Prostateria, born among lambs
First, you just gotta love how dysfunctional Hellenic calendar systems are. I am celebrating this month what is usually called by the Hellenic name Anthesterion but I call by the Boeotian name Prostaterias, whereas others celebrated Poseidon II this year and are a month behind in Gamelion. So perhaps this post (and subsequent post I may make tomorrow) can be of some use then for others who come along into that month.
It is hard to imagine, where here it is cold and icy, that in other parts of the world this is the lambing season. That Dionysos’ grand festival, the Anthesteria, takes place amid this very early spring atmosphere as winter is ending and the activities of spring are coming in. Yet, as widely known as the Anthesteria celebration is, Plutarch also reminds us that Delphi and Sparta recognized and agreed with the Boeotian birth of Apollon at the Theban Delos (a natural island created between two rivers named Olive and Palm) that also occurs this month. In fact it occurs at sundown tonight.
Unlike the Thargelia which takes certain distinction in the role of Apollon in the ripening grain that gives his birth in May, this early spring birthday of Apollon seems quite appropriate for the herding lord that he is in a sense being born among lambs. Those that see a certain continuity between the cults of Poseidon and Apollon can probably see how this may symbolically echo alternative myths of Poseidon in which he was not swallowed by his father but, as an infant, hidden among lambs. Although there is nothing known of anything dealing with herding beasts in the Boeotian birth of Apollon (really little is known about it other than this information shared by Plutarch) it is easy to grasp upon these theme, especially given the shepherd feasts to Apollon at the end of summer as the god who is born at the time of lambing is the appropriate god to deliver sacrifices to when the spring lamb has been well fed and reared.
Certainly the sacredness of white wool as an emblem of purity would be an interesting association to Apollon as the herder. The same white wool that adorns doorways at the birth of girls in honor of Artemis, Apollon wears in the locks of his hair. Why not, wherein at the Ionian Delos, Leto departs of Lycia to purify her babe that instead his swaddling that the Homeric hymn makes brief mention of was made out of the pure white wool from which he leapt made in full vigor whereas the Ionian myths of Lycia has him a helpless babe until arriving there (contradicting other myths in which the babe at just a few days old went to construct his temple at Delphi. This takes us to two threads regarding Delphi. The Ionian thread in which Apollon, after returning from Lycia grown arrives at Delphi as an adult. And another in which Apollon and Artemis arrive at Delphi as small children/babes with her mother which would reasonably align more with the Boeotian birth of Apollon and the events of the Stepteria at Delphi in the following month in which Apollon slew Delphyne which was celebrated with a child acting as Apollon both in slaying Delphyne and in acting out the exile). It is possible that the Homeric Hymn blends these two elements of his births in its narration of the birth of Apollon making it relatable regardless of the audience. It never mentions the whens are other specifics really. But that is just my personal thought on that.
Still in the question is, what possible relationship did the lambing season and Apollon’s birth have? This is about the time of the year where the moose and reindeer are preparing to drop their calves, so this is not entirely insignificant for me. Up here, long before there are flowers we see the return of migratory critters and the dropping of calves. Here may lay a distinction in view of a migratory god such as Apollon who is associated with such creatures, and vegetation gods who dye yearly and are reborn with the spring (of course Dionysos is an interesting difference here because he is born in the winter still when the ivy grows abundantly which gives him a somewhat distinctive difference from other vegetation deities who adjourn for the winter in the underworld). Remember too that Apollon, as serving as a slave to Admetus, was said to have blessed the herds with bearing twins. This certainly points to an importance of Apollon in the calving/lambing season, that he was conceived as being born among them as one who is caretaker and herder, overseer of the lambing season and the rutting season in the autumn before he himself adjourns away.
So at sundown today and into tomorrow until sundown, I will honor Apollon Prostaterios, lord before the doors, lord of the renewal of life, herder god. I will honor him who was born between the rivers.