Of Lycia and Hyperborea

I have written often of Apollon’s term in Hyperborea. Of course when it comes to the cycles of Apollon in Hyperborea there are scholarly discussions of the god traveling to Hyperborea only once every 9 years, thus uniting it with the 9 year cycle of the original organization of the Pythian Games. This would be before the games were later reorganized in four year periods like those of the Olympic games. Now if these scholars are correct and the games were synchronized with the departure and return of Apollon to Delphi then would have his absence in Hyperborea been moved by the Delphians to coincide with the new date of the games? I don’t think anyone has successful answered this to my satisfaction.

Largely among modern worshipers we honor it as a yearly event, which seems to be inspired by a departure and return which we have from Delos. At Delos we have a mingling of the Hyperborean myth with that of the Lycian myth in which Apollon both returns from Hyperborea, with the maidens, and the Old Man of Lycia is paramount, who not only returns Apollon from Lycia to Delos, but also attends to the building of the temple of Apollon at Delphi with the Hyperborean men (at least one of whom, Agyieus, is Apollon…but quite likely both are used symbolically to represent different manifestations of Apollon as the builder of Delphi). For as most are probably familiar, Leto, after birthing her children on Delos, proceeds to carry them to the Xanthus in Lycia. This journey is also bound up in the tale of the Lycian frogs, as well as the unification of Xanthus with Apollon, Artemis and Leto in the forces preserving Troy in the Iliad.

In Delian tradition, despite its early history with the myth of Hyperborea, we have a yearly departure of Apollon to Lycia, where Apollon had his winter oracle. Thus the year was divided equally between Delos and in Lycia on the division of the year by the equinoxes. I think that this seasonal abode of the god for half of the year is also what is chiefly tied to the idea presented by Pausanias from Arcadia, of Apollon being one of two seasonal gods. This, from spring equinox to the autumn equinox, is the time of the year in which Apollon’s domain is acting in nature the strongest. If I remember correctly the Delian calendar differed from the Attic calendar in that it began its year on the Noumenia following the equinox, whereas in the Doric calendar it followed the autumnal equinox. With the case of Delos this makes particular sense as the year begins with the return of Apollon from Lycia.

Lycia of course has an interesting place in all of this. Like what is speculated of Hyperborea, Lycia is a very real place, but also serves as a kind of spiritual place as well. Apollon when called the one who is born in Lycia, the Lycian lord, refers perhaps less to the physical place Lycia, but rather to that Apollon is born in light (as Lycia, refers to wolf, from which we get the myths of Leto being led to Xanthus by wolves, and light just as much as Apollon’s epithet Lykeios). In all regards we see Lycia being accounted as sacred to Apollon as much as Hyperborea has been attributed. In the Iliad the people of Lycia were considered particularly those people of Apollon in a manner I find common with the views regarding the Hyperboreans.

This is not to suggest that Lycia and Hyperborea are the same place, though descriptions following the Orphic Argonautika and academic studies does suggest a possible link of Hyperborea with eastern Europe following along the Danube river to the North. So it is *possible* that there may have been an idea of a relationship between the eastern Lycians and the Hyperboreans who were said to have traveled initially to Delos. That we have the Old Man of Lycia appearing with the Hyperboreans in Delian myth does give a certain strength to this, as with the arrival of Apollon with the Hyperborean maidens, knowing that Apollon has traveled to Lycia in the Delian cycle. So perhaps it was conceived that Hyperborea was located in close proximity to Lycia, or within reasonable distant to each other that would bring the Lycians and Hyperboreans in company together in their legendary arrival to Delos.

Whether Delphi eventually picked up this yearly calendar of Apollon’s movement from Delos is rather unknown, though most modern worshipers tend to experience and worship it as a yearly event rather than following the Delphic calendar in which Apollon was gone for a year once every nine years. It is possible that Delphi, after the movement of the games, altered their celebrations of the movement of the mythos. I have suggested before that people who want to incorporate both Hyperborea and Lycia in their worship of Apollon can do so without any problems. Either by observing  yearly trip to Lycia and then every nine years a Hyperborean trip, or by linking the concepts of the travel to Hyperborea and Lycia. If there is anything in any probability of a relationship between Lycia and Hyperborea then it may make further sense to do so.

