“Follow God”, the first of the Delphic Maxims, if taken at face value may not make much sense from a Polytheistic standpoint, but as with all of the Maxims, there are a variety of overlapping and often congruent interpretations.
Recently, there’s been a discussion within the Treasury of Apollon regarding the first two Maxims. One of our Sisters has been exercising her brain by translating them each, one by one, and sharing her thoughts with the rest of us. By her new translation, the first Maxim reads: “Follow the Divine”.
On a surface level it may not seem like that much of a change, but she then went on to elaborate her thoughts on the matter, which are inclusive of other approaches to Deity.
“‘Follow God’ doesn’t make much sense in a polytheist context. There isn’t a god to follow, there are countless gods, so how can a person simply “follow God?” …Essentially, rather than following the God, it might mean to follow that which is divine. The meaning of what is divine will most likely depend on the reader, so you can be everything from a humanist non-theist to a monotheist to a polytheist, pantheist, etc. and still follow that which is divine. Anyone and everyone can follow this commandment.”
I think this is an interesting interpretation that has some value to those who may appreciate the Maxims from different viewpoints than Hellenic Polytheism. This flexibility can then become a bridge toward interfaith work, which was another of her points during our discussion.
The best part about the Maxims, we agreed, are the many layers in their meaning. And, in keeping with these layers, I then offered another perspective on the interpretation of Maxim #1.
“Interesting. I like your interpretation of ‘Follow God’, though I have a different one that I’ve relied on pretty much since I first laid eyes on the Maxims. I interpret ‘Follow God’ as ‘Follow Zeus’, as in follow the King, which further implies loyalty to the Pantheon and loyalty to the virtues of Hellenism and that which is beautiful/divine. It’s like a top-down approach to the meaning, as Zeus’ name is often itself interpreted simply as ‘God’. So for me, having the first Maxim be a suggestion to follow this single God, Who is Ruler of the Kosmos and thus the nexus at which all beauty/divinity coalesce into the orchestration of existence, isn’t at all at odds with Polytheism. Because, by following ‘God’ I follow the Gods, and all that is beautiful/divine.
…If we were to trace the ‘Follow Zeus’ interpretation back to the lore, it is not surprising that Apollon would deliver the Maxims to us, with the first being a command or suggestion to keep loyal to His Father. As Apollon is the Right-hand of Zeus, His actions within the Kosmic Order are, by and large, sanctioned by Zeus pretty much automatically. You don’t really see the two of Them butting heads, except on those occasions where Apollon acts against the prescribed order, such as the death of Python, or Hera’s rebellion, or His vengeance against the Cyclopses. All of which got Him into some deep trouble, regardless of the circumstances of these actions. So, this could imply that being in right standing with Zeus, first and foremost, was essential to keeping within the harmonic order of the Universe, of which Apollon is a player. In some ways, it could even be interpreted as Him giving us some advice based on His own experience, which is pretty amazing and invaluable.”
Soon, another of our Sisters was there, giving us even more insight.
“Laurel pretty much covered anything I would have said to this myself as these have been my own observations, particularly in the relationship between Zeus and Apollon interacting here, and things I have personally remarked on myself. Apollon is a protector of law, and especially sacred law it seems, which gives a new meaning perhaps to the mythic birth of Apollon where he is fed by Themis rather than his mother’s breast. He is nursed on law: common and especially divine!”
This now leads us to the second of the Maxims: “Obey the Law”, newly translated by our Sister in several meaningful ways: “Rely on Custom”, “Comply with the Law”, “Trust Established Deities”, “Believe in the Melody”, which she explains.
“Here is a case where there’s enormous depth of meaning because of the squishy nature of language. There is an overlying theme of having faith in what is established and, by and large, there’s a great deal of wisdom there. Custom and law exist for a reason and established deities have a history of relationship with humankind that we can learn from. Customs are comforting and laws protect. The last translation is interesting and though I’m not sure about whether it’s a particularly good translation (I’m not a scholar of Classical Greek in the least), there’s a poetic beauty there that I love. It seems to me that if we are able to listen closely, we can hear the melody of life. We talk about the rhythm of our lives, living in harmony, and other auditory metaphors that touch on this idea. If we’re to live in harmony, we should know what we are harmonizing with. Our Lord Apollon knows the melody, plays it on the lyre, and we must believe it’s there in order to hear it. Established deities, just laws, and good customs are like instruments in an orchestra, each playing slightly different notes that combine to create a euphonic symphony. Believing in the melody means that we are better able to contribute to The Song through laws, customs, and practices that show the better parts of humanity. “
All of this ties in perfectly with the idea of the Kosmic Order needing to be adhered to, with Zeus as its Head, and Apollon as its Hand. We live within Their sphere, within the very melodies and harmonies of all existence. This is the natural law which governs all things, and finds its expression in all beauty and divinity. As a Hellenic Polytheist, I find this to be the most satisfying interpretation of both Maxims, but as we explored above, there could be many interesting interpretations for those who are inclined toward other perspectives in regard to Deity.
Entering into the autumn we promptly arrive, just prior to the sacred mysteries of the Elesinia and the Greater Mystery Program, to another important festival of Apollon: the Boedromia. The festival of Apollon as a god who acts as a savior, coming to the aid of men. This would be appropriate for a god who acts as guide, god of law (that which was first established by Ge/Themis), and purifier that he would be so honored just prior to the autumn mysteries of Demeter.
Naturally the mythic background fits the nature of this festival, as we find Athens beset upon by Amazons to recover their queen. Such can effortlessly viewed as a parallel to the myth of the recovery of Helene or the seeking of Persephone. The Amazons in all their fearsomeness advance upon Athens, into the city, and encamped on the aeropagus, the resting place of the Erinyes in their beneficial form as the Eumenides. Here, just as in Troy where Apollon bore the Aegeus, Apollon sets forth the object of fear to triumph.
The object of fear is an important aspect of the Mysteries. So we find that before the bridge of the initiates, before arriving at the temple of Apollon Daphneios, that they had to confront a fearsome spectar arranged by gruesome masks. Such kinds of masks are incidentally are also found at the temple of Artemis Orthia, even as thus gateway would rest between the temples of Artemis and Apollon.
The play Eumenides happens to stress the link between Apollon and the Erinyes to the point of an overlayering between them. Apollon’s highly chthonic , but not solely so, nature and his own dominance over the action of law and the protection of its sanctity is a common thread, just as is the punishment carried out against violators. However, as Apollon represents the evolution of sacred law from the crude vengeance of the Erinyes, we find conflict and complaint about usurping younger gods. It is in this matter that Apollon works against the vengeance of the Amazons that is all destructive by implimenting fear, but likely also as keeper of mystic law as he works too as guide of initiates, for which purpose he is the lord of the sacred road and ward of the fearful barrier at the bridge as our lord shepherd stands at the boundary. He, with Artemis, leads us to that boundary where we must confront our fears, and overcome them to progress. We are challenged by him. We may go forth as the Aegeans did at Troy, or retreat as the Amazons did at Athens.
That this is the scene of the action of mystic law we find in the very encampments location as the Eumenides sit at their foundations. The very goddesses who recieves by their right a portion of the autumn harvest. The Amazons are dwelling on a mound of fear acting to protect the city, to work against their advancement, and the ill winds of Apollon as fear takes flight driven before him as he shouts Boe. All men shouting Boe.
We vanquish our fear, vanquish the dread of death.
At Boedromia Apollon is seated before us, making us face our fear. We deny the power of fear over us and in jubilation we praise him. For he has aided our souls.