PBP: B is for Bow of Apollon

One of the most well known symbols of Apollon is the bow, in fact he can be said to never be without it as the god himself is made to say by Euripides in his play Aclestis. As the bow is a very important part of the nature of Apollon, for this pagan blog project post I decided to focus on the symbolism of the bow.

Typically the bow is associate foremost with the destructive nature of the god. His serpent arrows are bringers of death, and the swift all consuming destruction of his outpouring of arrows is likened the strongest to plague, as we see indicated by Homer in the Iliad when the god in anger directed his black gaze upon the Greeks and strode from the heavens with his bow clattering. His bow, as well as that of his twin, is also chiefly responsible for the death of the children of Niobe, as well as the death of other figures such as the great serpent Delphinia. The bow of Apollon is therefore almost synonymous with his governance over death and destruction, and as such becomes a fearsome symbol of his actions within nature, his martial characteristics and his hunting nature.

Like the string of the lyre, the tautness of the bowstring is an important symbol, because it is the tight string which brings forth action. The string of the lyre vibrates through the cosmos, and raises our own spiritual vibrations when we align ourselves to him in worship. Likewise the taut string of the bow causes a vibration which propels. It propels the arrow into the heavens. The arrow is a symbol here of the soul. In the Orphic Argonautika we see Hera in ascending back to the heavens after conveying her message, transforming herself into an arrow to ascend once more. Gods naturally can ascend of their own power, but the symbolism indicated here in association with a mystery piece of a hero makes a clear association here. Given that hunting propels prey to where they ought to go, and that the purification of the soul is granted by death, we can see how the bow plays a part in the development of the soul in its progress and liberation.

The bow then becomes a symbol not only of natural death and decay (in which the arrows themselves can be likened to rays of light), and potential punishment of injustice or the rebuking of divine laws, but is also a symbol of great spiritual significance to the soul in regards to the action that the god takes upon the soul. Though he is called too the lord of the golden sword, he is foremost the archer, and for this purpose Socrates associates the name of Apollon to be possibly derived from this function. The archer and the god are thus one.



2 thoughts on “PBP: B is for Bow of Apollon

  1. A further important dimension, I believe, is the arrow as symbol of linear, irreversible time; hence we speak of “the arrow of time” to refer to processes which cannot be understood apart from their unidirectionality, such as the mortal soul. Hence Gods who wield a bow are associated with the procession of mortal souls, and we definitely see this in Apollon as healer and as destroyer, functions that both presuppose the arrow of time, as well as in Artemis’s connection with childbirth, which also concerns the idea of a huntress of souls, the birth into one world being like a death in the other.

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