Apollo

In addition to the epithets Far-shooter, Archer, Delian, Pythian, and Delphian, you probably recognize some of the following:

--Loxias (possibly connected with logos or speech: the speaker?)

--Lycian or Lykian (either 'wolf-god' or associated with Lycia, a location in Asia
Minor; you might remember it as home of Sarpedon and Glaucus in the
Iliad; moreover, Apollo is associated with the flocks of sheep upon which
wolves prey--a god both of sheep and their enemies)

--Phoebus ('bright one'–but also perhaps related to phobos, which means
'fear'--'awesome or awe-full one'?)

--Paieon or Paion (Healer)

Apollo has a forbidding, brilliant, youthful presence; he is gazed at from a distance—majestic, stately, impressive. In him we 'know ourselves' from the distance we are from the gods, and from the difference of our mortal condition. There is a reason Apollo is noticed by his absence when Hector loses strength and dies in the Iliad; even more than the other male deities, Apollo represents a youthful, commanding, effortless divinity far beyond our reach and untouched by the conditions of mortality.

Apollo's hymn (in the 'Homeric Hymns') provides something of a 'charter' for the operation of his two major shrines—the one located on a barren island in the Aegean, and the other placed majestically high up in the mountains of Phocis in central Greece. The 'Delphic' half of the poem is especially important for our purposes because it explains why Apollo speaks at Delphi and provides mythic background for the oracle that appears in so many myths. The 'Delphic' half in particular belongs to the category of myths that describe a god's arrival at his or her cult-site and explains the subsequent foundation of the cult. [Demeter's hymn, to be read next week, belongs to the same category.] The version told in the hymn has Apollo engage in combat with a female dragon--elsewhere male and called Python--who is ravaging the territory around Delphi. Since oracles of Gaea (Earth) are sometimes described as guarded by dragons, the hymn may reflect the tradition that before Apollo's arrival the oracle at Delphi belonged to Earth. This prior possession of the oracle is explicit in the very different account the Pythia provides at the beginning of Aeschylus' Eumenides; here Apollo receives the oracle peacefully as a birthday present from his grandmother, the titanness Phoebe, who received it from her sister Themis, who received it from her mother Gaea. In either version the myth charters the shift from an oracle that owes its power to intimacy with the depths of earth, the Mother of all that is, to one that owes its power to possession by a god who is sired by the Father of Heaven. The transfer may be resisted and achieved by combat (as in the Homeric hymn), or it may be consensual and offered freely as a gift (as in the Eumenides—as if part of a destined progress). But in either version it transfers the power of communicating the gods' will from female to male.

In Aeschylus' account, it is interesting to note, Apollo comes to Delphi by way of Athens: the 'sons of Hephaestus' (i.e. Athenians -- the reason behind this name for the Athenians should be revealed in the next reading assignment) built him a road from Athens through the mountainous wilderness to Delphi. The Athenians were ever helpful and ever civilizing—and ever appropriating the myths of others to their own use.

The hymn serves to identify most of Apollo's attributes and spheres of power. To the Greeks he seems to represent Health and Vigor in all areas—body, soul, and mind:

1) perhaps especially the vigor and vitality of youthful males victorious in competition (both in the stadium and on the battlefield);

2) the power of music, prophecy, and knowledge to re-establish harmonious connection between gods and mortals; wherever Apollo goes, singing, dancing, games, and contests soon appear;

3) the power of knowledge to bring pollution (miasma) to light, and then the power of purification to overcome the pollution;

4) the power of intellect and propriety to bring health, purity soundness, and order.

In connection with #1) above, Apollo appears to be the patron of young people, esp. males, entering adulthood. His choirs are composed of boys and girls. His long hair signals the appearance of young men on the eve of initiation rites. Some would derive the name Apollo from annual tribal gatherings (called Apellai) in which Dorian Greeks in the Northwest and in the Peloponnesus initiated youth into full adult membership. Ritualists describe such rituals as involving a) separation from home and mother; b) survival of ordeals experienced in isolation from community and in marginal territories; c) connection with father and reintegration into the adult male community. In myth, Orestes, Oedipus, and others pass into adulthood under Apollo's tutelage—though with tragic outcomes. Orestes enacts the pattern by slaying his mother out of loyalty to his father, and then by being exiled from the community until he has atoned and been reintegrated—under Apollo's patronage. Oedipus reverses or parodies the pattern by severing paternal ties and strengthening maternal ones, and then being exiled from the community; his failure to conform to the pattern of masculine development (pace Freud) makes an enemy of Apollo.

