Category: Gods > The “Twelve” Gods
- Introduction : the god in political, physical and mythical theology
- Interpreting Apollo’s name(s) : ancient etymologies and the ideas connected to them
- Interpreting Apollo’s iconography : visual attributes and their possible meanings
- Epiphanies of Apollo : how he manifests himself to human senses
- How to worship Apollo : appropriate offerings and other elements of ritual
- Animal offerings for Apollo : (in)appropriate victim species
- Apollo as the Sun : natural theological doctrine
- Apollo, the Sun, and Dionysus : three powers of one god
- The oracles at Delphi and elsewhere : theory and content of Apolloniac oracles
the three theologies
Who is Apollo? I will begin with three answers, based on the three theologies:
- Firstly, there is the mythical account, that he is the son of Zeus and Leto, and the twin brother of the goddess Artemis.
- Secondly, the physical, that he is the Sun (‘Helios’).
- Thirdly, in terms of political or legal theology, he was “the god of the Greeks” (Herodotus, Histories 1.87) – not only worshipped in all the cities of the ancient Greeks, but also the source of many of their sacred institutions.
The general idea of Apollo’s role in legislation is clearly articulated by Plato (Laws 738c):
“Neither in founding a new state, nor in reforming one that has been corroded, would any person of sense attempt to change anything relating to gods and the temples – (i.e.,) which have to be set up in the city for each, and what gods or daemons they must be dedicated to –, whether they derive from Delphi or Dodona, from Ammon, or certain ancient reports compel them, in whatever way they command belief, be it by apparitions (phásmata) that occured, or inspiration (epípnoia) spoken of the gods.”
Of these various sources of authority, the famous Delphic oracle of Pythian Apollo was especially recommended by Plato’s Socrates (Republic 427bc):
“‘What else’, said (Adeimantus), ‘remains for us in setting down the laws?’
“And I said, ‘For us, nothing, but for Apollo at Delphi, the greatest, noblest and foremost parts of legislation.’
“‘What are these?’, said he.
“‘The foundations of temples, the sacrifices, and the other services of gods, daemons and heroes; and likewise, the burials of the deceased, and everything we must do for those there (in the underworld) to keep them propitious. For we who live in the city neither know such things nor, if we have sense, are we convinced by anyone else or use any interpreter except the ancestral (Apollo); for surely this god is the ancestral interpreter for all humanity in these things, and from his seat at the navel of the Earth (=Delphi), he renders his interpretations.’”
I will return to the matter of Apollo as oracular lawgiver in greater detail later, gods willing, but the last sentence quoted from the Republic leads us, via the ancient scholia (explanatory notes), to the physical theology (Scholia on Republic 427c):
“‘The ancestral’. Some say that the Athenians arose from the land itself, and thus have the Earth and Sun, who is the same as Apollo, as their parents. Others, that Apollo slept with Creusa, the daughter of Erechtheus, and had Ion, after whom the Athenians used to be called Ionians. And for both reasons, they have Apollo as an ancestral (god).”
As a matter of fact, Plato is not just referring to the ancestral Apollo (Apóllōn Pátrios) of the Athenians here, but calls him the “ancestral (long-established) interpreter for all humanity”, which makes the scholiast’s comments a little incongruous. Nevertheless, the scholium gets at an important point, that traditions about Apollo and the Sun both have validity concurrently. It is not as if, because Apollo is explained as the Sun (Helios), Apolloniac and Heliac elements are simply conflated or confused. This is a common misconception about ‘syncretism’, that it takes originally distinct gods and merges them so as to become indistinct. In reality, the identification of Apollo with the Sun serves to anchor and justify what tradition holds about Apollo, not to replace or do away with it.
Besides, to say that Apollo is the Sun is not (necessarily) the same as to claim he is nothing more than what modern physics understands that celestial body to be. In Porphyry’s essay On Cult Statues, for instance, Apollo is explained as a fiery power in the Sun, but a rational or intelligent power, analogous to Athena in the Moon. This would make him, in other words, the solar or “Heliac mind (noûs)” (Proclus, On the Timaeus, vol. 1, p. 159).
Not that this is the only view advanced in ancient philosophy; only the most popular. The poet Empedocles, who was also counted among the physikoí or natural philosophers, wrote of Apollo somewhere in the third book of his lost work On Nature (as cited by Ammonius, On De Interpretatione p. 249, and Tzetzes, Chiliads 7.525–526), “in his critique of the myths told by poets about the gods as if they were anthropomorphic (anthrōpoeideîs)”:
“For neither is he furnished with a human head on any limbs,
Nor do two branches shoot from his back,
No feet, no swift knees, no groin covered in hair,
But he is a sacred und ineffable mind alone,
Who darts through the entire cosmos with swift thoughts.”
This recalls a description in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo (from a section I quote below), where the god moves “like a thought (nóēma)”, even if Empedocles uses different words (phrḗn for ‘mind’, phrontís for ‘thought’).
Ammonius, to whom we owe this Empedoclean fragment, even thinks that, “with the word ‘sacred’, he is hinting at a cause beyond mind (noûs)”. But such Platonic speculations take us outside the realm of physical theology, strictly speaking.
As for the mythical theology, which is the only register many moderns are familiar with, we need to keep in mind that the myths it narrates are conventional (or inspired) accounts, not factual histories – nor meant as such. They can be analyzed purely as literature, or for their information about the nature of the god and their worship, but either approach requires a nuanced understanding of symbolism and poetic convention.
A clear indication of the distinctness of mythical discourse is its openness. Although we sometimes casually refer to a ‘canonical’ account, there is really nothing of the kind in mythology, as poets and grammarians (the literary scholars who explained the poets) were both interested in recording obscure stories and variants. Moist pointedly, in an anonymous catalogue of gods repeated by several authors, we find these variants resolved into multiple Apollos (gr. Apóllōnes, lat. Apollinēs):
“Five Apollos: the first is the son of Vulcan (Hephaestus) and Minerva (Athena); the second of Corybas; the third of Jupiter (Zeus) and Latona (Leto); the fourth of Silen, in Arcadia; the fifth of Ammon, born in Libya” (Ampelius, Liber Memorialis 9).
