HUM102W (Summer 2013) Unit 4 Cherry Fan
God of Prophecy, God of Theft, God of
In the Succession Myth related by Hesiod, there is a potential problem with the generation of gods
following Zeus. Both he and his father Cronos had, after all, usurped the power of their fathers. Hesiod’s
story emphasizes how Zeus, unlike his progenitors, shares honours with the other gods and thus avoids
being pushed out of the way. Thus when a new generation of gods arrives, we should expect that they
too should receive honours. Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades made their division in terms of parts of the Earth.
The next generation must divide things differently.
In Hesiod, Apollo is Zeus’ first male offspring (Th 920), but the poet draws no special attention to the
fact. In art, especially sculpture, Apollo is the divine model for the kouros, the young (17-21 year-old)
man portrayed as the essence of male beauty. His name is thought to be associated with the apellai,
male initiation festival. In vase painting Apollo is portrayed either with the lyre or with the bow. Both are
essentially just pieces of wood with a string strung across them. Apollo is the god of poetry (i.e. music)
and thus very popular with poets. He is also the god of healing, especially when addressed with the call
Iê Paian, and of sickness and plague. As mentioned in Unit 2, his epithet Phoebus, “bright”, associates
him with the sun.
The famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) emphasized the antithesis between
Apollo and Dionysus. In this antithesis, Apollo stands for self-control, the Greek sôphrosynê (lit.
“soundness of mind”) as opposed to Dionysiac ecstasy. Apollo’s epithet “far shooter” seems to confirm
this antithesis, since it sees Apollo as aloof and distant. But in fact the antithesis, despite its brilliance, is
too pat. Apollo appears less than self-controlled in several myths. The story of his love for Daphne
(related in Ovid’s Metamorphoses), who transforms herself into laurel (Apollo’s plant) in order to escape
his amorous intentions, testifies to how the god can lose his composure.
The great Hymn to Apollo (3.) consists of two parts, the first celebrating his birth on Delos and the
second celebrating the establishment of his oracular shrine at Delphi. The two parts have various
parallels, including the theme of the search for a place.
The poem begins with a portrait of the gods on Olympus welcoming Apollo as the favourite son (1-13).
The poet brings the action before the eyes of his listeners as Apollo exchanges bow for lyre, and the
parallel semiotics of the two instruments are emphasized. There follows a salute to Leto (14-18) and
then the question “how then should I hymn to you (Apollo)”? The answer is that Apollo is celebrating in
song “in every direction” (20). He is a Panhellenic god. But then the poet settles on Delos, thus choosing
to emphasize the Delian version of Apollo over that of other places he mentions (30-44). Apollo was
born on Delos to be a “delight for mortals” (25), a lord of “all mortals”. The repeated emphasis on
mortals shows Apollo’s special connection to them.
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Every place feared being Apollo’s birthplace because there was a prophecy that he would be
“excessively violent” (67). The word is actually atashalos and means something like “reckless”. It’s the
quality that gets so many people punished in the Odyssey. Delos fears that this recklessness will be
directed against her. The talk of prophecy is odd since prophecies almost always come true. Does this
one not come true? Why doesn’t it?
Hera is jealous and keeps knowledge of Leto’s labour pains from Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth (97-
100). Is there anything more to this than the theme of the jealous wife? Within the context of the poem,
this episode builds up the tension before Apollo’s birth. Like Demophoon and Aeneas, this child is not
nursed by his mother, but fed by Themis (123-6). He wriggles out of his swaddling clothes and makes his
claims to music and poetry (the lyre), archery (the bow), and prophecy (131-2). A poet could have made
much more of a story of these particular areas, but the real concern seems to be with places again.
Apollo goes everywhere (133-45), but his special place is Delos (146). The poet makes a special point of
indicating that Delos is the cult centre for the Ionian Greeks (147). The Ionians were the Greeks who
lived throughout the central part of the Aegean. (Dorians lived to the south and Aeolians to the north.)
