The familial lineage of Apollon can tell us much about Him, and about His sphere of influence. Today, we will take a look at Apollon’s Grandparents, Phoebe and Koios, Their domains and the legacy They have left to Apollon, and to Their other Grandchildren.
Koios is the Titan of the Axis of the Heavens, who is traditionally and commonly today seen as governing over the point of the North, in which He personified the pillar of the North, which, along with His Brothers, the Titans Krios (South), Iapetos (East), and Hyperion (West), held up the body of the Heavens (Ouranos).
It is surmised that, as Koios presided over the Axis of the Heavens, the point at which the constellations of the Heavens revolved, He may also have been a God who presided over Heavenly oracles. This could provide further meaning to His name, meaning “the inquiring”, in that an inquiring mind seeks to understand the movement of the body of the Heavens, through such noble pursuits as study and observation (Astronomy/Astrology), as well as seeking the word of the Divine through an oracular vehicle when the information sought is of a more spiritual bent. Also, as His domain is of the North, it is feasible to speculate that the seat of His domain may have been the legendary Hyperborea, the land of eternal summer, which lies further North than the gates of Boreas, or, beyond the North Wind.
Phoebe, on the other hand, was the Titaness who governed and ruled over the Axis of the Earth, Delphi, also called the Navel of the World. She received Delphi from Themis, who in turn received the prophetic seat from Gaea, Earth Herself, the oracular tradition at Delphi already having been long established by the time of Phoebe’s ascent. Phoebe’s name means “radiant prophesy, or purity”, and may give a clue as to Her function at the oracle.
For one to dispense the infallible word of the Theoi, one must be pure and ready to receive the radiance of the Theoi into oneself. Phoebe may have acted as a kind of Divine bridge from which the sybils learned how to properly treat themselves before and during the oracular possession. Before Her, Themis ruled the oracle, and Hers is the domain of Divine Law, Justice and Morality. She would likely have been concerned more with the absorbtion of decrees handed down to the people (through the sybils) by the Gods, rather than the giving of specific and personal advice. Once Phoebe had been established as the head of the oracular seat, by Her very nature the focus of the oracle would have changed to suit a more open and receptive dynamic between Goddess and sybil.
Furthermore, we can see that the joining of Koios and Phoebe would produce a specific set of traits, handed down in fact to Their Daughters, Leto and Asteria, which would have seamlessly married the domain of the Heavens with that of not only Earth, but with the bright radiance of illumination in all forms.
Leto, whose name may mean “the unseen”, is the Mother of Apollon and Artemis by Zeus. She is the Goddess of the light between night and day, of the twilight, and as such is often veiled, obscuring the truth of her full potency from those who may not yet be ready to look upon such things. With Her Sister, Asteria, Mother of Hekate by Perses, She arrived in the lands held by the Olympians, having come from the North. Specifically, Hyperborea, which later Apollon would come to rule for half the year. Asteria, whose name means “falling stars”, may have been seen as a Goddess of the signs and portends of the night sky (Astrology), as well as of the Divine inspirations of Oneiromancy.
Leto passes down Her radiance to Apollon and Artemis both, who in later times were said to be representative of the Sun and Moon. Although, it should be noted that the idea that They have somehow usurped the domains of Helios and Selene are entirely false. Apollon and Artemis are torch-bearing Gods who deal in the illumination of truth– both the truth of the mind and logic (Apollon), and the truth of one’s nature and the natural world (Artemis). Naturally, light becomes a metaphor for these truths, thus the Twins are seen to govern the properties of light. This perceived governance in no way detracts from the domains of Helios or Selene, who are the physical bodies of the Sun and Moon, respectively.
Apollon becomes the light which purifies and casts away all evil– and of course, that which burns if we look upon it for too long a time; and Artemis becomes the subtle light that aids in the darkness, the light by which the farmers may still gather their crop after nightfall. These are all the Divine radiance of Phoebe, inherited by the Twins through Their Mother, Leto.
Asteria, who walks often in the company of Nyx, is however, typically seen to represent the shadow, the dark which obscures the truth before illumination, or the dreamscape which reveals hidden messages. As dreams, and thus sleep, are often thought of in tandem with death, the final sleep, Asteria passes down these Mysteries to Her Daughter, Hekate.
Hekate, whose name means “worker from afar”, is another torch-bearing God, this time illuminating the way of the Dead into the Underworld. Along with Her deep associations with necromancy and other forms of magic, this may help to explain the truth of Her name. The restless dead which Hekate escorts are of a nature long considered miasmic. Hekate purifies the living by removing the dead from in and around living spaces. Wandering spirits, and spirits who cling to their loved ones in their dwelling places, are gathered up into Her retinue, where they either remain with Her, or are taken into Hades to complete their journey. She gathers the souls of living folk, as well, if they are unfortunate enough to cross Her path, especially during the Dark Moon.
