falcons

Outside of any possible syncreticism with the Egyptian falcon god Horus, there may be those who do not realize that Apollon enjoys a tie to falcons in his own right. Though the swans is perhaps most commonly known bird associated with the god, as is the raven, I believe the falcon should be recognized right up there with them. The god is often described as moving as a falcon, which is the case in a line from the Iliad in which, upon being sent by Zeus to intervene on the part of the Trojans, Apollon is described as dropping from the heavens like a falcon (my paraphrase). I have similarly read that it was believed that if a falcon (or in some cases a hawk according to other authors) carried off some offering to Apollon it was regarded favorably. As this cannot be contributed directly with a scyrencitism between Hellenic and Egyptian deities (though it can’t be disputed that among the ancient peoples such associations were made), I feel it is more pertinent to examine why the falcon would have been considered a representative of the god. In fact it seems that the falcon is related directly in likeness to the god on a level different that the swans that sing at the nearing presence of Apollon, or the ravens who peer over all things as if acting as his eyes. In neither case do we see the bird being applied as descriptive of the god himself, at least in the way that we do with the falcon.

First of all it doesn’t surprise me that a falcon would be associated with any deity of light. Falcons in general have very light breast feathers (which would be the most visible part of the bird when flying above you in the sky) if not a bright hue throughout. The Egyptians attributed the speckling on the breast of the falcon god Horus the Elder to be the stars in the sky. But it is not just the coloring of the falcon, it is also the perception of the falcon as it moves. Growing up in Alaska we had an abundance of small merlin falcons. Here is a picture of a male merlin falcon, observe the pale feathers (which are dark on jouvenile birds but lighten in mature ones).

The following picture is now, for contrast and perhaps greater relevancy since it is a bird from Hellas, is a Eleanora’s Falcon that breeds in the cliffs in Greece. Again observe that thought the back and wings are dark, the throad and chest of the bird are white. But it isn’t just the color of the birds, it is the sheer speed of them! Now someone might here now scoff and say well surely that is more appropriate to Hermes than Apollon, and it very well could be a possibility that these birds are sacred to both gods though I haven’t found reference to their association with Hermes, but we should not forget either that the speed of Apollon is attested both in the Iliad as well as the mythic contest between Hermes and Apollon at the first Olympic games in a racing contest. And of course the speed of light is itself used as a tool of measurement for great speed. So it can be of little surprise that Apollon would be associated with the one of the fasest flying birds. That is what the falcon has in its favor. It isn’t a large strong bird like the eagle, or even among species of the somewhat bigger hawks. It is instead small and quick like a flash of light. And that is all that you really see when it drops to capture a small song bird from the air or a rodent in the feild, just the flash of light off of its wings.

The fact that it preys on song birds, which you would think hold a special place dear to Apollon, especially since the poem of the nightingale in Aristophanes Birds, if memory serves me, speaks of how prized the nightingale is to the god of music that he delights in her song, doesn’t disturb me at all. That he is represented by a bird that catches up the small birds and consumes them, taking them into him, seems perfectly logical to me, even as a mouse (also attributed to Apollon as Smintheus) would be taken up by the same bird. The falcon is what feeds on this smaller fare though which would not satisfy the larger appetites of the larger birds of prey. The falcon of Apollon consumes what is his and a part of him so to speak.

The falcon in short is swift and effective destroyer which is quite appropriate to Apollon’s worship. Therefore I see the falcon as a bird more intimately connected to the god that his singing swans (that I see more allegorically related to his followers) and his ravens. That this is shared with another god that Apollon is likened to is a wonderful coincidence, and it does make me wonder if perhaps that Apollon had this long held association with falcons that helped strengthen such a connection. Though the antiquity of Apollon in Hellas is disputed by some, I saw a lovely image in a pose similar to the Pontia Theron image that is so often understood to be images of Artemis, in which a youthful man has to live falcons grasped at the neck in the same fashion as to which Artemis grasps those beasts sacred to her. Though this isn’t directly called Apollon, this is what I saw nonetheless when looking upon this image. I saw Apollon.

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