His Father’s Will: The Relationship of Zeus and Apollon

His Father’s Will is actually the title for a booklet I will be getting to in the future dedicated to exploring the relationship between Apollon and Zeus. They share such a fascinating relationship that I felt it is worthy of its own booklet alone. I believe the only other booklets I am planning such indepth relationships within is one exploring the relationships of Apollon and his twin Artemis, and one exploring the relationship of Apollon and Dionysos. However, it is more probable that I will write this one long before I write either of those just because in the end it is, in my opinion, a fascinating one.

Later mystic traditions alleged that Zeus, Apollon and Dionysos were in reality the same god operating on different levels of activity (and likewise aligned Hera, Artemis and Persephone). While I understand the reasoning behind it, and understand that the reasoning that although they were regarded as “the same”, they were still likely conceived and approached in a sense of separateness in terms of worship, it is still not something I am sure I agree with in the literal sense that they are “one” and the same. I do believe that these three gods DO share an important acting relationship, the two younger gods perhaps more intimately connected to the activity of Zeus than any other gods, aside from their sister Athena. That they serve as conduits of his activity might be one way to phrase it, or that their domains are inseparable from a particular aspect of Zeus’ activity. Certainly there does appear to be considerable overlap between Zeus and Apollon that reveals itself in the Orphic hymns, not only in their own individual hymns, but also in the hymn of Helios where both gods are likened with Helios and Zeus is hailed as a player of the lyre.

Hymns aside, there are, after all, many cultic interconnections that appear vital in the relationship of Zeus and Apollon that may add subtle layers of meaning to the worship of these gods. Chief among these is the issue of prophecy. Zeus himself is often considered the source of prophecy and himself had a number of oracles, and yet prophets, oracles and sybils seem to be sacred to Apollon is who holds the official office as oracular god….and given to him by Zeus. That his position is one of mandate held by Zeus’ will we can see in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes in which Apollon stated that he could not gift his divine office on his younger brother for it was the will of Zeus that he hold it (my paraphrase). Apollon is often intimately associated with the acting will of Zeus and his “sight” (in regards to all seeing and knowing of the future…which is perhaps the stem of their joint association with the sun who is the all-seeing eye of the heavens). As such he is frequently depicted in terms of acting with no further motivation because he was assigned to such by his father, as in the case of Apollon’s actions in favor of Ilium in the Trojan War, acting as his father’s authority in giving contest to the Achaeans and purposefully slowing their victory. Even the aegis which Apollon wields at the fore of the Trojan army is one that Zeus presents to him to so carry. Certainly Apollon is mythically attributed with many key points in the establishment of Olympia, one of the grandest seats of Zeus, and its games, and the laws governing those games (which Apollon protects).

Apollon’s place of authority in the imager of the Lapiths against the Centaurs on the western pediment of Zeus’ great temple in Olympia is perhaps telling of something, as the myth itself deals with conflict in regards to violation of the guest-host relationship. A not unfamiliar conflict root as we see too with the Trojan War. Zeus himself protects such relationships and was often called upon as witness for such transgressions, and to act as judge and executioner. Apollon’s association at Olympia particularly as protector of sacred laws, and other cultic examples in which Apollon seems to act particularly in cases of law violation (and perhaps one of many reasons of which both Zeus and Apollon were honored in the assembly area of Athens) may be a particular aspect of their relationship. One in which Apollon acts with Zeus in terms of steering/shepherding, guidance, law, truth and other such functions that deal with the ordering of civilization and maintenance of it and the cosmos. This may also have some bearing on many shared symbols such as goats (associated so with plentitude, and good guidance…as they were used by the Dorians to shepherd sheep, among other things), wolves (of quite fearsome dispositions in their consuming appetites in attributes set on them in myth, but also creatures of twilight where they are not clearly discernible), serpents (who enter into hidden areas and given the appearance of immortality with the shedding of their skin) and so on.

