, and she waves her branches in assent.
The antagonism between Apollo and Daphne only exacerbates their respective feelings towards one another. Daphne’s fear of Apollo and her running away from him makes him desire her more, and his increased desire only makes her run faster in greater fear. Daphne’s transformation is a kind of stalemate between them. When Daphne is a tree, Apollo still loves her but is unable to possess her.