Misconceptions of Apollon
This post is entirely inspired by a similar post on Hera that can be found here.
Understandably I will not be able to touch on each and every single thing that I have come across, but I will give it a go to touch on some of the biggest misconceptions that bug the hell out of me. This is developed from my own studies and devotion to Apollon.
1) Apollon is a god who has never married and is unfortunate in love
This is usually inspired by such myths as Daphne, Hyakinthos and a number of other myths in which those loved by Apollon die. However, this seems to not take in account that Apollon is effectively “married” to all the Muses, which is explained mythically that Apollon chose to not marry any of the Muses because he could not decide which to marry over the others (my paraphrase). In a sense this leader of the Muses is the spouse of all nine, which also reflects in the number nine that is sacred to his domain. This statement also tends to forget that Apollon did marry, he married the Thessalian princess/nymph Kyrene. Aphrodite prepared their marital chamber in Libya where he carried the maiden off to, and in her arms she was said to have bore three sons, the most notable of which is Aristaios, the divine shepherd who is often regarded as an offshoot of Apollon in that he is called by a cult title “the shepherd Apollon”. the fact that many of his lovers die has more to do with the function of his domain, that he is a transformative king who purifies through death. In such cases we have Daphne immortalized and cherished in the form of his sacred tree, and Hyakinthos in scenes in his Amyclaean cult which depicted him, on the throne of Apollon, ascending to the heavens upon his death. This hardly seems like Apollon is unfortunate in love, nor that his lovers are unfortunate themselves either. Rather it seems quite the reverse.
2. Apollon is all sweetness and light, a proverbial angel with his lyre.
The boy band image of Apollon is amusing at best. This was mentioned to me and I do agree that this is somewhat popular misconception. This goes to the extreme of ignoring some of the traits of his domain, particularly those which concern death and destruction….which is funny considering his name refers to “destroyer”. This is often done by those who like to divide a polar contrast between Dionysos and Apollon, ascribing the more passionate, dangerous and destructive features to Dionysos and rendering Apollon in some whimsical tame light that is all sobriety and intellectualism. the fact of the matter is that Apollon is uniquely connected with death and we see in Euripedes Aclestis a conversation in which Thanatos states that the law of death is that which is under the government of Apollon (and thus ironic to him that Apollon wished to act against it). Likewise we know from Pausanias that Hippocrates dedicated a bronze figure of a rotting corpse to the god. Not to mention several cult functions which are addressed to slaying and burial.
3. Apollon is a polar contrast to Dionysos
This is connected to the previous post and perhaps one of my biggest pet peeves. These will be people who say give wine to Dionysos and nothing but water to Apollon because Apollon is a sober god. This appears to be most drawn from a statement that I came across in the past regarding the prohibition of wine in the Pythian games. In actuality Apollon has been described anciently as the ivied, and the bacchic, alluding to a closer relationship with Dionysos then this perception would give credit to. There are also descriptions I have come across in scholarly articles which discuss portrayals of Apollon and Dionysos drinking together. Evidence goes also that Apollon is not hesitant to wine to drug the Furies who are pursuing Orestes. All this taken together, and the absence of any mention in ancient literature that Apollon has an aversion to wine, and rather a loose correlation in the opposite with Aristaios mixing wine with honey, certainly indicates that Apollon enjoys a particularly close relationship with Dionysos. This idea carries further with Apollon being leader of the chorus for the mysteries of Dionysos and leader of initiates in this fashion. Rather than being an opposite of Dionysos, or any concept of Apollon and Dionysos being polarities, Apollon plays a strategic part in the development of Dionysos mythically as the first to greet the young god and within his mysteries. The Thyiades are a great example of this as these women are named after Thyia, the first worshipper of Dionysos at Delphi, who is also ascribed as being a lover of Apollon. More so the division of Apollon as a god of civilization and Dionysos as a god of the outlaying places that is a popular form of this idea of polarity is also ridiculous in concept. Dionysos isn’t absent from the cities, and Apollon, while part of the creation of civilization, is very frequently associated with places in far outlaying areas as many of his holy places are located high in the mountains, in swamps etc. In fact he has many epithets which state a very rustic character as pastoral and shepherd god, and like Dionysos appears horned (though with the horns of a ram typically). Apollon and Dionysos also share iconography of serpents, goats, bulls etc. the close relationship between the gods is also indicated in the Karneia which is a festival of Apollon celebrating the first harvest of grapes, the beginning of the season for the sacrifice of Dionysos, and images of Apollon from Rhodes that I have read about in which Apollon is a winged figure with grapes hanging from him. This goes well with the function of Apollon Smintheus in which Apollon in the summer slays the mice that feed on the young fruits. In Rhodes Apollon and Dionysos are said to work together in this. Here we see the true form of the relationship between Apollon and Dionysos in which Apollon is a protective and nurturing figure toward Dionysos.
