Apollon, Helios and the Orphic Hymn

Since I needed to come home and take care of a few things during my lunch break I decided I would take the time to talk of the relationship of Apollon and Helios. This is typically muddy waters to wade through because Apollon has been so identified with the sun, and in some cases rendered nearly inseparable from Helios that there are many who just accept that Apollon is more or less a sun god, which is actually rather inaccurate. Apollon in ancient literature is never, to what I have found anyway, characterized as being god of the sun. The closest to that we get is in the Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollon in which he uses the sun’s rays to cause rotting, or in a more symbolic sense the interpretations that modern scholars have made of the symbol of Apollon’s disc in the myth of Hyakinthos. However, in these instances he is holding or directing the power of the sun and is separate. The Orphic hymn to Apollon doesn’t even address him in relation with the sun, however, it does give some interest clues to Apollon’s relationship with the sun.

First, Apollon’s relationship with the sun is well attested, Proclus I believe even suggests that neither god minds be worshiped by each others names…which says a lot for the closeness of the relationship. When we look at Plato he states in Phaedrus that each Olympian has following him an “army” which are comprised of gods of stars and planetary bodies (the sun and moon usually linked to this) to more rustic deities and at the lowest level being souls. Helios is typically placed within Apollon’s network (to go with more modern social-media lingo rather than militaristic). This has a lot to do with the principle of Apollon’s domain which manifests as light, freedom, truth, purification, destruction (which is really a part of several of these!) and harmonic movement. In our world Helios is the primary giver of light, and one of such importance that our planet’s success depends on an importance balance…a harmonic movement if you will…in relation to the sun.  When we see the myth of Phaeton and see the havoc he wrought we can see what happens when this perfect symmetry is compromised. Thus we see the relationship between Apollon and Helios here as one defined by necessity for the light upon the earth in appropriate measure is established by the governance of Apollon. With our own scientific understanding of the sun being the center of the solar system, we can understand this too as we know that life and earth is dependent on its perfect proximity in its rotation around the sun. Because Apollon has this relationship with the sun it is reasonable that he may influence the way that Helios reacts in relationship to the earth. I would then say that the sun as the center of our solar system is of comparable model with Apollon as descendant of Koios, the axis of the heavens and his ruler at Delphi, the axis of the earth. Apollon is neither the north star or Delphi itself, but these are important parts of his rule.

The connection of the sun as a part of Apollon’s functional domain can be seen in line in the orphic hymn:
“O, Delian king, whose light producing eye
Views all within, and all beneath the sky.”
Here the sun is described in a sense as “a part” of Apollon, or more accurately Apollon’s domain, and that like the sun Apollon sees all things. This is part of Apollon’s domain as Truth, and thus bringer of oracles. His is Truth because of his all-encompassing sight. This extends beyond Helios which sees all that activity which occurs below him, but likened to the light-producing sun, he is able to see within spaces. This is followed by lines that praise his piercing sight, that which extends beyond the darkness for which he is called starry-eyed. This can be interpreted that where the sun spies he sees, but also beyond that to those places where the sun is not visible, including down to the roots which himself fixes (likely hailing to his function as a foundation layer/architect). Helios, meanwhile is typically depicted as an observer of just that which passes beneath him as he travels across the heavens as is also indicated by the Orphic Hymn to Helios as illuminator of the sky. In such construct we can see Helios working within Apollon’s Olympic domain as part of his “network” but not possessing quite the same range.

To go back to the concept of Truth and Light, we see something similar here with Apollon and Helios. Though Helios is not praised as a divine being associated with truth, he is strongly associated with justice and as defender of what is right. There is a strong relationship between truth, justice and defender. Many gods are law-makers (Themis, Demeter etc) but Apollon is defender of law as assigned to its place as cosmic truth. Therefore we see Apollon mythically in place as a defender of laws of important things: the laws of the holy Olympic games, the laws in regards to marriage, and so on. Helios is more so is described more or less in the Orphic Hymn as baneful to wicked men and kind to good men which is a bit more vague in contrast to Apollon’s strong cultic associations with very specific kinds of laws. Generally, it seems that Helios observes good and bad acts and rewards and punishes accordingly. In what form he does this is not referred to and I can’t imagine except perhaps to make crops fail by too little or too much heat and dryness. Apollon meanwhile is known for striking violators with arrows from his bow, and in Cretan cult where he is protector of laws of marital fidelity he carries a labrys. The assumption may be that Apollon will smite that which grievously against the laws established by the gods. But in all cases we see light as being that which reveals and may acquire truth, that which may be beneficial or harmful.

