Father Apollon and the Cave of Pan: Comparison of Athenian and Delphic cult

I am reading “The Sanctuary of Apollo Hypoakraios and Imperial Athens”, and find the discussion on the dramatized birth of Ion (from the play by Euripedes of the same name) and the relationship of the cult of Apollon Hypoakraios and the seeming elder (by archaeological evidence) shrine of Pan in the cave just above the cavern housing the Imperial period shrine of Apollon Hypoakraios set off little bells in my head. The author goes on to say that the occasion of trysts to be held in caverns of Pan is something attested to in ancient Greek literature as demonstrated by Aristophane’s play Lysistrata, and that to the author it seemed only natural that, as Pan was himself also abandoned in a cavern, that the myth of Ion which followed along similar lines of abandonment and exposure in the caverns beneath the acropolis and outside of the city would have naturally been chosen as the site of the rape and subsequent birth and exposure of the infant Ion. In fact, the shrine of Pan above Apollon’s cavernous sanctuary, was known as a major feature of the city, whereas that of Apollon seemed absent from most commentary. Rather, cult activity within the sanctuary suggests that this was due to the civic cult that was undertaken there by achrons in their rule of the city.

But this is not what struck me. What struck me was the interesting parallel that we find between this alignment of the sanctuary of Pan and Apollon for the birth of the civic father of the city. In Athens’ case it was for Apollon Patroos, father of Ion, who in turn was the father of the Ionic race. For Delphi it was Pythian Apollon who fathered Delphus on the nymph Thyiade (who was interestingly the first Thyiade who raved for Dionysos on Parnassos and lent her name to the Thyiades of Delphi who did so at the allotted time that Dionysos was honored at Apollon’s sanctuary), likely in the very cave of Pan upon Parnassos overlooking the sanctuary, the same one in which the infant Dionysos was said to have been likewise found having returned in the form of a babe from his adjournment in the underworld.

I have discussed before the close acting relationship between Apollon and Pan that is more noticeable in the Peloponnese, particularly in Arkadia. I also have it that Hippolytos, whose passage I still need to sit down and read thoroughly, connected Apollon and Pan as being the same divinity likely because of how strongly adjoined their cults were. After all we often have Pan in the holy places of Apollon, and important cultic event in the cult of Apollon taking places in sacred areas of Pan. We also have Pan described as the god who educated the young god Apollon, particularly in the art of oracles. It would hardly take a leap of imagination to envision the young Apollon, reared by the bee nymph thryaie, and educated by Pan atop the heights of Parnassos. Pan thus is shown as a close ally of Apollon, and a likely accomplice in two important paternities of Apollon of children who would be leading founders.

In any case, it seems like a strong foundation of Athenian claim for strong ties with Delphi, over which they fought for with Sparta. Or at least very likely. Whether the Athenian myth was intentionally structured to follow the Delphic myth, as Nulton ( the author of the Sanctuary of Apollo Hypoakraios) seems to believe that the myth of Ion was a later one probably not much older than its first appearance in the works of Euripedes and the lost play of Sophocles, it is possible that the myth was patterned off of the Delphic myth to reinforce political ties. There are of course others who suggest that the myth is older but recorded late and used for the purpose of the later establishment of the sanctuary of Apollon Hypakraios, as it is clear that the temple was not connected with the Pythion but rather with the cult of Apollon Patroos. In my mind it would seem that if it was modeled after the Pythian myth, then it would have had some association with the Pythion, but instead it was administered by the priests of Apollon Patroos. That suggests to me that there was a natural, but unaffiliated, parallel in the myths that is born from the relationship of Pan and Apollon rather than civic manipulation. The author also mentions a reused base dedicated to Apollon that is believed to have originated from  the cave lacking any epithet which can point to an early  worship of Apollon that may have had become revived during the Roman period in the establishment there of the sanctuary of Apollon Hypoakraios. Or so I feel.

In any case  do find the placement of Apollon’s sanctuary in relation to that of Pan to be of interest. Even as the sanctuary of Apollon at Delphi rests at a lower level, beneath the overlook of Pan’s cave suggest an influence of Pan over the functions of Apollon. Given that Euripedes calls the rape of Creousa  a Panic Marriage suggests that Pan’s influence may be on the lusty genitive nature of Apollon as his union was secured by Pan. It strikes me that  the legend of the Pythia descending into a cave beneath the temple (and I say legend because it comes as hearsay repeated by observations taken third hand for which no evidence of such a cavern is found) that it may be  euphemism for Apollon  dwelling himself at a cavernous level mirroring that of Pan. So whereas Pan obviously had some direct influence, it is probable that this influence was due to the natural mirroring and interchanging between Apollon and Pan that merited in their  assimilation as the same god later as mentioned above. Apollon, however was distinguished in his place of worship from Pan at being at a different levels.

