The son of Zeus and the titaness, Leto; Apollo or Apollon is best known as god of the sun, and though he became this in late times (originally it was Helios who was the sun god) that is not what was meant when the ancients called him the lord of light. Above the temple of Delphi, the seat of the prophetic cult of Apollon were written the words ‘Know Thyself’ and Apollon is the light that seeks out knowledge of the self: deep, rational, true meanings; the light that burns away the shadows and lies and reveals the very core of our Selves.
Apollon is also the light of civilization, he is the ordering drive that pushes humankind as a whole towards that ‘better place’, through reflection, scientific discovery and research. Unfortunately that drive can sometimes lead to horrors as well as wonders and it is all to easy to see Apollon in the gifts and dangers that lay behind such things as atomic fusion and nuclear weapons.
Apollon is the god of many of the arts that often symbolize refined culture- art, poetry, music, architecture, song. In fact, Apollon is the leader of the Musoi and was often pictured dancing with them while playing upon his lyre. The lyre is the favored instrument of Apollon, though it Hermes who was the original owner of it. Only hours after his birth, Hermes stole the cattle of the sun from Apollon, when he was discovered, Hermes traded the lyre he had newly invented for Apollon’s forgiveness. Apollon must have considered the lyre a truly wondrous gift, not only did he forgive Hermes, but he gave the newborn god the kaedekus as well and along with it pastoral duties and guardianship of shepherds and herds.
Apollon did not give up his pastoral aspect completely and he can still be seen in the taming of nature, the ordered herb garden, the straight rows of crops; the tranquil, solitary shepherd watching over his flock and daydreaming towards the sky. He is man looking at nature which mirrors Artemis who is nature looking at man; one can not speak of Apollon without mentioning Artemis. Among the intertwined family tree of the gods few are described by their familial relationships and when they are it is usually parental, but the twins of Zeus and Leto are often mentioned together as siblings. It seems that the two complete each other as well as compliment, together creating an almost yin-yang perfection of civilization and chaos, man and nature, light and dark.
Apollon was considered by the Greeks as the epitome of physical male beauty, almost too perfect for comfort as if, like the sun it would be painful to stare at him too long. He was always portrayed as a Kouros, a beardless youth and very athletic; in the very first Olympics it is said that Apollon won all the events including, of course, archery (of which Apollon is also the god of) but also beating Hermes at the footrace and Ares at boxing. Apollon was the typical Greek male youth in the realms of sexuality as well; none of the younger Olympians marry (save for Dionusos, who is so often the exception to the rule) though they do take many lovers And Apollon has many famous ones, perhaps the most well known being Hykanthos a youth of great beauty and intelligence who was accidentally killed by Apollon while the two practiced discus. In memory of his death, Apollon crated the Hyacinth flower from his blood and placed on its petals the letters ‘IA’: the sound of his mourning cry.
Apollon had many children as well including Hilaria, the goddess of laughter; Phemonoe the goddess of oracular poetry and the mortal Asklepious, a physician so skilled that he could raise the dead. Along with the other aspects of civilization that Apollon rules over he is the god of healing; special hymns called paeans were sung to him in hopes of healing and even the gods came to him to patch their wounds. So it is no wonder that his son would have the power to heal as well. Asklepious was retrieved from his mothers womb when she was killed in a pillar of light and fire as revenge for cheating on Apollon with a mortal man. Asklepious was raised and taught by the Kentaur Khiron, the tutor of many young heroes. It is said that he restored the life the youth Hippolytus, son of Theseus and beloved of Artemis, after he was killed by his fathers curse. Furious at the thwarting of his power Haides pleaded to Zeus to kill Asklepious; fearing that Asklepious would raise others Zeus agreed and struck him down with a thunderbolt. Asklepious was raised from the dead himself by Apollon and instated on Olympus as the god of medicine. Even today he and his daughters are called upon by all doctors when they take the Hippocratic oath and swear to do no harm.
There is some evidence that Apollon was a shamanic deity and that very early in history his cult included the traveling of the three worlds (heaven, earth and the underworld) by use of the World Axis (much as other cultures’ shamans use a world tree). The world axis was connected to Delphi, (which was considered by much of the ancient world to be the center point of the universe) Apollon’s chief site of worship, and the other end was attached to the northern star. Both ends were guarded by great serpents (perhaps associated with the twin snakes of the Kadekus) one of whom- the constellation Draco can still be seen guarding the pole star.
Apollon is the grandson of the Titans Koios and Phobe, both whom are oracular deities- Koios who uttered prophesy from the heavens and Phoebe who uttered them from the earth; Delphi was the shrine of Phoebe and her snake cult before it was taken over by Apollon. The pythia, priestess of the oracle would inhale the gasses rising from the ground and through trance call into herself the essence of the god, a priest would interpreted her mutterings and form them into hexamic verse. The oracles of Delphi were sought out by peoples – kings and commoners alike- thorough out the Mediterranean and beyond for nearly a thousand years
I t has already been mentioned that Artemis and Apollon have a strongly complement each other, and just as there is an Artemis of the Near East (Artemis of Ephesus) so there is an Apollon. Throughout the Iliad Apollo appears as a Trojan rather than a Greek ally, he was worshiped in the Troad as Apollon Smintheus the god of the bow and the gift of prophecy and is related to the Hittite sun god Apulu. Apollon also was worshiped by the Romans under the name Apollo and by the Etruscans as Aplu.
I honor Apollon by studying, by learning as much as I can, not only about the world around me but about myself as well- by always searching for the light.