I was tinkering around in my mind with what I wanted to do for the letter F, because I was really undecided, but then I was inspired by a post by Aj about Fire and decided to follow my line of thought in my own blog post.
While I am going to talk about the flame of Apollon, I think that is important that I don’t associate Apollon with fire. He is a god of light. I agree entirely with Aj that Hephaistos is directly associated with the flame itself…read more in her post about Hephaistos and fire. Meanwhile I differ from her in the opinion that Hestia represents that which channels, houses and fuels the fire. this may be the domestic hearth over which she presides as a domestic “housewife” type of goddess, but also extends in the sacred places as she has been described as the goddess of the hearth dwelling at Delphi and Olympos both. In this fashion I see her as the heart of the flame…the center around which the flame rests and what fuels it and then the surrounding encloser which maintains it…such as tinder in a hearth and the stone hearth itself, the core of the planet around which the molten lava is turned and the hard mantel and crust of the earth (whereas comparatively the volcano is a rupture in this surface in which the magma, the fire substance of the earth, is able to rush to the surface), and the center of the sun etc etc. In this sense Hestia is truly the center of all things as described in Pythagorean philosophy, for if fire is at the center of all things, she is not only surrounding it to maintain it but also dwells at its center….appropriate for a goddess who tends to the fires of the hearth in poetic depictions. Apollon though touches on neither of this areas, his light is a very specific byproduct of the function of fire and the reach of which is far more extended and affluential (as we can see by the stars in the sky whose light travels very long distances to be seen by our eyes). As such the torch represents his domain which is a specific byproduct of fire, the light which illuminates all things and which sustains life.
Though people don’t often associate the torch and its flame with Apollon, as evident by the fact I was made aware of that in searching theoi.com Apollon did not come up in a search for torch-bearing gods, it is an important symbol of his worship that is not often depicted. Typically we get Apollon with his bow instead, which, as we see from a passage of Argonautika wherein Jason is fleeing with Medea, that Apollon lights up the night with his bow upheld. In this function his bow is acting as a torch but is not a torch. Yet the same author in another passage describes the god returning from Hyperborea, walking across the sea, with his torch upheld. Likewise Aristophanes in his play the Thesmophoriazusae has a bard who, in speaking of the mysteries of Demeter, sings of the torch-bearing children of Leto, for which reason I strongly associate the mystagogs who led the procession of those who were to be initiated with these two deities, as Iakkhos joins them when the party of initiates joins with them in the procession at a later point prior to arriving at Eleusis. A slightly related idea is represented on a plaque in which Apollon, though he is holding a stag instead of a torch, has at either side of him two youths bearing torches which are lowered in deference to him.
Perhaps it is something that should be expected as we see his twin, who is likewise associated with light as he is, often mentioned by ancient writers in depictions in which she is carrying a torch or lamp, and also Leto, as we also see from the Gigantomachy frieze of the Pergamon Altar, is holding a torch in the fight against the Giants with Artemis and Apollon (who sadly is in such bad condition that it cannot be determine what exactly he is doing…be presumably in this scene, determining from their postures, both he and Artemis are shooting arrows. This presents an interesting association with Leto who, as their mother, quite literally bears light just as the dark night and underworld issues life…who issues light into the world, and the arrows of the twins which may be associated with the far-reaching emanations of the flame as both gods are attributed with the epithets that refer to shooting from afar.
Nor it is surprising when we consider what imagery is associated with his son Hymenaios born to him by a Muse. What we know of the divine children of Apollon, is that often they are directly associated with some gift of his divine domain whether that be shepherding, prophecy, medicine etc. In the case of Hymenaeus we see an Eroti who is acting as an extension of his father’s domain, as the god of the marital song. Comparatively we see Apollon as the predecessor here who sang the bridal song at the marriage of Thetis to her mortal husband. As the marriage right is one of transformation and the birth of a new oikos, the symbolism of the torch is quite appropriate here and both the song and the torch would have become part of the function of his son Hymenaios who acts for this part of his domain just as Asklepios is a doctor and Aristaios a shepherd.
Images in which Apollon is holding a torch are admittedly fewer to be found than those of his twin. One reason may be is that most of the statues that we have Apollon have significant damage around the area of the hands (such as the statue of Apollon from Olympia)…particularly in regard to whatever object he may be holding (as in the case of the Belveder statue). And when you have things of similar shape and form as a bow and a torch, it opens alot of room for speculation, particularly in more relaxed poses such as those of Apollon Lykeios in which the thick object in his hand has a strong similarity to that of a torch (and would also make sense if we connect back to the text of the Argnonautika which describes the torch associated too with the wolf- light (aka false dawn/twilight)
Meanwhile Renniasance and Revolutionary period statues of Apollon do occassionally stress his torch rather than his bow. One statue from the late 1500s depicts Apollon with Zephyrus or Eros (interpretations vary) in which both gods are looking at the torch which Apollon is holding in his hand. A statue of Apollon as Reason stamping out superstition that was created during the french revolution is a remarkable peice of Art as it shows his utter brilliance from the exagerated flame of his hair, to the torch he holds in his hand. His illumination banishing the darkness of ignorance and superstition.
These later peices of art perhaps best illuminate some of the main symbolism associated with the flame of the god, especially the latter one which was crafted during a period of a cultural revival of interest in ancient Hellas. As Apollon’s flame is illumination this same illumination is connected both with physical light and with the mental light that we call enlightenment. It is also the mystic light associated above as I mentioned with the mystagogs and the procession of Eleusis, the light which reveals the hidden to the initiated…which again connects back to the idea of the enlightened mind. And this enlightenment and reason functionally destroys superstition and ignorance, both which are tools that hold people in bondage and does associate with another important F word associated with Apollon (and some other related gods): Freedom. To become enlightened by reason and in the mystic sense means to be free of the bondages of illusion, of false authority, and of ignorance, and the mystics themselves to be free to enjoy a blessed life after death. Therefore the light of Apollon is both destructive and regenetive, and his torch associated, as I have said above with the sense of transformation and the proceeding from one existance to another just as the wolf light of Apollon illuminates the sky between the hours of days and night.
Hail to Apollon, flame-bearer, he who bears the bright torch!