We can thus celebrate Apollon who is in abode of the light, where the gardens of Hyerpborea flourish, where the swans sing, where gold deer graze, and there dwelling people beloved by Apollon, in a land abundant in fruits and holy grain in this glorious land. Which has less to do with geography and more to do with ongoing spiritual symbolism and the kingdom of Apollon in general. And as scholars have been confounded by the lack of evidence in the geographical regions that are ascribed to Lycia, or rather a lack of early period evidence of the kind that would back up such a physical transmission, it is quite plausible that Lycia was treated in terms much like that of Hyperborea. Mostly conceptualized in a spiritual direction, inspired by a place and people rather than Apollon literally taking up residence every winter in Lycia. Thus his oracle was therefore probably viewed in the same concept of being “away,” without it actually being moved to another physical location. As such the symbolism between what is going on with Hyperborea and that going on with Lycia is united in its ideology.


3 thoughts on “Of Lycia and Hyperborea

  1. Apollo’s journey away from Delphi has always intrigued me. Why leave His sanctuary? Why leave Dionysus in His place? Thank you for your thoughts on the cycle(s). I have greatly enjoyed reading it (even if I was too busy to do so until now. Sorry…)

    • It is a very interesting cycle indeed. We have the myth of his initial departure to Hyperborea (recalling that Leto is described in some places as having come from Hyperborea herself, so it could be seen as the homeland of his mother) was after the slaying of the serpent Delphinia. I can’t recall the source offhand, a roman one though I believe as an account from the Gauls, that amber originated from the tears of Apollon as he fled northward in his swan chariot. The cycles of Delphi of course reenact this with Stepteria being the crowning festival by translation in which the slaying of the serpent was performed and then the boy playing Apollon left Delphi to travel to the Tempe valley for purification from which he acting as Apollon, brought back the cut laurel from the sacred tree.
      Now Hyperborea is also called the garden of Apollon, so it stands to reason that upon arriving in his place of chosen exile that Apollon loved the country, and both the country and people were his afterwards. Therefore it would be reasonable to assume that he goes there out of affection afterwards. He is also depicted as bringing golden wheat from Hyperborea which has been described by scholars as related to the ripening season of the wheat after his return.
      There are of course other mysteries connected to Hyperborea, such as when Herakles was pursuing the golden hind he chased it all the way to Hyperborea where Apollon and Artemis confronted him over it upon the occasion he managed to capture it. Often times scenes of the contest of the golden hind deal with Apollon and Herakles more than Artemis in ancient iconography, but I figure this has more to do with the location than anything else as well as mystic symbolism involved here. Also the olive groves planted at Olympia by the Idaean Herakles were said to have been saplings originating from Hyperborea 🙂

      As for Dionysos at Delphi. Well I have my own ideas on that, many of them involving the relationship between Dionysos and Zeus (recalling that the omphalos of Delphi was said to have been the stone regurgitated by Kronos that he swallowed in the place of the infant Zeus, and was also determined as the center of the world by Zeus who sent at out two eagles and at the place where they met was decreed as the center…which was Delphi. So Zeus has a connection already in place at Delphi. Meanwhile Dionysos does very little active stuff as ruler of the oracle in the absence of his brother. He has no oracle there himself, and the oracle is quite until spring time, BUT he does have a connection to Parnassos in general that makes it the perfect venue for his sacrifice and birth. It was on Parnassos that Apollon buried the remains of Zagreus, the first incarnation of Dionysos. So already Parnassos serves as a ready-made “tomb” of Dionysos. Recalling the Pytho means rotting, with Apollon as therefore the rotting god. So the sacred district of Apollon is the perfect scene for the unfolding mysteries of Dionysos celebrated there.

      Kind of a long reply sorry lol

      • No problem! It was very enjoyable to read!

        The connections you make are very logical. Delphi is such a mixing pot that it’s not that odd to find such an elaborate web of mythology lying over it. Thank you for sharing your expertise 🙂

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