Apollon’s Far Zones

Apollon, despite having the strongest connections to civilization, its arts, production and education, also has a very strong association with far-off isolated zones. He is a god that is reminscent of a kind of wise hermit in this respect, dwelling outside the confines of the busy, noisy city. Perhaps it has something to do with Apollon being a god of boundaries that he is prefering to dwell in those places which are in themselves representative of boundaries of existance that are generally are set apart from the kinder environments around which thriving cities develope. His dwelling, instead, are set in places that are bare of comforts, or possesses considerably less. Some of his temples may have even been regarded as more challenging to get to for their geographic features.

When I speak of this I am referring to significantly the mountainous temples of the god, of which Apollon possesses many. Even the earlier history of Delphi speaks of bandits plaguing the road into the mountains through mythic accounts, and Leto’s own sojourn to Delphi during which she was attacked by the giant Tityos. Certainly Apollon’s waylaying of Cretan sailors to bring into his mountains abode speaks considerably of just what necessary to get a priesthood established there. For not only did he have to drawn them into the harbor, for which they erected an altar to Apollon Delphinios on the beach there, but also had to lead them by his song up into the heights far from the harbor. And certainly animal grazing and farming was not really a possible activity for Delphi geographically, and thus the locals subsisted largely on offerings brought in by worshipers. Delphi, alone, is a great example, nestling as it is in a mountainous valley on Parnassus beside the clear Castilla spring. And though the summits of Parnassus are attributed to the roams of Dionysos, we can not dismiss Apollon’s significant presence there, he who chose the sacred mountain overhanging his holy citadel to bury the remains of Zagreus.

But Delphi is not the only example of a mountainous temple of Apollon. In fact, many of Zeus’s high mountainous temples described by Pausanias often include another temple to Apollon in the vicinity. Other mountains abodes are his own. And then there is the highly placed temple of Apollon on Cypris dedicated to Apollon of the woodlands, which I had the pleasure of seeing a video of on youtube not too long ago. It was of such an altitude that the whipping winds were clearly evident…and something I am all too familiar with in my own expiditions up mountains in my youth as an avid hiker. But this makes sense to me as to why the mountains would be so loved by Apollon. Not only do they serve as natural boundaries of the heavens and earth in myth (such as Atlas and Olympos for instance), but they are the perfect playground for a god of the winds. And so naturally we also end up with the myth of Hyperborea, a place which is said to reside beyond the northern mountains, beyond the dwelling of Boreas (the north wind). A place of the most northern extreme that is said to be as a paradise, Apollon’s garden. A place of those who are blessed and beloved by him. Hyperborea almost seems to exemplify the idea of spiritual bliss residing at the heights, something apart from the rigors of every day mortal life. A place of joy and serenity, and a place of great bounty (as it is said in myth to yeild two harvests) from which prosperity flows to the earth upon his return with the golden grains from the far northern land.

However, such zones are also represented in the uninhabited wild places too, as I have mentioned Apollon being hailed as the god of the woodlands in Cypris. It is also noted by archaeologists that the original temple of Apollon Pythios in Athens was not in the agora (where later the temple of Apollon Patroos was erected) but rather in a swampy area outside of the Athenian city limits..something which definently coincides with the presidence of his domain within the liminal zone. Acts of worship in the mountains, swamps and wooded areas (such as also in the Tempe Valley where the sacred laurel was cut for Delphi) implies, not an introspective existance, but rather one which is external and connected to the natural world as is befitting for a god who has been an exile (a fate most terrible in the ancient world to wander without home and country within the harsh environment) and thus also a god who has often delt particularly with the subject of exile. And thus likewise, he was the god who was instrumental in the purification of exiles before their return to their homes.Therefore, even as we see him often taking a part within the city, bringing harmonic order, discipline, and protection of social obligations and contracts, he is a compassionate god who largely dwells outside of society where he acts as purifier (such as the case with the temple of Apollon Daphnephoros where initiates would purify themselves in the sea after visiting this temple on the road to Eleusis outside of Athens) and far-seeing god, uttering the will of his father Zeus which none but he can clearly perceive as he so said to Hermes in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. It is an office only open to him, the god who dwells in the far reaches, delighting in the sport of his sister Artemis, receiving the game that she slays.

 

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