Polythusia and the Theban Birth of Apollon

Pausanias tells us that the Thebans believed that Apollon was born in the precinct of Thebes on a small island created by the flow of two rivers, the Olive and the Palm, between which it rested. He went on to say that Delphi held this date, and that the Spartans agreed with it. Unlike the Ionian Thargelia at Delos which celebrated the birth of Apollon at the beginning of the season of ripening grain, the Theban birth occured in what would have been the equivalent of the Athenian month Anthesterion, the Delphic month Bysios.

We are told by Plutarch that of that month it was originally only the one day in the whole year that the oracle was open, on the seventh day of Bysios, but to further honor the birth of Apollon the temple eventually opened monthly. This shows evidence supporting the Theban birth of Apollon being recognized at Delphi and makes chronological sense better than my original figuring of several months of journeying from Delos and Bysios being his arrival at Delphi. It never sat well with me though because the time frame was too long between Thargelion and Anthesterion, and the battle of Apollon with Delphyne during the Septeria, which supposedly occured immediately, would have been a whole month of seperation, not to mention significantly disagreeing with Plutarch. So what is the significance going on here?

The main difference between the births of Apollon is the focus on crop type. The Thargelia focuses on the birth of Apollon attached to the arrival of grain crops. His birth celebrates the first green grains of wheat. This touches on the concept of Apollon as the bringer of the golden grains, the gifts of Hyperborea as celebrated in Delos. Therefore in Delos and other Ionian city states, including Athens, celebrating the birth of Apollon in conjunction of such gifts would make sense. Elsewhere, however, Apollon was honored more in association with herds than grains. As suc his birth during the lambing season during the month of Anthesterion made considerable sense, that the god of herds would arrive with lambs. This would follow with Plutarch associating the Delphic festival Polythusia, as it originally was the only day of oracles, with the birth of the oracular god, as well as falling within the Delphic festivals of Septeria and the return of Apollon from his year long exile in the month Theoxenia, which would happen to line up with the Delian return from Hyperborea/Lycian Patara (mythological/real worship). Hypborea was not originally part of the Delphic exile myth from what I can tell, where Apollon departed in exile seeking purification. Hyperborea enters via the Old Man of Lycia (honored at Delos particularly for the Ionian cycles) arriving at Delphi with two Hyperborean youths (who are part of a later Delian cycle arriving from Hyperborea to Delos, to avenge the death of the maidens who accompanied Apollon’s first return from Hyperborea) to build Apollon’s first temple. Recalling that Delphi was caught in the middle between Ionian Athens and Doric Sparta, we can see here an example of how Delphi mingled in Ionian myth with its native cycle that was more agreeable to the Spartans.

Given the symbolisms of these births I appreciate and honor both as his birthdays with slightly different foci as shown above. I honor both Thargelia and Polythusia to celebrate his birth in accordance to these different symbolic mythic cycles.


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