Perhaps this is why She is the worker from afar. Her domain takes Her, and thus those dedicated to Her, into realms far removed from the works of the everyday man or woman. She lives within the company of the Dead, and so one may communicate with the Dead, through Her. The oracular power of Hekate comes from the Khthonic realm, deep within Earth (Gaea), the first source of the oracular gift.
However, we must not forget that Hekate holds equal dominion over Earth, Sky and Sea, a vast domain inherited from Her Titan Parents, much as Apollon and Artemis both hold sway over vast arrays of the natural and civilized worlds. Indeed, the Twins and Their Cousin hold Their torches high to illuminate all spaces of the fathomable world. Their power runs deep, poured out from the Heavens, and welled up from the Earth. They are the nexus at which the Ouranic and Khthonic converge. They are the legacy of Koios and Phoebe.
Sources: Various Theoi.com pages used for reference, but mostly my own insights.
Among the Deathless Ones, Apollon is probably the one whose reputation has been more tarnished by modern rereadings of the myths. Today He is often remembered with adjectives like petty, temperamental, indifferent to mortals’ plights, fickle… when He is not equaled to Nietzche’s ideal of strict and frigid rationality, He’s frequently defined as an adolescently immature and delicate god, going from one extreme to its polar opposite.
While each one of those stereotypical representations is distant from Apollon’s true nature, He is indeed a god of sharp-edged extremes, as it is beautifully demonstrated by his two main attributes – the lyre and the bow – showing that compassionate generosity and ruthless violence find both expression in His character.
This is more evident than in Apollon’ s mythic stories of tragic love.
We have three themes that recur in Apollon’s loves – the first is the ‘escape’, where the god pursues – and most specifically, He chases, like a predator, like the wolf that is His animal counterpart– the object of His love until He catches up to Them, eventually. The most famous example is the nymph Daphne, his very first love, who to escape Him is turned into a laurel tree and still is chosen to be His crown, but Kastalia’s story has just the same meaning. Like Daphne, Kastalia is a nymph who spurned Apollon’s love transformed herself, turning her body into a pool of water to escape his restless pursuit. Yet, her waters were the ones who inspired Delphi’s priestesses and there they were used to cleanse the temple. Therefore she too became a powerful tool of the god, regardless her initial resistance.
Kyrene’s case is a little different – the Thessalian princess is seized and spirited away to Libya, where she gives into Apollon and conceives with Him a son, yet the basic construct of Apollon’s pursuit remains – there’s a sense of the lover being ‘hunted’ from the god that I found to be common enough among Apollon’s chosen servants. And indeed how can one to not run from Apollon, when first faced with the unrelenting focus of the god’ interest? There’s an intensity to it that burns and consumes and while you are inevitably drawn to it, like a moth to the flame, the instinctual response is still ‘run or you will get scorched’.
The second pattern is maybe the most evident – death and transformation. If you look to Apollon’ s involvement with Ciparissus and Hyacinth in particular, the god’s presence and love somehow triggers their death and following transfiguration into plants that reflect their deeper nature. Hyacinth and Ciparisuss are immortalized through and in Apollon’ s love- He leads them to the death of the old self and into enlightenment, making them an example of what happens when one’s calling to Apollon is embraced completely and to the god’s satisfaction.
The third pattern has the god offering gifts to His prospective lovers and turning them into curses when they don’t maintain their promise of offering themselves to Him in return. Cassandra receives the gift of prophecy and The Sybil an incredibly long life, yet they both refuse to give themselves to Him.
Faithful to His role of preserver of lawful order, Apollon stands by his side of the contract and instead of withdrawing those gifts, He makes impossible for Cassandra and the Sybil to enjoy them. In those instances, I see Apollon acting more like a judge, punishing those who dare to break a contract with a god, than a jilted admirer, especially looking at how for Olympians, hubris was the very worst sin one could commit toward deity.
On a more figurative interpretation, we might say that as a deity responsible for the Mastery Of Self, Apollon acts opening His followers to the development of their best qualities in service to their community –both Cumae’s Sybil and Cassandra were seers and His priestesses, after all- so to shut the Self out of His favor has those qualities He has bestowed on it grow wild and out control, so they are no longer a tool of improvement for the community but a reason to be isolated from it.
This is not a denial of His harsher tempers, naturally. The flaying of Marsyas is not the only mythical proof of Apollon’ s capacity for ruthless punishments – Koronis ‘s betrayal with the mortal Ischys is soon rewarded with death, upon His request if not by His hand. That episode contrasts somewhat with Marpessa’s and Chione’s examples. As Apollon is shown to share Chione freely with His brother Hermes and to accept Marpessa’s choice of the mortal Idas over Him, the purpose of Koronis’ story is not merely portraying Apollon as a possessive god (although He’s quite able to claim the major part of His devotees time or attention). As it suits to someone who is directly concerned with law-giving, the worst of Apollon’ s rage is reserved to those behave falsely and /or with hubris.