4. Apollon is a “young” god, and usurper.
Though Apollon is depicted perpetually as a teenager and is concerned with transitions of youth, and is best known in his incarnation as the son of Zeus, the idea that Apollon is a young god who usurps the powers of other gods is rather curious. This is based on a literal take of the myths that Apollon, in the most popular accounts born of Zeus and Leto, is of the younger generation of gods who is given reign over things that properly belong to other gods by his father. Even those who are happy to embrace ideas of Dionysos, Pan and other gods having a more archaic root, will frequently still regard Apollon in this light of a more junior deity. However Pausanias tells us that this is not the case in that in Arcadia, in a temple whose practices a mirror of those at Eleusis, Apollon and Pan are hailed among the eldest of gods. Apollon also appears in Samothrake as father of the Korybantes who cared for the infant Zeus. The idea of Apollon as usurper tends to be placed in relation to his worship at Delphi, which has a history of previously belonging to Ge, Themis, and Phoebe, and in regards to his relationship with Helios that he has been periodically confused with Helios in later periods. This idea I find to be a tragic misunderstanding of the function of Apollon in these cases. With Helios they share a close relationship because Apollon’s domain is that of the light, which carries both dangerous and beneficial properties, and Helios as the entity of the physical sun, is himself producing light. The sun falls into the company of Apollon by this association. Apollon is a higher governing force of light bearing bodies to which the sun belongs, and is thus perhaps the divine being who has the closest relation to Apollon among those gods that fall into his company of his domain. Meanwhile, Apollon’s place at Delphi is a development in relation to his cosmic function in relation to logos, specifically though as the part of logos that functions as truth. This makes him, in his incarnation as the son of Zeus and Leto, the perfect deity of the oracle, a job that cannot be assigned to any other as Apollon tells Hermes (who also functions in a different form of logos) in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. Apollon thus is acknowledged in the myths associated with his rearing, with the knowledge of the earth and also by divination via the bee nymphs of Parnassos. Therefore the presence of Apollon at Delphi represents a shift from the dream-oracles of Ge, which we know of in a version of myth that Ge had prophecies sent through dreams when Apollon took over the oracle. Apollon with his profound connection with the earth, which is expressed in epithets which celebrate him as being of Ge (described by Pausanias) and imagery of Apollon libating to the earth, is the evolution of the arcane hidden knowledge of the earth (something Zeus also knows during his foster period) as the voice of truth delivering directly the will of Zeus and the gods. This represents an evolution of the form of knowledge and how it is received and transmitted. In this respect, in this higher form of transmitted knowledge we also find Apollon closely connected with education in general.
5. Apollon is a “woman-hater”
I don’t come across this very often but when I do it irritates me more than I can say, this is often paired with Apollon being presented as a violator of women. A good part of this is represented in how people perceive the myth of Daphne, usually because of a literalist interpretation of it. He is then viewed as nothing better than a rapist. This represents one of the biggest problems of taking the myths literally, because what should be a beautiful symbol of the transformation of the soul, and most holy symbol of his work in the cosmos, becomes perverted in such a tragic manner. the fact we are speaking of the gods, who are not people, means that we must take into account that their actions have to do with more than inter-human relationships. And when it comes to this action upon mortals, the divine seizing and penetration is something which can be alarming, fierce, and descend upon one without warning. Thus we see Cassandra, when caught in her prophecy, appealing to Apollon who embraces her fiercely. It a most holy matter, and not one to be tarnished with an overlay of mortal inter-relationships and morals….because it is not a moral matter but a deeply spiritual one. Of course the idea of Apollon being a woman hater is also used by many folks who are deeply committed to the idea of “herstory” as explanation for the myth of the dragoness Delphinia. Of course whenever this comes up it is quite erroneously accompanied with statements that this was a goddess of Delphi rather than a guardian dragon (very much not uncommon in Hellenic myths for several important things had guardian dragons and Delphinia was not only guardian of the oracular water of Castalia, but also in the war with Typhon guarded the sinews of Zeus when Typhon cut them. Her destruction is part of the divine myth of Apollon and part of the sacredness of Pytho, the land of Delphi. I have my own ideas about the connection between the serpent Delphinia and her relationship with Phoebe in comparison to the heavenly serpent whose eye is the polar star which is associated with Phoebe’s husband Koios. Apollon inherits the axis of both the earth and the heavens from these his grandparents, and the sacrifice of Delphinia (whom he does pay funeral respects to and is revived in iconography as being eternally present at Delphi as a divine serpent of Apollon) plays an important part of this. This would then logically be shown in the idea of Apollon being given Delphi as a birthday gift by his grandmother along side the common myth of the dragoness Delphinia. As with all myths one is not more “correct” than the other but rather should be taken as different expressions of the same spiritual idea. It is thus hardly female-hating. But again because Delphinia is a female dragon and because Apollon slew her, this breeds some problems in literalist readings.
6. Apollon and Artemis are polarities
Umm no. Just as in the case of Dionysos, this is not true either. In fact Apollon and Artemis share a number of conjoined functions, far more than polarities. There are those who try to say that Artemis is a huntress and Apollon is a sportsman archer, and yet this is not factual because Apollon has epithets which call him a hunter and had dedicated to him in his temples shields of hunters, as well as weapons of hunters (such as the spear which slew the Calydonian boar). Though Artemis is acclaimed more as a huntress than Apollon appears as a hunter in popular literature, in cultic evidence this is not the case. Apollon and Artemis are also both dancers, and both players of the kithara. In many cases we see Apollon was masculine forms of the names of Artemis, and Artemis with feminine names of Apollon. Both are deities associated with nurturing young, and both associated with life transitions, as well as being leader deities and gods of light. The division of Apollon as sun and Artemis as moon as an example of polarity is quite popular too, and yet Apollon has several major points of connection with the moon itself, particular as Noumenios, lord of the new lunar month and many festivals which culminate on the fullmoon in the Doric calendar. Whereas Artemis also has several associations with sunlight. Therefore rather than opposites it is more constructive to see Artemis and Apollon, born of the same womb, as cooperative divine units in the cosmos on par with that of Zeus and Hera who are also expressed as divine twins as air that accompanies aether. They also enjoy many of the same symbols in the horned deer, the goat, the bow, the laurel, the arrow, the torch etc.