“Of the Apollos, the most ancient is the […] son of Vulcan, the guardian of Athens; the second is the son of Corybas, born in Creta, of whom it is handed down that he contended with Jupiter himself about that island; the third is the son of […] Jupiter and Latona, who is held to have come to Delphi from the Hyperboreans; the fourth was in Arcadia, whom they call Nomion because they hold that they have received their laws from him” (Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods 3.57).
Some of these references are now obscure. When Apollo is made the son of Hephaestus, he is apparently being conflated with Erechtheus, who is a son of Hephaestus. We saw in the scholium on Plato that Apollo is ‘ancestral’ to the Athenians through Ion, who is also the grandson of Erechtheus, but what could be the reason for reducing this genealogy to just one figure? And was there really a tradition of an Apollo born of Corybas, or is this an inversion of the account that holds the Corybantes were the sons of Apollo (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Library 1.18)? And so on.
But even if we dismiss this one source as being too idiosyncratic – let us say there is only one Greek account of Apollo’s parentage that matters, namely that he is Zeus and Leto’s son (as I will expand on later) –, yet still, the Egyptians held that Apollo is Horus, whose parents are Isis and Osiris (cf. Herodotus, Histories 2.156). One who honors a god does not ignore such “differences of opinion”, but makes use of both notions (see Alexander Rhetor, From What Things One Must Praise A God 5).
We can see an illustration, not just of this last point, but also of how the mythical, physical and political mode of theology can come together, in the following oracle from the god. “When Apollo was asked about himself, who he was, he said:
“The Sun (Helios), Horus, Osiris, king Apollo the son of Zeus,
Ruler of Seasons (Horae) and Times, Winds and Storms,
Who guides the reins of Dawn and many-starred Night,
King of the bright-shining stars, this immortal fire.”
Ἥλιος, Ὧρος, Ὄσιρις, ἄναξ Διὸς υἱὸς Ἀπόλλων,
ὡρῶν καὶ καιρῶν ταμίης ἀνέμων τε καὶ ὄμβρων,
ἠοῦς καὶ νυκτὸς πολυάστερος ἡνία νωμῶν,
ζαφλεγέων ἄστρων βασιλεὺς ἡδ‘ ἀθάνατον πῦρ.
(Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 3.15; also cited by John Lydus, On the Months 2.5; and apparently alluded to by Porphyry, On Cult Statues; most likely, it was part of Porphyry’s On the Philosophy from Oracles. It is not known where, if at any established oracular temple, the oracle was received.)
Speaking like a philosopher, the god here declares that he is the Sun, but also, mythically, the son of Zeus. He calls himself Apollo like a Greek, but at the same time Horus and Osiris, using Egyptian names. And this is given to us, not as the speculation of a philosopher or the fancy of a poet, but a divinely sanctioned response to a formal request – with the same force as any oracular ruling.
2 Interpreting Apollo’s name(s)
Like many other gods’ names in Greek, Apollo does not have a self-evident etymology – neither the Ionic/Attic form we are familiar with (Apóllōn), nor those found in other dialects (Doric Apéllōn, Arcadocypriot Apeílōn, Aeolic Áploun).
Hence, the ancients saw fit to explain it in a variety of creative ways, like in the Lexicon on Attic Words: “Apollo (Apóllōn):
- “Haplôn (i.e., haploûn, ‘who makes plain’), on account of the divinatory art (mantikḗ).
- “Aeibállōn (‘ever-casting’), on account of archery (toxikḗ).
- “Homopolôn (‘moving-together’), on account of magic (magikḗ); because it moves all things through harmony. And he presides through harmony.”
This is based on Plato’s Cratylus (405a–d), although the philosopher assigns four, not three arts, with music (mousikḗ) instead of magic, and medicine (iatrikḗ) in addition. The etymology connected to the latter is Apoloúōn, ‘he who washes clean’ (Cratylus 405c).
This list evidently achieved currency beyond Plato and his followers, and is also found in the Scholia on Iliad 1.603, among other places: “Four arts (tékhnai) are assigned to Apollo, music, archery, medicine, divination”. Diodorus Siculus explains these connections in a mythical or historical mode, making Apollo an inventor or discoverer (Historical Library 5.74.5):
- “They recount that Apollo was the inventor of the lyre, and of the music played with it.
- “Further, that he brought forth medical science,
- “Which came to be through the divinatory art, since anciently, it was the practice to attain cures for those who were sick through divination.
- “And having invented the bow, he taught the inhabitants (of Crete) everything to do with archery, for which reason tarchery is especially pursued by the Cretans, and the bow is called ‘Cretic’.”
Similarly, again according to Diodorus, “they say that Horus is translated as Apollo, and that he was taught medicine and divination by his mother Isis, to benefit humankind through oracles and cures” (Diodorus Siculus, Historical Library 1.25.7).
[mythical complications; ‚deus X‘]
[…] dream interpreter Artemidorus (Onirocrition 2.35):
- “Apollo is good for musicians; for the god is an inventor of words (lógoi) and all music.
- “He is also good for doctors; for he is called Paeon (Paiḗōn).
- “As well as for diviners and philosophers; for he foretells that they will be consummate and esteemed.
- “He also exposes secrets; for he is believed to be the same as the Sun.
- “Apollo Delphinius has usually signified moves and ”
The last point can be explained by reference to the narrative of the Homeric Hymn to Apollon, where Apollo leaps onto a ship in delphinic shape and guides it (the relevant passage is translated below); alternately, the connection is simply that dolphins live in the sea, and journeys abroad are often on ship.
some further etymologies
There are a good number of other etymologies of his name too, including the following (Pseudo-Zonaras, Lexicon s.v. Ἀπόλλων): “Apollo:
- “The Sun […], from ‘radiating’ (apopállein) its own rays.
- “Or from freeing people of evils, because he is a healer […].
- “Or, he who ‘is not destroyed’ (mḕ apollýmenos) by the sunset.
- “Or because (the number) one (hén) is so called by the poets (theólogoi), since ‘he is not many’ (mḕ ṑn pollá) but one.”
The last two explanations both allude to the prefix a-, meaning ‘not’. The last one in particular makes for a good equivalent to Latin Sōl, ‘Sun’, which was connected to sōlus, ‘only one’, by the ancients (John Lydus, On the Months 2.4):
- “The monad (‘the number one’) is referred to Apollo, that is, to the one Sun, who is called Apollo because he is far (ápōthen) from the many (pollôn).