The Ionians included the Athenians.
You might try to imagine yourself taking part in the Ionian festival at Delos. Note what the island looks
like and where it is on the map, why it may have been chosen as a cult centre.
Lines 165-181 seem to be a sort of bridge with a self-reference to the poet as a Chian. They do not tell us
much about Apollo. Likewise, lines 181-206 seem to echo the introduction, though this time we hear
more about Apollo leading the music. The poet resumes casting about for a theme and manages to
mention several of Apollo’s amorous adventures (208-13). But it will be the search for an oracular shrine
that will be the next theme.
Again there is a parallel with the poem’s opening. Several rival locations to Delphi are mentioned first
(216-43). We even hear about a bizarre rite for chariot drivers at Onchestos (230-8). Apollo begins
building his temple at Telphousa (244-55), but is persuaded to move on to Crisa (Delphi) by the local
goddess (256-74). The fact that she is motivated by jealousy (275-76) will have terrible consequences for
Apollo now goes to Crisa and establishes his shrine on the slopes of Mt. Parnassos, where it was known
throughout antiquity. Over the generations, or “tribes” (298), many buildings were added to the site.
You can check them out on the Perseus web site.
The story of the serpent that Apollo kills at Crisa (301-74) and the story of Typhaon, which is related
within the serpent’s story (305-55), seem to be related in a very clumsy way. We can speculate about
why. The length and attention given to Typhaon, or Typhoeus, seem out of proportion.
Typhaon is a child of Hera, her answer to Zeus’ giving birth to Athena by himself (314). Here perhaps we
see some of the possibilities of Succession Myth. The successor of Zeus alone is a goddess, Athena. The
first successor by his wife Hera is Hephaestus, a lame god, who seems to have been born
parthenogenetically (317). Now she makes an all-out effort to give birth to Typhaon as a rival to Zeus
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(337-8). The story seems cut short, however, since we hear nothing more of Typhaon after he has been
given to the serpent at Crisa (354-5) except that he is not around to help her when Apollo kills her (367).
“Pytho” means “I rot”, so the poet explains the name Pythian by saying that it is associated with Apollo
because of the rotting of the serpent (363-74).
The last part of the poem follows a similar pattern to the first two. There is no scene on Olympus, but
there is again an inventory of places, this time trailing Apollo, in the form of a dolphin, and his Cretan
sailors around the Peloponnesus to Crisa (409-37). Once arrived at Crisa, Apollo takes the form of a
youth and recruits his priests, explaining that because he encountered them first as a dolphin, he should
be prayed to as Apollo Delphinius (495). It seems a retrospective attempt to explain the name Delphi.
The final part of the poem (497-544) seems almost a script for a ritual performance celebrating the
installation of the priesthood. First there is a meal on the beach at Crisa (508-12), then a ritual
procession up to Parnassus complete with music (513-23). Apollo promises his priests the great wealth
that will come to his oracular shrine and warns against hubris, the act of denigrating the honour of a god
In the Iliad (4.405, 11.518), Asclepius is a hero, not a god. But as in Homeric Hymn 16, he is a healer and
so takes up one aspect of his father Apollo’s honours. The hymn makes his mother Coronis, the daughter
of King Phlegyas, who is perhaps the same man as the Azan mentioned in 3.209. None of our texts goes
into the story of Asclepius’ birth in any detail, how his mother wed a mortal Ischy after her affair with
Apollo and how the god killed her in jealousy but rescued the child. Asclepius was of huge importance of
Greek religion and society, however, because those suffering illness often went to his shrines seeking
The great Homeric Hymn to Hermes (4.) is a much better poem than the Hymn to Apollo. It is written in a
somewhat humorous tone and seems to develop a continuous theme throughout, namely, how Hermes
used trickery to gain the honours he deserves. It raises many issues for us about the morality of the
Greek gods, about how a society deals with thieves, about relations between agriculturists and
pastoralists, and about dispute settlement.
Hermes is again the product