Even the griffin, the hound of Zeus, is linked with Apollon, that even as it is obedient and loyal to Zeus as its master, it serves too as mount for Apollon and is in a sense harnessed by Apollon (not only in terms of as mount, but in a more controlling way too as depicted in a statue of Apollon in which the god holds a griffin helpless by its legs. In a sense if the griffin is the hound of Zeus, Apollon is here acting as the houndmaster for Zeus, which is certainly an appropriate way to look at their relationship in my opinion. For Apollon always seems to be non too far from the seat of is father, and is likewise attributed with authority in regards to association with Fates and Graces, as well as being the only other god aside from Zeus addressed also as king. In this sense of authority we can see how the relationship mentioned at the opening can make sense on a symbolic level, as Zeus proceeds as the highest king over all the cosmos and things, and Apollon as a king beneath Zeus, ordering things among the living to the will of Zeus. Thus on one of very few times that Apollon rebelled in anger against Zeus, we find him acting by Zeus’ will in punishment serving as a slave shepherd, his functions mirroring his divine ones, bringing prosperity, order and protection. And perhaps as a reminder that Apollon too on another level that for all Apollon’s power and necessity, he is but an extension of Zeus’ might even as a slave is but an extension of the desires of a king.

The fact that Apollon has ever openly rebelled against Zeus is perhaps the most telling of how deep their relationship is because it is treated with a note of wonder, and it is clear that Zeus responds to it as the deepest of betrayal (not unlike his sense of betrayal in an instance when Athena sided against him in the Iliad with the council of Hera). So grievous was Apollon’s action that he was nearly thrown into Tartaros for it. It is all of this that illuminates the depth of his relationship with his father the best that so profound is their connection that violation was the highest of insult. Such commitment though is likewise illustrated by one way of looking at it through the care and burial of the son’s of Zeus for his father. He was entrusted with the burial of Zagreus, and in the Iliad with the preparations of Sarpedon following death. Illuminating a connection perhaps between the Chthonic Zeus, and Apollon as guardian of the cemeteries and the laws pertaining to the dead in such respect, as well as necessary purifications etc.

In some context it can be seen that if Zeus is the judge, then Apollon is the lawyer informing (and perhaps in some cases swaying) the judge, as we see mythically with Apollon arguing for the preservation of the human race when Zeus became particularly vexed with us. If Zeus is the father, then Apollon is as the eldest brother, keeping an eye on things, dispensing reprimands and reminders and carrying out the authority of the father when he is not immediately present. If it is seen that Zeus is embodied in all things of the earth, heavens and cosmos, then it is understandable that Apollon is the shepherd of all that which dwells upon the earth and in the heavens. And so on.

There is of course much more to consider and speak of….and all in good time. There is still considerable more research and thought that will be done before I begin writing on that booklet.

Of course there also ought to be considered Apollon as an earlier deity and his role associated with the rearing of Zeus as presented in Arkadia (and echoed in Kyrene where they honored that Zeus). But I have discussed this before.

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6 thoughts on “His Father’s Will: The Relationship of Zeus and Apollon

    • I plan on doing a booklet for that subject…or inserting it within His Father’s Will as a chapter because Apollon’s relationship with Athena seems to be me to be very much tied up with his relationship with Zeus in several areas, starting with Athena traveling with Leto when she was seeking a place to birth her twins, and even following Athena appearing on behalf of her brother in Ion. So there is a lot of good stuff there to talk about 🙂

      • I wouldn’t necessarily say that, but rather than they are particularly close, enough so that Athena is likely to step in to aid her brother. But this is not always the case, she was rather of impartial part in the trial of Orestes, and they were on opposing sides during the Trojan War for instance.

      • In the trial of Orestes she said that the final bone she will put for Orestes). And it seems she supported Phoebe since the very beginning. Don’t you think that there is some private things between them? Want you to analyzing this thing, because you have a right opinion.

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