- “And the Romans call him Sol, or ‘only one’ (mónos).”
Others linked the meaning ‘one’, not to the physical Sun, but to metaphysical realities – whether that is the monad, i.e., the number one itself (per the Pythagoreans); or the Platonic first principle, The One; or else, ontological unity in some other or broader sense.
Plutarch, The E at Delphi 394a.
Plotinus, Ennead 5.5.6, 26-34
Anonymous Prolegomena 1.38
Lydus, De mensibus 2.11.35
Clement, Stromata 18.104.22.168
Plutarch & Neopll. on Apollo ~ Sun
Magnum s.v. Apollwn !
Gudianum s.v. Apollwn
poetic epithets: hekêbolos, hekatêbolos, hekaergos, klytótoxos; ánax; argyrótoxos, khrysáoros
Pseudo-Zonaras, s.v. Apollwn and Foibos
Etymologicum Magnum: Phoibos Apollon <> Scholia on Odyssey 3.279
Paiêôn (Scholia on Odyssey and Iliad)
Latin. Anatolian languages etc. ‚Apolloniac‘.
Belenus (Ausonius, Tertullian, Historia Augusta); Belen (Herodianus); inscriptions; belenountia?
3 Interpreting Apollo’s iconography
For the non-representative pillars of Apollo set up in classical Athens and among the Dorians, see Apollon Agyieus.
Apart from actually surviving statues and representations in other ancient media, of which there are many, there are also a good number of literary descriptions of them, which assist us in understanding the visual attributes or iconography correctly. An especially beautiful account is found in the Christian Martyrdom of Saint Artemius (chs. 51–52), which describes the cult statue of Apollo’s temple at Daphne in Antioch (modern Antakya) in the following terms:
“Julian (the last pagan emperor) hurried to the suburb Daphne, as we said, preparing sacrifices for Apollo, and expecting to be given oracles by him. And Daphne is a suburb of Antiochia […], for at this very spot, the pagan myth has fabricated that the suffering of the virgin Daphne took place. And indeed, it seems that the place retains her name to this day.
“Now, the cult statue (agálma) of Apollo had the following construction. Its body was put together from vine-wood. The most marvellous craft had fitted it together into one structure, and the whole garment fitted around it, which was decked in gold, together with the exposed and ungilded parts of the body, produced an inexpressible beauty.
“He was standing, and in his hands was the lyre (kithára), so that he resembled a kind of leader of Muses; while his locks, as well as his laurel (dáphnē) wreath shone speckled with gold, so that great beauty would dazzle those looking on it. He also had two great jacinth* (hyákinthos) gems, which fulfilled the role of his eyes, in memory of Hyacinthus, the son of Amyclaeus, and the beauty and size of the gemstones always lent the greatest charm to the statue.”
(*Not actually the red gemstone now called jacinth, but, according to Pliny, something similar but less lustrous compared to the amethyst; Natural History 37.41/125.)
I do not know if this Christian author, writing centuries after the statue was destroyed by fire, is being historically accurate; but certainly no pagan could fault the description on its own merits. But now let us move on from description to understanding.
Apollo is depicted, first of all, in the shape of a young, beardless and long-haired man – even if “all gods are masculo-feminine (arsenothḗleis)” (Servius, On the Aeneid 6.64). Poets call him ‘of golden locks’, but painters depicted him with black hair (Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 13.81), even if some statues of him had golden or gilded locks (Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris 379c). These features have been explained symbolically, in reference to physical theology, albeit other explanations are certainly possible:
- “(Homer calls Apollo) ‘of unshorn hair’ (akersekómēs), as not having his hair cut short; he always has long hair, because of his rays, since Apollo is equivalent (îsos) to the Sun” (D-Scholia on the Iliad 20.39).
- “The philosophers hand down that Apollo is beardless because he is the Sun, and the Sun is fire, which never grows old” (Lactantius Placidus, On Statius’ Thebaid 1.704).
- “They attribute both all salvation and all destruction of men to Apollo, but of women to Artemis – that is, to the Sun and to the Moon –, making them archers because of the blasts of their rays, and they so distinguish masculine and feminine because the male gender is by nature warmer” (Pseudo-Plutarch, On Homer II 2465–2469).
The last quotation also gives a typical explanation of Apollo’s mythical use of the bow, which was sometimes included in his iconography. According to Homer, it was silver (most explicitly Iliad 24.605), which ancient commentators largely understood as “shining” (e.g., Pseudo-Zonaras, Lexicon s.v. ἀργυρότοξος); some even gloss argyrótoxos, ‘of silver bow’, as kallítoxos, ‘of beautiful bow’ (Hesychius, Lexicon s.v. ἀργυρότοξος):
Homer also calls Apollo khrysáoros (Iliad 5.509, etc.), generally taken to mean “‘of golden sword (phásganon)’, ‘having a sword (xíphos) of gold’. But the more recent authors interpret the word as ‘having a golden lyre (kithára)’” (D-Scholia on Iliad 5.509). Still another interpretation holds that it means “having a golden belt for his quiver, or for his lyre; not, however, for a sword, because the god is holy” (D-Scholia on Iliad 15.256). I do not know how true these interpretations are to Homer, but it does seem that ancient sculptors consciously avoided depicting Apollo with a sword. A symbolic interpretation is given by Heraclitus the Younger:
- “(Homer) called (Apollo) khrysáoros, not as being girt with a golden sword – for that weapon is inappropriate to Apollo, since the god is an archer –, but, because when his light is seen at sunrise, it seems especially like gold, he invented khrysáor [sic] as a fitting epithet for the Sun on account of his rays” (Cornutus, Compendium of Greek Theology 7.12–13).
As for the lyre, it is also explained astrally:
- “” ().
- “” ().
Lydus 4.51.25; Eratosthenes s.v. Atlantidwn; ariqmw twn xordwn ths luras tou apollwnos epoihsen
Ms. R (ed. Treu, p. 4.28-31) has partially parallel (but garbled) material which may well generally derive from John: „They represent in the hands of Apollo a lyre, that is, the sun—the harmony of the universe. For, being mingled with the other stars, it both begets and gives life.“ For the seven strings of the lyre corresponding to the seven „stars,“ cf. Philo, De opificio 126.