It is hardly of any coincidence that Apollon’s  ruling season, as I have mentioned before pertaining to Apollon and Pan as the two season per Pausanias, is during part of the year during which light holds governance and the sun is visible in the sky for longer hours. For this is the season in which there is the greatest dependence on warmth, light and a fair amount of dryness for the needs of life-forms, including but not limited to humans. Here he is the god who brings the golden grains in his return from Hyperborea. This has caused some confusion in which some scholars in the past suggested that he possibly returned around the summer solstice then around the period when the grains are being harvested. However as I have mentioned before his division is associated with the equinoxes, and would be an important part of the maturation cycle of the young grain which we see offered on his birthday during Thargelia, and then following with the grape harvest into the autumn. Thus his presence is connected with the influential period in which the sun alters his course to warm and brighten the earth which is also coincidentally running fairly parallel to the arrival and descent of Persephone, the symbolism of rebirth, and also the concept of the evolution of the soul as Semele rises in the spring, by the liberation of Dionysos, to dwell among the gods. Consequently we have the end of winter/early spring festivals of Dionysos before the return of Persephone which deal with the making of the holy substance (wine). Thus we see Helios and Apollon both in their respective hymns being identified with the seasons, Helios as the lord of the seasons and Apollon as the god who summons the passage of the seasons forth with his lyre as to cause effect upon all living forms, and his association by Pausanias as one of the two “seasons.” Helios is seen as governing the seasons, and the seasons in turn are liked to chords struck on Apollon’s lyre. It is quite probably that the lyre itself is symbolically connected to Helios in this schematic holding the seasons in place. Thus the Seasons, Helios, and Apollon as the divine musician affect our world and the soul by moving all things on their course. Apollon who, as the musician, possesses further sight and so moves things to higher ends as a culmination of all the souls’ progress and perceiving all time, whereas Helios and the Seasons can be seen to effect these things more so in the here and now over what they presently interact with. Helios thus possessing less “vision” than Apollon, and the Seasons less than Helios. Therefore whereas the latter by their natural courses are beneficial or not in their actions on a day to day basis, all is laid out to Apollon and he knows the inherent truth of all things as they exist and will exist.

However, Dionysos and Persephone in philosophy are described as those who are the only gods who can liberate the human soul. This also speaks of a concept of the debt all owe to Persephone because it is her mysteries, and those of her son, which allow the liberation of the human soul. Persephone ascent thus is program indicating the ascent of souls, and the ascent too of Semele. Nature responds to her return among the gods even as it responds with her departure in the autumn. Death is the necessary purification for such liberation. For this purpose we see Apollon, and the fiery eye of Helios, associated with death and as such are both associated with freedom. Thus we have Apollon working towards destruction, and Artemis too who in some accounts appears to deliberately have lead Persephone to Hades. So then what does this tell us about the relationship between Apollon and Helios? Well that it is mostly of a matter of the passage of season as necessary for continuation and progress. More specifically his connection in this respect deals with the passage of time that is a construction of birthing and passing. In this matter we can understand Apollon’s domain working closely with Khronos (time) towards a purpose, and this is symbolized by his connection with Helios whose orbit marks out the movement of seasons. This alignment with time is also what probably makes, in part, Apollon’s association with the Noumenia, the new lunar month, so profound. When Rome adopted Apollon they didn’t identify him with their sun god Sol except where Apollon was depicted driving the sun chariot to indicate the passage of time. In such scenes Artemis was likewise depicted driving the moon chariot to also indicate the passage of time. The  complimentary reflective domains of Apollon and Artemis working together is part of this and why the moon, despite having a history associated with Apollon via the Noumenia and the culmination of his festivals on the full moon, is often settled on Artemis in nearly identical symbolism.

Thus Apollon carries this unique association with Helios as the sun is planetary body associated with him, just as in later Alchemy we see other gods accorded associations with different powers that are connected to their own “networks” in their own respective domains. This doesn’t make Apollon the divine spirit of the sun, but king of the sun in a different way.

That at least is my perspective!


3 thoughts on “Apollon, Helios and the Orphic Hymn

  1. Pingback: PBP: E is for Eleusis and Elaphebolia | Beloved in Light

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