The Sea Monster’s Bone

Upon rereading a selection from book 2 of Pausanias regarding the Corinthian temple to Apollon Karneios, I was interested once again in the description of the portico. It describes specifically two things, one of which is a sea monster’s bone, and the second following after this is a depiction of sleep and dream working their mojo on a lion. I find it rather these two details fascinating. First a curious relationship between Sleep and Dream with Apollon, particularly for a god who is responsible for the first 30 days of a souls existance after the body dies before Hermes conducts them on to the underworld. Apollon of the graveyards perhaps directly associated with Apollon of the pastures as we are seeing Karneios directly related to Thanatos’ brothers here wherein slumber is a temporary experience akin to death. How then does this relate to the Sea Monster’s bone that Pausanias talks about. Well it is possible that this may have belonged to a whale, but the identity of what it belonged is not quite was is important though we do know that Apollon is associated with the dolphin, a creature who dives into the unknown depths but is intimately connected to the surface for which it depends for its life sustaining oxygen. This bone thus should be taken in association with this manner of symbolism. The sea (both the physical water and the the airy zone) represents a connection between worlds. In such a sense Roman scenes which depict Persephone rising in the spring carried on the back of a dolphin certainly makes sense. And even the analogy of the “three Zeuses” relates to a unified relationship between Zeus, Poseidon and Hades by which we can see a direct alignment with their domains into a singular unified whole. Such a movement through life into death and out again in rebirth seems that it would be significantly connected to shepherd gods, especially as we see Hermes conducting and Apollon Karneios presiding over the pasture lands and flocks/herds. Thereby Apollon, like his twin Artemis, is represented as a god of the portal of life and death and this is represented elequently not only be the depiction of Dream and Sleep upon his temple, but also by the sea monster’s bone.

As Apollon has departed on his yearly travels away, we can see something almost reminiscent of this journey. He has sailed through the heavens beyond the northern wind, drawn by swans (birds being creatures that in philosophy are regarded as a species that swims through the sky as I have seen it put in a philosophical conversation on hunting) to a divine garden island, into the hidden reaches from which he eventually emerges once again!

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2 thoughts on “The Sea Monster’s Bone

  1. So what happens during the 30 days that the soul is in Apollo’s realm of control? Why 30 days? I’ve heard of 3 days for the soul to depart the area around the body…

    • More or less the soul is attached to the earthly domain, more or less still attached to its body. A friend of mine from Hellas said 40 days, Pausanias says 30 days. I havent’ heard of 3 days though. Essentially Apollon is the guardian of the cemetary, the space in which the body resides during the initial periods of its deterioration. There is some thought of the preservation of the body allowing the soul (or in the case of the Egyptians the ba I believe) to have contact with the earthly domain. Mummification extends the period in which the body is essentially intact. So apparently this period was 30 (or 40) days. After which Hermes came to the cemetary and heralded the souls into the next world. Pausanias says that in Argos sacrifices were made to Apollo at the cemetary because it was believed that he had custody of the soul, and then after 30 days another sacrifice was made to Hermes. An archaeology article that I had (pre-harddrive falling to the floor) describes epitaphs in Phrygia to Apollon Chresterios who was invoked to protect the deceased and bring the wrath of the gods upon the violators of the tomb. I am not sure how long was waited between death and burial, which may be the difference between the 30 and 40 days I mentioned above. Basically Apollon just serves as a guardian of the soul until Hermes collects it. There is an interesting relief in The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities that depicted Apollon and Hermes weighing the souls of the dead in which they were weighing the soul of a hero.

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