Of course, the bow and arrow and the lyre can also be read straightforwardly as instruments of the arts of archery and music, as per the previous section – both insofar as the god practices them, and because he discovered them to divinity. No such straightforward symbol seems to exist for his connection to medicine, but there are several related to the divinatory art.
iconographic attributes related to divination
tripod, laurel, serpent (image with snek)
Artemidorus 4.67 ἔστι γὰρ ὁ δράκων ἱερὸς τῷ μαντικωτάτῳ Ἀπόλλωνι
serpent: ‚Pythonos aiunt esse tumulos‘
Homeric Hymn uses Typhaon for Python; Ampelius uses Python for Typhon
Statius, Thebaid 1 (hymn?)
Ovid, Metamorphoses 1
~ medicine?? Artemidorus 2.25. purification
token of medicine?
[Fulgentius; Porphyry; laurel / Aphthonius.]
depicted with serpent?
Porphyry on Apollo son of Silenus?
mythic interpretations: laurel, Hyacinth?
Iliad 20.39b.1 ex. <ἀκερσεκόμης:> ἐπεὶ κουροτρόφος. ἐπὶ δὲ τοῖς πένθεσιν ἐκείροντο. †οὖν εὐχόμεθα ἀπενθεῖς ἡμᾶς διατηρεῖν. b(BCE3)T
Apollonius <ἀκερσεκόμης> ἐπίθετον Ἀπόλλωνος· “Φοῖβος ἀκερσεκόμης ἡ δ‘ Ἄρτεμις ἰοχέαιρα,” ἀπὸ τοῦ μὴ κείρεσθαι τὴν κόμην· ἀπενθὴς γὰρ ὁ θεός.
Hesychius alpha.2336.1 <ἀκερσεκόμης>· ὁ ἄκαρτος τὰς κόμας, ἐξ οὗ δηλοῦται τὸ ἀπενθές. διὸ καὶ Φοῖβος λέγεται ὁ Ἀπόλλων, καθαρὸς ὢν παντὸς πάθους (Υ 39)
Scholia on Odyssey 19.86.1 Ἀπόλλωνός γε ἕκητι] ἐπειδὴ τῶν ἀρρένων κουροτρόφος ὁ θεός. τοὺς γὰρ κτεῖναι δυναμένους καὶ σώζειν εἰκός. διὸ κουροθάλεια καλεῖ- ται ἡ δάφνη, διὰ τὸ κουροτρόφον τοῦ Ἀπόλλωνος. Q. κουροτρόφος γὰρ ὁ θεός. H.
In Syria, the name and to some extent the iconography of Apollo were adapted to represent the god whose Akkadian and Aramaic name is Nabû, and who is in other contexts translated as Hermes (and identified with the planet Mercury). Examples of this still survive (see Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, vol. 2.1, p. 246–247). Interestingly, the Apolloniac iconography of Nabû as lyre-player also gave rise to a Hellenizing interpretation of the god as the singer Orpheus (Pseudo-Meliton, Apology).
Lucian, in his monograph On the Syrian Goddess, describes the statue of Nabû–Apollo that stood in the goddess Atargatis’ temple at Hieropolis, beside a throne for the Sun (left empty of a statue, because the Sun is already visible in the heavens), in the following words (On the Syrian Goddess 35):
“Next to this throne is placed a statue of Apollo, but not as it is usually made; for while all others regard Apollo as young and depict him in the flower of youth, (the Hieropolitans) alone portray the statue of Apollo as bearded. And they pride themselves on doing so, criticizing the Greeks and others who worship an Apollo they have set up as a child. The reason is this. It seems to them to be great ignorance to make incomplete forms for the gods, and they believe what is young to still be incomplete. In another respect too they depict their Apollo strangely; they alone decorate Apollo with a garment.”
This last cannot be a reference to depicting the statue as clothed per se (which would hardly have been unique), but to the elaborate dress described below, which covers his torso entirely. In any case, Macrobius describes the same statue in greater detail, but also projects a solar interpretation onto it, which is clearly far from Lucian’s mind (Saturnalia 1.17.66–70):
“The Hieropolitans, who belong to the people of the Assyrians, bring together all the activities (effectus) and powers (virtutes) of the Sun in the shape of a single bearded statue, and they call him Apollo. His face is depicted with a long, pointed beard, and with a tall calathus (‘basket’) on his head. The statue is armed with a breastplate, and the right hand holds a spear upright, on top of which stands a little statuette of Victory, while the left holds out the likeness of a flower. From the top of the shoulders, a Gorgonean garment wreathed with serpents covers his back. Next to him, there are eagles seemingly in midflight, and before his feet, there is a feminine figure, on whose right and left there are statuettes of women; a serpent encircles these with its sinuous coils.
“The downward-pointing beard signifies the rays launched on to the Earth from above.
“The golden calathus towering above indicates the height of the aether, whence the substance of the Sun is thought to be.
“By the indication of the spear and breastplate, a representation of Mars is added – and I will show that he and the Sun are the same below.
“The Victory attests that all things submit to the power (potestas) of this star.
“The likeness of the flower bears witness to the flowering of all things, which this god sows, engenders, fosters, nourishes and ripens.
“The feminine likeness is an image of the Earth, which the Sun illuminates from above.
“Likewise, the two feminine figures by which she is surrounded signify matter (hyle) and nature, her fellow servants.
“And the effigy of the serpent indicates the sinuous path of the star.
“The eagles show the great elevation (altitudo) of the Sun through the very high (altissima) speed of their flight.
“The Gorgonean vestment is added because Minerva, whom we understand as its owner, is a power (virtus) of the Sun. Porphyry also attests to this, that Minerva is the power of the Sun which bestows prudence on human minds. And it is for this reason that this goddess is memorialized as having been born from the head of Jupiter, that is, to have come forth from the highest part of the aether, whence is the origin of the Sun.”
divination from statues
[Julius Obsequens, Lucian ch. 36]
4 Epiphanies of Apollo
apparitions of apollo
While, in the previous section, I have treated the iconography of Apollo as purely symbolic, this is only because most ancient scholarship that has survived treats it as such. Things would look very different, one must assume, if Ister’s monograph Epiphanies of Apollo had survived. An ‘epiphany’, in this context, is the manifestation of a god, often in a visible form, and many of these divine manifestations took exactly the shapes described by the poets and depicted by artists. Thus, for instance, it is said that Plato was fathered by “an Apolloniac apparition (phásma)”, “an apparition which came in the form of Apollo” to his mother (Olympiodorus, On Alcibiades 2; Origen, Against Celsus 6.8).
