PBP: N is for Nomios

Nomios is an epithet which is particularly associated with two gods, Pan and Apollon, as an expression of the pastoral functions of the gods. While among modern worshipers the function of the name is largely associated with Pan, it cannot be mistaken that this epithet was a fairly popular one in some parts of Hellas for Apollon. Thucylides in his pastoral poems specifically speaks of Apollon as both a pastoral god and a shepherd god in two different poems. Likewise this epithet was a well known cult title of the god in Arcadia where he was called the son of Silenus, and some suggestion that he was honored with this epithet too in Euboia and perhaps Thessaly too (both locations apparently laying claim to being the place where the king Admetus reigned when Apollon was placed in slavery to him as a shepherd.)

Of course there are people who do make a bit stink about trying differentiate Apollon from such “earthy” duties which are usually consigned more to gods like Pan and Dionysos. This is particularly the case when it comes to Dionysos since there is so much emphasis on a division of persona and domains of Apollon and Dionysos that for some people it can be utterly unappealing to see that yes, Apollon is an “earthy” god too in more than one way.  I have spoken before that in the relationship between Apollon and Dionysos that the former often acts as a cultivator/aid towards his younger brother. As such, where Dionysos is associated with the vine itself, and the sacrificed beast itself and so on, Apollon is associated with the pruner/harvester, the shepherd and so on. He is the god of the orchard in many places (including Cypris where Apollon is a god of trees and groves) even when Dionysos is the god within the tree. So you see what I am getting at here? We are then presented with a very intricate dance between Apollon, Pan and Dionysos which are all interrelated in the area of the fertility of the earth. This is of course not to disclude Zeus, the sower of seeds, but that is rather getting a bit further afeild than I plan on going with this. One of my favorite vase paintings from Delphi depicts the three gods on either side of a mound where a goddess is rising (either Semele or Persephone, though both can be more or less treated similarly in such iconary). At one side of the mound we see Apollon and Pan together (Apollon being the god that in the instruction of Persephone as inheritor of her mother’s domain would be to be essentially in his bed. I am struggling to remember which philosophical text I read this in, but it had struck me as quite profound), the shepherds/cultivators/etc. And at the other was Dionysos, a god associated with life so much with the moisture (blood etc) within things. As both the son of Persephone (via his former birth as Zagreus) and as the son of Semele, we see a kind of sacrificial god. Not one who is cultivating and sacrificing, but the god to which such was done. That Dionysos did not bring the vine initially is quite telling. We know this particularly from the Homeric Hymn to Hermes which talks about the farmer tending his feilds who swore he wouldn’t tell, Hermes gifted him with the vine, and of course he was the recipient of the curse for his duplicity….a tale which is more commonly associated with Dionysos after the initial introduction in the hymn to Hermes. But the product of the vineyard is inseperable from Dionysos, even if he is not directly associated with its initial cultivation. Meanwhile we do see some imagery of Apollon associated also with grapes. A winged Apollon from Rhodes was depicted with grapes on his wings, and the Karneia, a festival to Apollon Karneios, featured a race with grapes and was in part a festival associated with the harvest of the first, slightly immature, grapes. But this is cooperative with, rather than distracting from, Dionysos as the god of the blessed fruit.

Therefore Apollon Nomios is a very important and telling part of Apollon’s domain and functions in the cosmos. He is a diviner shepherd and cultivator of the highest degree, for which his son Aristaios (who is also featured inthe Bacchanalia indirectly by reference) came by those gifts naturally. This is also not very far from Apollon Karneios, the shepherds god, a ram-horned god, to whom rams were reared for sacrifice. Mr Brown in his Great Dionysiak myth contends this was not Apollon, but rather a Dionysos earlier in place in the region, but this seems particularly inconsitant with what we know of Dionysos, of the Spartans and of Apollon. Regardless of whether Karneios was a resident god (as the ideas go also for Hyakinthos) prior to the migration of the Doric people into the area or not, the fact remains that this is Apollon, and is one of the most important features of Apollon in Sparta next to the armored Apollo Amyclaeus who features so strongly in the myth of Hyakinthos. In the myth of Karneios we see clearly a nurturing rearer in the nature of Apollon, as it was said that Karneios was a child of Zeus that Apollon discovered and raised with the help of his mother. When he died Apollon took his name onto himself. But this Karneios was never described with features of a ram’s horns which we distinctly see in the imagery of Apollon Karneios, and is an image that was well-known to the colonies in Libya where Kyrene (who also celebrated the Karneia incidentally) dedicated a statue of Ammon to Apollon. Even one of the perhaps oldest epithets of Apollon, Lykeios (the wolfish Apollon) has some connection to shepherding as the wolf is a natural polarity to the shepherd…and thus both Apollon and Pan are likewise associated with goats (the goat whch was incidentally also depicted with Apollon at Amyclae) and wolves both.

So when you think of Apollon Nomios it serves best just to think of the shepherd, particularly of Apollon as the slave of Admetus to which this epithet is most appropriately attached. It is quite possible that the attribution of him being the son of Silenus is associated with his governance in these areas, and perhaps tied to myth of Apollon’s servitude that Apollon would return to earth in such a manner as a god already associated with such, as we also know from the Iliad because Apollon was said to have been assigned to tending the flocks of Ilium while Poseidon built the walls. Therefore the best image for one’s mind of Apollon Nomios is the shepherd with pipes and lyre, sitting in the feilds, playing his music entrancing the beasts (both of the herds and the wild beasts) and by whose blessing twins dropped from every dam. If that is not a god concerned with production I will eat my scarf! lol.

And in light of the upcoming Karneia I will wish everyone a most blessed Karneia too 🙂


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