In connection with #2) Apollo is the power guiding those who discern secret meanings hidden behind ordinary appearances—people like Teiresias, Cassandra, and the Sibyl—people who can interpret omens and other signs and those who can be possessed by beings from the spirit world and become conduits for divine knowledge of past, present, and future.

In connection with #3) Apollo sometimes has a judicial sternness. His arrows punish the violations of proper order and hierarchy. It is quite possible that Apollo's associations with medicine derive from the ability of his arrows to bring disease and sudden death; his sister's arrows have the same power, and in literature their arrows often 'explain' death from plague or unknown cause. His power to heal may derive from his power to kill and to bring plagues; if he can bring disease, he can avert it too. Apollo is associated with the miasma a society incurs by failing to deal properly with bloodshed—and thus he perhaps acts as his father's intermediary, enforcing proper sovereignty in the cosmos. And if he can punish the polluted, he can also relieve them. At Delphi, murderers were released from miasma by sacrificing a pig and being purified by the pig's blood. In Athens' (Aeschylus') version of Orestes' myth, however, Apollo's solution proves inadequate; only Athens has a better answer than either family vendetta or ritual purification.

In connection with all four points, Apollo is, I would summarize and conclude, the god of CONTROLLED TENSION—in the lyre, in the bow, and in human nature. This is his special sphere of 'power.' And it is a power that provides an (though not the only) answer, I think, to the human condition as that condition has been fashioned in the Prometheus and Ages of Humankind myths. After Prometheus, we humans lost our intimacy with heaven; we inherited a world of drudgery, pain, and pretension; we suffered the consequences of claiming the gods' knowledge and skills. How can we now reestablish connection with the divine and secure our proper privileges? Apollo seems to provide two contradictory or complementary answers. On the one hand, Apollo's youthful vigor provides a model for young people (especially men) pursuing ARETE (excellence, supreme achievement – thus, the appropriateness of his appearance in Pythian 9?). On the other hand, he encourages SOPHROSYNE (moderation) by advising us all to 'know ourselves' (as humans, and not gods or beasts) and not attempt to go beyond our limits. If we can achieve the proper tension, we may win the race (of life).

Brilliant and luminous, unapproachable and awesome, Apollo stands for the gap between human society and Zeus' society, but he also shows us 'proper' ways to mediate, if not transcend, that distance. Apollo is an enforcer of 'health' within Zeus' sovereign order. With the bow he is a fearful deterrent to disorder; with the lyre and medicine he is a charming physician for discord and disease; with his prophecy, he is an ambiguous guide to political and moral well-being. In the 'structured ensemble' that the Olympians constitute (Vernant), he complements the powers and plays off the strengths of Poseidon, Artemis, Dionysus, Hermes, and perhaps others. Be looking for the specific connections Apollo has with his brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles—the divine 'society' or 'system' by which Vernant suggests the Greeks organized and integrated all aspects of their lives.

A further note on Pindar's 9th Pythian Ode: HP tells us that Apollo was an unsuccessful lover, and cites the Ovidian episodes with Daphne and other love-objects (male and female) as evidence. This lack of success seems paradoxical, considering the god's reputation as the epitome of Greek male 'god-ness.' But it should be noted that Zeus is the only god with a relatively untarnished 'track record,' so to speak, when it comes to seduction, abduction, and rape. And the frustration that seems to attend Apollo's amatory exploits may just emphasize the perils that attend most divine-human relationships. The Pythia 9, of course, provides an alternative view: Apollo, and all the other males, as shining sexual successes. Every sexual encounter promises delight—a joyful consummation –whether that between Apollo and Kyrene, or Peneus and Kreousa, or Zeus and Alcmene, or the daughter of Antaios and any of the suitors who compete to receive her as their prize, or Telesikrates and any of the maidens who find him attractive because of his glorious athleticism. Sex with a god (or hero) can be a shimmering, glorious experience—and will usually result in offspring, the founding of a city--the continuation and preservation of the hero's line, or the maiden's father's or her grandfather's line. Pindar's celebration of manly prowess entails viewing women as prizes (analogous to the laurel- and oak-leaf crowns awarded to athletic victors?) and as means for securing the family's and community's future. Note that, from one perspective, Io's experience with Zeus made her the 'mother' of the royal families of Crete, Egypt, Phoenicia, Thebes, Argos, and Mycenae. Perhaps that end justifies all the dehumanizing pain, exile, and alienation?

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