In the Generalife's Romantic Gardens, close to the Water Stairway, there is a very special laurel tree, which for years has been used as an attractive educational prop on the Nature at the Alhambra route, part of the Education in the Alhambra programme. The laurel is in the shape of a woman, with legs, torso and raised arms, from which branches and leaves grow, calling to mind the story of Daphne and Apollo, adapted for school children, with which it is very popular, as “the Story of Laurita”. The story tells how Apollo, god of the Sun and of Music, and a great hunter, pursued the gigantic serpent Python which lived on Mount Parnassus.
Having wounded it with his arrows, he followed the dying snake as it escaped towards the Temple of Delphos, where he finished it off with his arrows. Delphos was a sanctuary, where the oracles of Mother Earth were pronounced. Even the gods consulted the oracle, and were outraged that murder had been committed there. They demanded that Apollo make amends for what he had done, but Apollo instead claimed Delphos as his own. He took over the oracle and founded the annual games, held in a large amphitheatre on a hill near the temple.
Apollo, proud of his victory over Python, went so far as to mock Eros for carrying a bow and arrow when he was but a child. Annoyed, Eros took his revenge by shooting Apollo with a golden arrow, which made him fall madly in love with Daphne, the daughter of Earth and of either the river Ladon or the Thessalian river god Peneus, at the same time shooting Daphne with a lead arrow, which made her hate all her suitors, particularly Apollo. Apollo chased Daphne and just as he was about to catch her, she asked help from her father, Peneus, who turned her into a laurel tree.
The most revealing aspect of this tree is that it may shed new light on the birth of the ancient myth, which originates on the island of Crete, heavily wooded with laurel trees. The species is known for its peculiar capacity to “self-graft” and, at times, as in this case, to take on strange womanly shapes. Did these suggestive natural shapes stimulate the imagination of the ancient Greeks to invent this myth which still lives on at the Alhambra?
Lola Almansa. Alhambra Educa