On October 13, the Nobel Prize committee announced that Bob Dylan would be this year’s Nobel laureate in Literature. Some praised the decision, some mocked the committee, like Irvine Welsh who tweeted: “I’m a Dylan fan, but this is an ill-conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies.”
The word laureate comes from Latin, meaning “crowned with laurels.” A wreath of laurel was given to the winner in the Pythian games in honour of Apollo. In Christianity, it became to symbolize the triumph of humanity.
What is so exceptional about laurel that it is reserved for and signifies the highest achievements?
Bay laurel leaves never decay. What a perfect way to crown winners, suggesting the timelessness of their accomplishments! The laurel wreath’s symbolism has its roots in the myth of Apollo and Daphne.
According to Greek mythology, mighty Apollo ridiculed Eros, the god of love. The insulted Eros shot an arrow with a golden tip at Apollo that made the son of Zeus fall passionately in love with the nymph Daphne. But Eros shot at Daphne with an arrow with a lead tip, which caused her to reject Apollo’s love. Apollo wouldn’t stop following her, so Daphne begged her father, the river god Peneus, to save her from the stalker by changing her form. Peneus turned her into a laurel tree. From that day onwards, Apollo decided to wear a laurel wreath made from the leaves of his love.