A Mortal's Slave
As the ruler of the Olympians, Zeus sometimes had to dispense justice. Twice, he punished Apollo for misdeeds. In both cases, Apollo was sentenced to serve mortal men as a slave.
Apollo the Bricklayer
Not long after the Olympians established their dominance, a mutiny arose against Zeus (see Chapter 5). This rebellion was headed by Hera, and all of the gods and goddesses except Hestia took part. Zeus punished the conspirators in various ways. For Apollo and Poseidon, the sentence was to work for King Laomedon, building a great wall around the city of Troy.
For one long year, the two gods lived as mortals, doing the hard labor of stone masons. Laomedon promised to pay them well for their work. At the end of a year, they'd completed the wall, an impressive defensive structure. The two gods approached Laomedon and requested their wages, but the king laughed and refused to pay. Laomedon cut off their ears with a knife and threatened to bind Apollo's hands and feet and sell him into slavery. The furious gods left, planning their revenge. They punished not just the king but the entire city: Poseidon sent a great sea monster to attack Troy and Apollo sent a deadly plague.
Buffeted by the gods' revenge, Laomedon tried to sacrifice his own daughter in hopes of appeasing Poseidon. He chained her to a rock as an offering to the sea monster. But the hero Heracles offered to save the girl and kill the monster in return for the king's mares. Laomedon agreed. Heracles did as he'd promised, rescuing the girl and saving the city, but again the king reneged on his promise, refusing to give Heracles the horses. Heracles led an army against Troy and eventually killed Laomedon and most of his sons.
Apollo the Herdsman
Apollo also got in trouble for murder. Apollo's son Asclepius was a famous healer (in fact, he was known as the god of healing). Asclepius was so adept at his art that he could bring the dead back to life. This interfered with Hades' domain, so he complained to Zeus. Zeus sided with Hades and struck Asclepius with a thunderbolt, killing him.
Outraged by the death of his son but unable to challenge Zeus directly, Apollo turned his anger toward the Cyclopes, the beings who created thunderbolts and gave them to Zeus for weapons. Apollo killed the Cyclopes, and Zeus was determined to punish him. At first, Zeus intended to throw Apollo into Tartarus, but Leto interceded on her son's behalf. So instead, Zeus sentenced Apollo to a year in servitude to a mortal master, King Admetus of Pheres. (Some myths say that the sentence lasted for nine years.) Apollo went to the king in mortal form and served him as a cowherd.
Apollo's punishment was nowhere near as severe as Zeus intended. For one thing, Apollo enjoyed herding the cattle; he was, after all, the protector of herdsmen. Unlike Laomedon, King Admetus was kind to his servant.
Apollo repaid Admetus for his generosity several times over. He made all the cows give birth to twins. He helped the king win the hand of the woman he loved. When Artemis was angry with Admetus for neglecting her rites, Apollo smoothed things over. He even tricked the Fates into extending the king's life. When it was time for Admetus to die, Apollo got the Fates drunk and convinced them to delay the king's death if he could find someone else to die in his place. (When neither of his elderly parents volunteered, his wife Alcestis stepped forward to take his place in the Underworld.) Instead of being a humiliating punishment, Apollo's time with Admetus gained him a friend.