Pan, Apollon and the Seasons

“By the side of Demeter there is also a Herackles about a cubit high. This Herackles, says Onomacritus in his poem, is one of those called Idaean Dactyls. Before it stands a table, on which are carved in relief two seasons, Pan with pipes, and Apollo playing the harp. There is also an inscription by them saying that they are among the first gods.”
-Pausanias, 8.31.3

Usually when we think of a division of two seasons most modern worshipers think foremost of a division of summer and winter between Apollon and Dionysos, as these are the gods who are alternating at Delphi. However this table from the temple of Demeter in Arcadia, threw something into light that had been tickling my brain. You see, Dionysos, though most of his festivals are in the winter, are focused on the production of wine rather than the winter season in general. From his birth we have the birth of the new wine that comes, and the honoring of the lord of the wine press and so on. However if we set the division of Delphi aside we see that at Delphi there is another important feature, the cave of Pan at the height of Paranassus, the cave where the Thyiades celebrate the birth of Dionysos. There is also the fact that when we take a look at the Orphic hymn to Apollon, with all the heavily seasonal features to it there is no mention made directly of Dionysos. Rather, at the end of the hymn, after having praised Apollon for playing spring’s sweet chord, the poem ends praising Pan who blows the wistling winds through syrinx famed. Now on one hand I think that this too is an allusion to the winds of Apollon, but as all things within Hellenic religion are multi-layered I think that this is too. It reflects the nature of Apollon, but it also reflects the seasonal boundaries between Apollon and another god…Pan. If we consider that overwhelming evidence indicates that Apollon departed to and arrived from Hyperborea on the equinoxes, and a naturally blustery time of year, and the most turbulent time would be between this times in the winter. Certainly sailors did not venture out onto the seas during the winter because of the storms at sea.

Therefore, while we do have the Seasons, those lovely goddesses, we also have the two seasons here, the primary division of the year represented in Apollon and Pan. I do find it interesting that together they are addressed as being the eldest among the gods. Of course it is not entirely because myth presents them as part of younger generations (Apollon and the son of Zeus and Pan younger still as the son of Hermes), for myth and the relationship of gods is symbolic and an unending tangle. This is a reason why I don’t blink when I read Apollodoros is his Library mention that Apollon was believed on one hand to be the father of Korybantes (the Asian version of the Kuretes), who took care of Apollon’s father Zeus as an infant. And of course the table mentioned above by Pausanias he includes to say that it contains images of the nymphs who nursed Zeus, and the infant Zeus himself. The fact that the table was set before Idaean Herakles, who not only cared for Zeus but with his brother founded the Olympic games, is also not without value.

There are, of course, scholars who suggest that Pan is a manifestation of Zeus in his raw action in the cosmos as progenitor. The above record of the temple (which by the way would not be likely to be unique to the cultus of Arcadia if this is a noteworthy thing in the temple of Demeter, and this very temple and the mysteries practiced here in Pausanias asserts are an exact copy of those at Eleusis) indicates that Pan and Apollon here are closely united with Zeus in some respect. If there can be anything to this it is plausible, considering that Apollon himself was seen as a king (as which he is addressed by Homer too) we have an interaction between two king figures, one of which is more significant as the king of the gods, and of contrasting seasonal influences. The rains of Zeus being more prolific during the winter months when the downpours (or snowfalls in the case of colder regions heh) nourish the earth for germination. It is cool, it is wet, and in warm climates in the mediteranean it is teaming with life in its fairest blush. Thus so deftly Pan blows his syrinx through the land, blowing forth the rain-bearing clouds. Meanwhile Apollon’s period is the bright heat of the ripening season. There are numerous depictions of him with the golden grain, most particularly on coinage whch he is said to bring with him on return from Hyperborea…or perhaps more accurately this represents what his return results in bringing. So on one hand we have the planting and germinating, and then on the other we have the season cultivation, ripening and harvest. Pan here thus representing the seasonal opposite to Apollon.

I would then hazard to guess that that the relationship between Dionysos and Apollon at Delphi has some root with these interconnections. Certainly in Arcadia, who have rich traditions of being the birthplace of Zeus (though doutblessly they are not the only ones), the deception of Cronos and the approach of the Kuretes, the fact that images of him as a youth are almost an exact mirror to Dionysos is fascinating. Zeus too has a thyrsus, just his is crowned with an eagle, and his costume is fairly different in leathers and tunic, but he too wears the vines. Thus I would suggest that the division of Delphi between Dionysos and Apollon works on a symbolic level, particularly if Proclus is correct in saying that Dionysos is in a manner contained in Zeus. Apollon is not an inheritor of Zeus, but rather he sits on his own throne near his father’s side.

It certainly gives an appreciation for the goat-visaged Pan, the ram-horned Zeus, and the horned Apollon (I am still undecided whether it is a species of long horned goat or if is the horns of a young ram lol)…all of which were esteemed in the Peloponnese. Not to mention the connection to wolves they have.

This is something I just wanted to talk about briefly as I will likely touch on it when I get to my booklet “His Fathers Will: The Relationship of Zeus and Apollon” which would have to be done before I ever even think of writing the booklet of Apollon and Dionysos! In fact it may come shortly after “The Name of Apollon”. Either that or “The Delphic Serpent” will be next. I guess it just depends on what gets finished first.


4 thoughts on “Pan, Apollon and the Seasons

  1. Great food for thought here. At the Hellenic Temple of Apollon, Zeus, and Pan, the year is sort of split three ways between these Gods, though not entirely as there is some overlap here and there. Most of our Pan festivals are in the Fall and Winter though, which makes even more sense seen in this light. Going to have to chew on this a bit. Thank you for posting this!

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