The distinction along a parallel line seems to indicate that there was a difference of perspective when it came to Apollon’s cult as it related to that of Pan. It highlights the raw and primitive nature of Apollon as a genitive and destructive god (and that fine line that divides them) and as such an ambiguous unknowable deity, a seer lurking on the edges of society, but lacking the distinctive wild characteristics of Pan  who as a nature god seems better defined  in just where he ought to be presiding. It therefore seems appropriate that people would have the impression of the Pythia’s recesses in the adyton of the Pythion temple would have been imagined as a retreat into an otherworldly cave. Unlike Pan’s temple at the greater heights, here Apollon was accessible but at the same time out of reach. The house of Apollon inaccessible to the majority.

So here is where I have to disagree with  Nulton. It seems more likely to me that  while dramaticized late (keeping in mind that most myths are never dramaticized and  we only know of from their mention in other bodies of work) I do not think the myth of Ion is a late addition but rather one that was linked to the ancient royal heredity of the Athenian state. As such it seems probable to me that  the cave of the sanctuary of Apollon Hypoakraios likely was used  archaicly by royalty to worship Apollon at the altar therein despite the lack of any pre-Roman inscriptions. The reason for the lack of inscriptions I would attribute that unlike archons that were subject to change and whose office was part  of the worship within the sanctuary, a royal would have hereditary connection to the cave via their myth and worship would have been carried out by kings to honor their ancestor and for the sake of their city  who so called Apollon Father. Because it was a lifeterm occupation for a king, it would be evident of why there wuld be no inscriptions of his name any more than there are inscriptions of names of Pythias in the temple of Apollon Pythios at Delphi.

That is to say, it was the duty of the king, as much as it is of the Pythia, to serve Apollon on behalf of the state (or states as in the case of Pythia as typically the oracle served kings and representatives of the state more than individuals) in a private accessible capacity. It is easy to imagine that in the war with the Amazons who were encamped on the Aeropagus, that Theseus would have ventured down into the deep caverns beneath the Akropolis (the sacred hill which anciently used to house the royal family) to sacrifice to Apollon and inquire of him of what measures he may undertake to protect his city. And Apollon here to reply to use fear. Apollon dwelling in a cave beneath the auspices of Pan, to recommend fear. This is of course but my imagination but it is easy to envision. It leaps into the mind! If this cave was used by royalty and possibly lifeterm achrons (similar in fashion to monarchs), and unused after monarchy was set aside, and re-established under the year-achrons in their own authority, it would be of reason that they would establish their cult worship in this spot under Augustian rule. A Roman emperor who was endorsing the revitalization of old temples and sanctuaries, and who himself identified with Apollon. This would also explain some of the conflicting dating issues of the sanctuary that the author mentioned. In either case it would seem that the caverns would be an ideal place for offering limited accessible worship of a civic (though just a half step shy of completely primitive and wild and by his close residence by proxy with Pan) Apollon.

That Athenians held the belief that Apollon made his way to Delphi with the sons of Hephaistos from Athens who carved out the path through the wilderness as relayed by Pindar it would certainly attribute that Apollon, a wild god himself, fathered the race of civilization. For certainly Athenians seemed to view themselves as far more civilized than any of their Hellenic neighbors, and most notably the Spartans if we take Lysistrata into account. Perhaps they saw Apollon as granting them this as the god who fathered their people and their vast colonies and Ion was said to have been the first to expand Athenian affluence. But that such civic responsibility took place in such depths and recesses was perhaps a reminder of the very nature of the god himself outside of his civil trappings and guises….that his nature is much closer to that of Pan that most people would be comfortable with. Unless of course you happened to be Arkadian, for in Arkadia Apollon and Pan enjoyed company side by side. In fact, Kreousa’s attacks on Apollon in Eurpedes Ion by far shines light on a beastial, uncivilized, lust that the god possesses against a backdrop of referring to him as a god singing to his kithara, a far more civilized and popular image. Kreousa reminds us how much Apollon’s nature can be seen to be outside of civilized niceties.

Kreousa plays an interesting part in this comparison. If nothing else her account dramaticized by Euripedes illustrates Pan’s accomplice, that her rape occurred to the music of Pan’s pipes.  The description of her picking crocuses, a sacred flower to Apollon, at the time of the event, a winter flower, and the occasion of Pythian lightning which was said to have been flashing (not the only instance of Apollon described as throwing lightening, perhaps indicative of his nature as a god of winds and windstorms), is all perhaps a strong indicator of the change of season. The virile fertile wet season of Pan changing to that of Apollon, the overlap, so likely a late winter or early spring event, prior to Apollon’s return, wherein his cavernous lurking can certainly be appreciated and his luring the maiden Kreousa there. Kreousa makes a good statement that Apollon, in his wintry/early spring guise is chthonic in nature and not unlike Pan in character, and as such, a god of primal caves beneath the holy citadel of the city. That her complaint is taken form at Delphi certainly seems purposeful as we have a mirroring here to Athens as I have outlined above.

It thus serves as a distinction of two aspects of Apollon: the civilized radiant kithara playing bard, all healing and shining with light, and the wild dangerous god lurking beneath the civilized. A god delighting in the company of Pan. A god who would happily welcome Dionysos at his first arrival to Parnassos with hymns of welcome among the Muses. God of living and god of the grave. A contrast of nature necessary to Apollon’s role in nature and the cosmos. And something recognized by the relationship of Pan and Apollon at Delphi and Athens.



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