Fascinatingly, such an “apparition of Apollo, Karnos by name”, which “was a diviner for the Dorians”, was said to have been killed by a mortal man (Conon, Narratives 26, in Photius, Myriobiblion cod. 186, p. 135a), although a more common version of the story holds that Karnos was a human diviner (Pausanias, Description of Greece 3.13.4). In either case, the Dorians were struck by a famine for his killing, “and they received an oracle from Apollo to honor Apollo Karneios; and when they did so, they were freed of the famine” (Scholia on Theocritus 5.83). The Cynic Oenomaus, a pagan critic of oracles, cites Apollo’s directions (as preserved in Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 50.20.3–4):
Apollo: “You received the punishmend for killing our messenger (ángelos).”
Temenus: “What must be done? How can we propitiate you?”
Apollo: “Vow to perform worship for Apollo Karneios.”
An Apolloniac ‘apparition’, then, which may be called an ángelos (‘messenger, angel’), is not necessarily the god himself. As the Platonists say, “around each of the gods, there is an untold multitude of daemons who are also exalted by the names of their leading gods: for they delight in being called Apollos, Zeuses (Díes) and Hermeses (Hermaî)” (Proclus, On the Alcibiades 69); and not just daemons, but also angels and heroes (Proclus, On the Cratylus 174).
human and other forms
Whether daemonic or divine in the strictest sense, Apolloniac apparitions and manifestations can take different shapes. Most straightforwardly, he may appear as “a youth with marks of beauty beyond the human measure”, a sight thay may be accompanied by the sound of a bow (Justin, Epitome 24.8.5–6).
But in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, it is also said that he leapt onto a ship in the likeness of a dolphin (l. 400); that he jumped into the sky from this ship in the appearance of a star, with “many sparks” (ll. 441–442), and then “entered the inner sanctum” of his temple, “kindled a flame, manifesting his arrows, so that light filled the whole” town (ll. 443–445); that, finally, “he jumped back to the ship, (quick) like a thought, in the form of a man, strong, powerful and in the prime of his youth, his broad shoulders covered in hair” (ll. 448–450).
Apollo then speaks to the ship’s men, who treat him as a man, although they also note that “you are not like mortals, neither in shape nor in stature, but like the immortal gods” (ll. 464–465). Only then does he reveal who he is, and exhort the men to become the keepers of the oracular temple at Delphi (ll. 480–501):
“I am the son of Zeus, I declare that I am Apollo;
I led you here over the great depth of the Sea,
meaning you no harm. Now here, you shall keep my rich temple,
Which is greatly honored among all people,
You shall know the counsels of the immortals, and by their will
You shall always be honored, through all days.
But come now, and obey at once what I say;
First lower the sails and loosen the ropes,
And then draw the swift ship to the shore.
Take out your goods and the gear of the well-balanced ship,
And make an altar on the beach of the Sea,
Kindle a fire upon it, and sacrifice white meal;
Then, standing around the altar, pray—
And since, on the misty Sea, I first leapt
On the swift ship in the shape of a dolphin,
So pray to me as Delphinios; and the altar
Itself shall also be delphinic, and always conspicuous.
Then, have your meal next to the swift, black ship,
And make libations for the blessed gods who hold Olympus.
And once you have sated your desire for sweet food,
Come with me, and sing ‘Iē Paiēon’,
Till you come to the place where you shall keep my rich temple.”
Another animal-shaped appearance is described in the Iliad, where Apollo and Athena sit in an oak-tree in the shape of vultures; [Proclus In Crat. 79; Scholia Il. 7.59]
epiphanies turned into iconography
[Tetraxeiri Apollwni; tetraxeira kai tetrawton (x2); tetraxeiros agalmati; tetraxeira Apollwna]
[aniconic statues : phasmatos oi Dwrieis apomimoumenoi?]
4 How to worship Apollo
Apollo (generally speaking) is one of the heavenly gods (specifically, the aetherial gods, according to Artemidorus and Apuleius, On the god of Socrates 2–3). He is worshipped accordingly: with libations of wine, fumigations of frankincense and similar substances, and, if animal sacrifice is made, white fowl – at least according to an oracle from the god himself, although other victims are also very well attested (as I will discuss in another section below).
A less expensive alternative to fumigations of “cassia, ladanum or frankincense” is to burn “laurel and barley meal”, which alone were offered by the Pythia at Delphi (Plutarch, About The Pythia No Longer Giving Oracles In Verse 397a). Laurel is particularly sacred to Apollo, while meal (especially of barley) was widely offered in addition, or instead of, costly incenses (as in the Homeric Hymn above).
There is no deficiency in simpler offerings: “Country folk, and many peoples, make offerings to the gods with milk (instead of wine), and those who do not have frankincense with salted grains of spelt (lat. mola salsa); nor was there any fault in worshipping the gods however each is able” (Pliny, Natural History pr.11.5).
‘Sacrificial cakes’ (or ‘loaves, pastries’) were also commonly given, either as a burnt-offering or unburnt on an offering table, and Julius Pollux specifically mentions “the bull (boûs)”, which is named after its shape, “because it is a cake which has imitations of horns; it is given to Apollo, Artemis, Hekate and the Moon” (Onomasticon 6.76). Others call it the “seventh bull” and say that it “has horns in imitation of the early appearance of the Moon” (e.g., Photius, Lexicon s.v. βοῦς ἕβδομος). One explanation for the number is that “the poor sacrifice six animate beings, the sheep, pig, goat, flying bird, and goose, and seventh, the ‘bull’” (Michael Apostolius, Collection of Proverbs 5.8). So, crescent-shaped pastry can (among other possibilities) be considered either a substitute for the most expensive animal victim, a bull, or else as something transferred to Apollo from his sister Artemis, the Moon. In any case, we have sacrificial regulations from Athens that ordains three “seventh bulls” for Pythian Apollo, apparently as a burnt-offering (CGRN 72 and 133, off-site link) – three because uneven numbers are appropriate for heavenly gods.
