Controversial Epithets

Ok a mini rant coming here.

Now with most gods, especially among the Olympians, there are a wide number of epithets that are due to another mythical figure. Athena for instance has Pallas. It is usually due to a mythic figure which a god kills, loves, favors etc. The myth is often a function of explaining the character of the epithet. Yet rarely do we see this as an insistance that this identity is not the god in question, and rarely is there some in text quibble that such and such god was absorbed into their cult. And yet it seems that none are harped on so much in academia than those of Apollon. So we get writers who assert that some of the principle epithets of Apollon are conveniently *not* Apollon. In some cases, like that of Mr. Brown who wrote the Great Dionysiak myth, this seems to be a case of a hard-on for a particular deity (and yes I am admitting I am biased, but I am not going by and saying that epithets of Dionysos are *really* Apollon which he does frequently in his book regarding epithets of Apollon…particularly that of Apollon Karneios… because *gasp* he is a horned god and that is *so* Dionysos, that it has to be a form of Dionysos that was absorbed into Apollon. I mean…really??).

With Apollon, as with any other god with very prominant epithets, these epithets are explained via functional myths. For instance Agyieus, which according to one scholar was a god absorbed by Apollon and yet another scholar writing of his cult in Cyprus says the opposite that it may have been among the most ancient forms of Apollon which is supported in Asia Minor and among the Hittites) makes it quite a debatable subject, but this idea seems supported too by other instances where we see Apollon of the Boundary and roadside Apollons such as at Sparta, rather than a localized god overrun. But in myth we see the establishment of Delphi being undertaken by the Old man of Lycia (who according to Delian myth brought Apollon back from Lycia to Delos) and a Hyperborean man by name of Agyieus who were the first to build the temple of Apollon. This was the defining of the sacred road as they went up to the mountain of Delphi…mythically speaking, as Apollon himself was said to have come back with Hyperborean maidens, this is Apollon the Hyperboreian, in the company of the Old Man of Lycia, establishing his temple.

Likewise Karneios. Karneios, according to myth who was the son of Zeus and Europa whom Apollon nurtured with his mother Leto. Now what is the focus of Karneia? It is Apollon as the god who has nurtured growth to its maturity. Apollon having the name Karneios is part of Apollon’s function….and a function that is widely known as Apollon is a rearer of boys. And yet his having ram horns, like his father Zeus, is a quibbling point, despite Apollon having epithets that refer to him as two horned from other regions. When set with his sister Artemis who is most often depicted with fawns and kid goats, the parallel of Apollon represented with stags and rams and mature goats is rather self explanatory I think. And as the Karneia honors both Apollon and Dionysos, god of the nurturing light and god of the sacrificial vine, it is in appropriate place. Now whether or not Karneios was a local god of identical syncretic characteristics before Doric colonization is immaterial, for the Spartan culture *this is* Apollon just as much as Apollon Amyclaeus is who was represented with a goat at his side.

And yet when we see a similar thing with occurring when Apollon destroyed Delphinia/ Python and taking that epithet, you don’t see anyone really crying foul on that. It was a dragon he destroyed, and Pythios is not a seperate god. Now Python and Delphinia could have been indigenious divine serpents, but that doesn’t make Pythios or Delphinios seperate from Apollon. It is acknowledged as being Apollon. Just as many other aspects are recognized as being Apollon. It just seems to be a certain selection of epithets that get challenged, largely for reasons of bias it seems. My point is that these are all Apollon, and trying to distinguish them from the god as seperate deities or identities belong to other deities just irritates me. And I am aware that there are those who follow the thought that each epithet of any god is in reality a seperate god, but I don’t particularly follow that line of thought myself.


3 thoughts on “Controversial Epithets

    • Not any one thing really, it has been on my mind a bit. I was talking with someone last week about recommended reading, and so I was talking about Brown’s book The Great Dionysiak myth, and his opinion on Apollon Karneios (in having just celebrated Karneia) rather gave me an oppertunity to express my pet peeve….because it is something I see happen quite frequently over time. So it was just nice to clear the air 🙂

  1. The devotees tore asunder the slain beast and devoured the dripping flesh in order to assimilate the life of the god resident in it. Raw flesh was living flesh, and haste had to be made lest the divine life within the animal should escape. So the feast became a wild, barbaric, frenzied affair. It could even find expression in cannibalism. Porphyry knew a tradition that in Chios a man was torn to pieces in the worship of Dionysos Omadios, the “Raw One.” At Potniae, according to Pausanias, a priest of Dionysos was once slain by the inhabitants and a plague was sent upon them in punishment. They sought relief, and the Delphian oracle told them that a beautiful boy must be sacrificed to the deity. Immediately afterward, Dionysos let it be known that he would accept a goat as a substitute. This story records the ancient transition in cult practice from the cannibal to the animal feast. Also in the fearful fate that met Pentheus at the hands of his own mother, as recorded by Euripides, there is a late literary echo of the primitive cannibalistic ritual.

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