Speaking of horns, there was a famous altar constructed of horns dedicated to Apollo the Ancestor (Genétōr) on the island of Delphi, where no animal victim was offered, but “only wheat, barley and sacrificial cakes (pópana), without fire” (Diogenes Laërtius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers 8.13). This “bloodless altar” was especially revered by Pythagoras, as an example of pure worship (Iamblichus, On the Pythagoric Life 5.25;8.35). Macrobius somewhat overstates the case when he says that at this altar, “they venerate the god with solemn prayer alone” (Saturnalia 3.6.2), although this too would be a good offering.
Now, to say a little more about the ‘cakes’ Apollo was given, we read that the people at Patara in Lycia offered him “pastries in the shape of a lyre, a bow and arrows” (Eustathius, On Dionyius Periegeta 129), and the Athenians, so-called diakónia, “forming a lyre, a cup, a branch, and certain other round cakes” (Arsenius, Apophthegms 6.2). Whether originally so intended or not, we can take these round cakes as a solar counterparts to the lunar crescent-shaped ‘bulls’. Other pastries have the shape either of Apollo’s attributes in iconography or of items used in worship – a principle that can be generalized.
Further, we are fortunate to have a few Apolloniac rituals surviving in what are now called the Greco-Egyptian Magical Papyri, and while these are often quite arcane, some things found there can be put to more general use, especially if they align with lore from elsewhere.
[laurel, including wreaths PGM II; other wreaths incl. PGM VII.727; PGM generally (wolf stuff!); hymns and interjections; characters; iconography: PGM 13.103;660; tripods]
sacred number, names, shapes, etc.?
Lydus 2.6; 2.11; scholia on Hesiod
monad see above; Noumenia (also heptad Procl. In Tim. 2.197; holy day?)
5 Animal offerings for Apollo
As for animal sacrifice, which I said I would discuss more fully, we have quite rich information. In the Corpus of Greek Ritual Norms (off-site link), we find the following animals assigned to Apollo in sacrifice, notably almost always male (as the gender of a victim is usually the same as the recipient deity), and often together with equal or lesser offerings to Leto and Artemis:
- “to Artemis Phylakḗ (‘guardian’) and Apollo Phyloûkhos (‘keeper of the tribe’), whatever you want” (CGRN 225).
- “to Apollo, an adult animal” (CGRN 151).
- “to Apollo, an adult male animal and an adult female animal” (ibid.).
- “to adult sacrificial animals to Apollo Delphinius” (CGRN 201).
- “a bull to Apollo” (CGRN 137).
- “to Apollo Oromedon, a kid” (CGRN 146).
- “to Pythian Apollo, a he-goat” (CGRN 194) alongside a goat to Artemis Leukophyrene, on an altar of Artemis.
- “to Apollo Apotropaeus (‘averter of evil’), a goat” (CGRN 56).
- “to Apollo Apotropaeus, a he-goat” (CGRN 52).
- “to Pythian Apollo, a he-goat” (ibid.).
- “to Apollo Nymphagetes (‘leader of Nymphs’), a he-goat” (ibid.), together with a she-goat for the Nymphs.
- “to Apollo Apotropaeus, a goat, but particularly a winter-old he-goat” (CGRN 190).
- “to Apollo Apotropaeus, a tawny winter-old he-goat” (CGRN 99).
- “to Apollo, a selected winter-old he-goat” (CGRN 32).
- “to Apollo, a goat having lost its milk-teeth” (ibid.), alongside a triple sacrifice (trittóa) “at the sanctuary of Pythian Apollo”, and “a goat” to Leto and Artemis each.
- “to Apollo, a piglet” (CGRN 32).
- “to Ancestral Apollo (Apóllōn Patrôᵢos), a pig” (CGRN 84), alongside a piglet for Leto and Artemis each.
- “to Apollo Karneios, a boar” (CGRN 222).
- “to Lycian Apollo, a male sheep, no take-away” (CGRN 52), i.e., participants must not take any part of the offering home.
- “to Apollo Delphinius, a male sheep” (ibid.).
- “to Apollo Paeon (Paiṓn), a male sheep” (ibid.).
- “to Apollo Karneios, an adult male sheep” (CGRN 86), alongside, it seems, an adult female sheep for Artemis.
- “a ram to Apollo who rules over Telemessos” (CGRN 104).
- triple sacrifices
- “to Apollo Karneios, an ox, a bull, a kid” (CGRN 83).
- “to Apollo Phyxius, a kid, [lost], a goat” (CGRN 146).
- “Triple (trittýa) sacrifice: Callimachus says it consists of a ram, bull and boar; Istros, in the Epiphanies of Apollo, says it is of male cattle, goats and pigs, all three years old” (Photius, Lexicon s.v. τριττύαν).
We see from this that the number of different animals used in the sacrifices – at least those worth recording in stone inscriptions – was limited, and that he-goats were especially preferred for Apollo. But it is only in the ancient Scholia on the Iliad that we are told that offerings orther than goats and bulls are actively dispreferred:
“And why does Chryses promise a sacrifice ‘of bulls and goats’ (Iliad 1.41)” to Apollo, whereas Athena tells Pandarus to offer him lambs? “We will say that, because he knows the ineffables of the god clearly, (Chryses) suitably sacrifices what is dear to the god; for Apollo is delighted with sacrifices of bulls and goats, since their horns are the material for his bows. But Pandarus, who is persuaded by Athena to shoot with a bow, promises not goats or bulls, but first-born lambs, because Athena wanted him to miss the opportune shot” (Scholia on Iliad 4.102).
The great medieval philologists Eustathius, evidently drawing on richer ancient commentaries than survive for us, but probably also drawing on his own independent research, writes the following on the passage about Chryses, taking for granted the identity of Apollo with the Sun and affirming the propriety of sheep to Apollo:
“(Homer) says that (Chryses) burns the fat thigh-bones for Apollo, because only these were burnt wholly in the sacrifices, while it was allowed for those making the sacrifice to share in the rest of the body parts of the animal, as will be shown in the following” (Eustathius, On the Iliad 4.39–40).
“Chryses sacrifices bulls and goats to Apollo, the Sun:
“The bulls, as animals working the Earth, and cooperating with the Sun in originating life (tò zōᵢogónon) and causing fruits to spring up (anadotikòn tôn karpôn);
“And the goats, because of the impulsiveness (hormētikón) of the animal and ability to leap (haltikón) up high, whence (the goat, aîx) is also named after aḯssein (‘darting’), but also because the horns of goats are conventient for the creation of a bow. And Apollo is an archer, as the poet says previously.
“Hence, too, the suitors in the Odyssey, when they attempt to use the bow of Odysseus, decide to sacrifice goats to Apollo Klytótoxos (‘famed for his bow’).
“That cattle are a delight to Apollo, the Sicilian herds of cattle show, which the companions of Odysseus eat.
“That lambs were also sacrificed to him, Achilleus will show in believing that Apollo may be given service with the smoke of lambs and goats.
“And Pandarus vows that he will sacrifice first-born lambs to him (Apollo), and in making a treaty, the Trojans sacrifice a white lamb to the Sun. And that he is delighted by herds of sheep is said in the Odyssey. For there, flocks of sheep are kept together with the herds of the cattle of the Sun.
“He does not even reject donkeys. At any rate, the Hyperboreans, as Pindar recounts, used to sacrifice such brutes to him (Apollo).
“And according to Herodotus, the Persians sacrificed horses to him (the Sun), as the fastest on foot to the fastest of all.
“And to speak generally, because the pagans regarded Apollo as Nomios (‘of herding’) and as a nourisher of animals (zōᵢotróphos), they would offer all such (animals) to him” (Eustathius, On the Iliad 4.41).
While Eustathius seems to be perfectly right in taking the sacrifice of lambs to be permissible, his conclusion that Apollo “does not reject” donkeys is rash, as a myth recounted by Antoninus Liberalis teaches:
[Antoninus Liberalis 20]
[CGRN 34 : Asclepius and Apollo
CGRN 76 : Asclepius and Apollo
CGRN 94 : goat, lamb, table
CGRN 104 : elaborate description, plus oracle
CGRN 156 : elaborate description (bull and lambs)
CGRN 201 : libations and paeans]
6 Apollo as the Sun
[Begin with Heraclitus, plus D-Scholia Iliad 1.48, and Euripides (ὦ καλλιφεγγὲς Ἥλι).
Philosophers: Cornutus, Macrobius.
[Eratosthenes, John Lydus.
Scholia on Aelius Aristides, Pan.97,16.17
Menander D. T. E. 337
Schol. In Pac. 409, Nub. 595
Scholia on Iliad 1.399-406.28; 18.240; 20.68
D-Scholia 20.39, 20.74, 21.448,
Schol. Aesch. Th.145]
In the time of Callimachus, some persons distinguished between Apollo and Helios, for which they were censured by the poet. (Fragm. 48, ed. Bentley.) Pausanias (vii. 23. &sec; 6) states, that he met a Sidonian who declared the two gods to be identical, and Pausanias adds that this was quite in accordance with the belief of the Greeks. (Comp. Strab. xiv. p. (635; Plut. de Ei ap. Delph. 4, de Def.Orae. 7.) It has further been said, that if Apollo be regarded as the Sun, the powers and attributes which we have enumerated above are easily explained and accounted for; that the surname of Phoibos (the shining or brilliant), which is frequently applied to Apollo in the Homeric poems, points to the sun; and lastly, that the traditions concerning the Hyperboreans and their worship of Apollo bear the strongest marks of their regarding the god in the same light. (Alcaeus, ap. Himer. xiv. 10; Diod. ii. 47.) Still greater stress is laid on the fact that the Egyptian Horus was regarded as identical with Apollo (Herod. ii. 144, 156 ; Diod. i. 25; Plut. de Is. et Os. 12, 61; Aelian, Hist. An. x. 14), as Horus is usually considered as the god of the burning sun.
7 Apollo, the Sun, and Dionysus
Dion of Prusa observes somewhere: “Some say that Apollo, the Sun and Dionysus are the same, and you too may believe this! Others even draw absolutely all gods together into some one strength (iskhýs) and power (dýnamis), so that it makes no difference whether one is honoring this one or that one” (Orations 31.11).
When one reads passages like these, it seems almost inescapable to call this monotheism, or at least something approaching monotheism. But ‘approach’ implies directionality, even teleology, whereas ancient pagans, however much they seem to have ‘approached’ it, never actually adopted monotheism unless they left paganism behind and converted to Judaism or Christianity. Monotheism, after all, implies that there is only one god, and therefore no “this one or that one” at all, whereas the Stoics, who Dion is alluding to in the second sentence, saw polytheistic ritual in all its differentiations as the appropriate attitude to take towards the cosmic, all-embracing god – since the all he embraces includes many divine powers. Thus, on its own terms, Stoicism did not at all imply monotheism as a logical next step.
Now, as for the first sentence (“Apollo, the Sun and Dionysus are the same”), while it would superficially indicate that the three are without any differentiation, there are parallel sources which indicate something more nuanced – which also better suits the fact that their worship remained largely (if not entirely) separate.
In the first instance, I am referring to Servius, in whose commentaries on Vergil we read the following passages:
Serv. Buc. 5.66;8.75, Aen. 3.73;3.93;6.78, Georg. 1.5
Lact. Plac. 4.689
Scholia in Verg. Ecl. et Georg. Bernensia: Georg. 1.7
Commenta Bernensia in Lucanum 3.74
Brevis expositio 1.5
Scholia in Demosthenem 21.39
Damasc. In Phaed. 14; 130
Menander, P. E. 446
Julian, On Emperor Sun 23
8 The oracles at Delphi and elsewhere
I indicated the importance of Apollo’s divinatory responses to ancient Greek sacred institutions in the Introduction. But the Apolloniac oracles demand much more detailed explanation, both as far as this function is concerned, and in relation to everything else that his oracles have taught humanity. Then, too, we should have some understanding of how oracular inspiration comes about and works, or was at least thought to work. And that, perhaps, is where we ought to begin.
[… The spirit at Delphi (Lucan + scholia); Cato on divination in Lucan? Cicero?]
? Scholia on Plutus (hn de h Puqia gunh)
Pollux on tripods?
As for the contents of Apollo’s oracles, the largest part of his instructions seem to have been concerned with ritual, either exclusively or incidentally, sometimes for individuals and sometimes for communities – in other words, political theology. But after we have gone through some examples of this, there are also oracles on mythical and physical theology to consider. These are largely from the Roman period, when the perceived scope of divination widened seems to have widened considerably.
… Fontenrose Didyma 14, 21-23, 27, 29-31
Ethics: 52, 53 [ethics: Phaedrus, Fables ‚de oraculo Apollinis‘]
Eusebius 4.20 & Apollo’s Taxonomy
Myth: 25, 54
Now, we can deal with the oracles that teach physical theology, or philosophy in general …
Philosophy: 45, 51, 58
… (Didyma 50 Fontenrose = Lactantius, Divine Institutes 7.13.6): “A certain Polites consulted the Milesian Apollo whether the soul persists or dissolves after death, and he responded with these verses:
“The soul, so long as she is held by chains to the body,
Thinks on perishable affects and yields to mortal pains.
But when the body has withered, and the soul has found
Sudden mortal release, she is borne entire to the aether;
Always unaging, she remains forever indestructible.
For firstborn divine providence ordained this.”
CGRN 99 : purity regulations
L173-L174: substitute goat for boy
Q99-Q105 (Croesus) – L172 wonderful (other oracles in Julian?)
Q146-Q148 (Persian War)
Philosophy (Socrates H1?, Plotinus H69, Themistius, Porphyry and Iamblichus Q261). The altar (Plato Q200). Palladius (A neglected Delphic oracle F15). Alexander de anima (Q77). Laws (Lycurgus, Q7-Q10). Morals (F16).
Good sacrifice L57-L59, L146-L147
Fontenrose: H9-H12, H23-H32, H36, H52, H65 (grammar), H68, H74
cults of Apollo: L168, L169
L152: honor Herakles as a god
worship of a tree L149
Erigone and her dog: L133
Q1-6: Olympic Games
Q58, Q63, Q76 (tripod), Q79
Q89-Q91, Q164, Q188, L42, L153 (heroes‘ bodies)
L138: a ghostQ92 (oath!)
Q142, Q165-167, Q178 (heroes)
Q191 (birthplace of Apollo!)
Q226 (mother of Asklepios)
Q229 (Asclepius for the Romans), Q237 (Idaean Mother for the Romans)
Q241 (identification of an image)
Q259 (destruction of a temple)
That ethical anecdote from Elias and David (L141-L142)
Mythical and physical theology in oracles
+Clarian / Oinoanda
Oenomaus vs. Porphyry
Obsolescence of the Oracles (Lucan, Plutarch, Martianus; others?) vs. Porphyry (Julian)
oracles – know yourself (Alexander) – etc.
oracle of Glycon too
Plutarch, Iamblichus, others who wrote on divination
altar and maths: Asclepius In Nic. 2.17
Summus deus (Aen. 6.79)
Iconography: Lactantius Placidus 1.699,704; D-scholia 15.150
Empedocles on Apollo
Schol. Eur. Or. 165
cf. Scholia on Iliad 21.448 > Apollwn nomios ws
Scholia on Odyssey 3.372.6; 5.1.21, 19.86, 20.71, 20.155
Scholia Iliad 1.41a, 1.64, 4.102, 15.237
Plato + Proclus
Procl. In Remp. 1.92,94,113,146-148
In Alc. 69, 83
In Crat. 15, 136, 164, 172, 174-176, 178
In Tim. 1.78, 3.140, 3.159, 3.284
Homeric Hymn 3
Thus the Ephesians said that Apollo and Artemis were born in the grove of Ortygia near Ephesus (Tacit. Annal. iii. 61); the inhabitants of Tegyra in Boeotia and of Zoster in Attica claimed the same honour for themselves. (Steph. Byz. s.v. Tegura.) In some of these local traditions Apollo is mentioned alone, and in others together with his sister Artemis. The account of Apollo′s parentage, too, was not the same in all traditions (Cic. de Nat. Deor. iii. 23), and the Egyptians made out that he was a son of Dionysus and Isis. (Herod. ii. 156.) But the opinion most universally received was, that Apollo, the son of Zeus and Leto, was born in the island of Delos, together with his sister Artemis; and the circumstances of his birth there are detailed in the Homeric hymn on Apollo, and in that of Callimachus on Delos. (Comp. Apollod. i. 4. § 1; Hygin. Fab. 140.) Hera in her jealousy pursued Leto from land to land and from isle to isle, and endeavoured to prevent her finding a resting-place where to give birth. At last, however, she arrived in Delos, where she was kindly received, and after nine days′ labour she gave birth to Apollo under a palm or an olive tree at the foot of mount Cynthus. She was assisted by all the goddesses, except Hera and Eileithyia, but the latter too hastened to lend her aid, as soon as she heard what was taking place. The island of Delos, which previous to this event had been unsteady and floating on or buried under the waves of the sea, now became stationary, and was fastened to the roots of the earth. (Comp. Virg. Aen. iii. 75.) The day of Apollo′s birth was believed to have been the seventh of the month, whence he is called hebdomagenês. (Plut. Sympos. 8.) According to some traditions, he was a seven months′ child (heptamênaios). The number seven was sacred to the god; on the seventh of every month sacrifices were offered to him (hebdomagetês, Aeschyl. Sept. 802; comp. Callim. Hymn. in Del. 250, &c.), and his festivals usually fell on the seventh of a month. Immediately after his birth, Apollo was fed with ambrosia and nectar by Themis, and no sooner had he tasted the divine food, than he sprang up and demanded a lyre and a bow, and declared, that henceforth he would declare to men the will of Zeus. Delos exulted with joy, and covered herself with golden flowers. (Comp. Theognis, 5, &c.; Eurip. Hecub. 457, &c.)
the four arts – not original/exclusive to him (Artemidos Apollwn en tocikh maqhths)
[Physical interpretation of myth: Scholia on Odyssey 6.106. Macrobius. Servius?]