Apollon’s “monsters”

There is no lack of monsters in Hellenic myth. We have numerous dragons and beasts that in myth plaque cities and represent challenges for noble heroes to defeat.  The drawback is that this colors the perceptions of the monsters themselves. Often they get characterized as being “evil”  or in some sense truly malevolent due to their juxtaposition with the heroes. What seems to be ignored is that usually these monsters are employed by the gods for their tasks, they serve a purpose in myth as a form of testing the heroes. This can be true to of heroic gods, or gods who have considerable station attributed to them from the defeat of a monster as a model for the demi-god heroes to come. In such cases in Hellenic myth we have Typhon for Zeus and Delphyne for Apollon. Although Typhon seems to be a special case of being a progeny that threatens the rule of the gods, and so, like the titans, was imprisoned we find that the control of Typhon is related to Zeus’ control of the order of the cosmos and its wellbeing. Now Typhon by Echidna had many offspring, and the literalist would say evil evil evil of Typhon, evil evil evil of Echidna, and thus to their offspring too. Nevermind that one of the most loved monsters…Cerebus, is one of their offspring. All in all the monsters are in themselves daemons who serve the purpose of the gods.

For Apollon he has a few of his own monsters. Delphyne I mentioned above is perhaps one of the most central and important monsters. Although often depicted just as a serpent, she is also known as having the upper torso of a nymph which has led to her being confused with Echidna in source material. Perhaps as an echnida-type of “monster” then, as *the* Echidna, spouse of Typhon, was slain by Argus and should be distinguished from Delphyne, the Echidna-like dragoness of Delphi who nursed Typhon and in whose layer guarded the sinews of Zeus which had to be retrieved by Pan and Hermes that Zeus could be victorious in his battle with Typhon, the offspring of Hera. Although she is caused a bane to shepherds, I wonder if this may be a confusion due too with another “dragon” of Delphi, a man, son of Gaia, who looted pilgrims and whom Apollon killed for assaulting Leto with the aid of his twin. Delphyne  then presented the obstacle to Apollon in his “heroic journey” that he had to overcome her to win his seat at Delphi. There is suggestion that Themis and Phoibe were titles of Gaia. If so this would concur with Apollon’s “grandmother” posing an obstacle forth for him to overcome, as we find Hera often doing for her own children and step children. There are ideas out there that I feel go too far extreme in denouncing the heroic journey of gods and their fights with certain daemon-monsters as patriarchal culture over a native matriarchal culture. I find this a huge stretch of imagination, and also a misunderstanding of the allegorical nature of the myth. This interpretation would be nothing more than another literalistic kind of interpretation.

Literalist interpretations would say one hand that the dragon is an malevolent force that Apollon has to conquer and is as such evil. The feminist-matriarchal interpretation on the other hand says that these is really a myth revealing an old regional goddess being overcome by an invading god. Allegorical interpretation says that both of these are not the best way to view the myth. After all we do find Delphyne present in artwork as a kind of guardian spirit that is not directly addressed to her slaying myths. Gaia/Themis/Phoibe set her as guardian of this spring of the oracle. Apollon defeats her, gains his laurel crown, is purified (which suggests blood guilt debt particularly given his exile and purification requirements) and returns to his oracle, is said tho to pour libation to her and thus would seem to be honoring her as a daemon of the place. She is allegorically purified by his fire and resides as a local protective daemon attached to the oracle thereafter. Her presence can be seen on a vase painting in which Apollon is approaching the Erinyes at Delphi and we see a figure that is often mistaken I think for an Erinye above the tripod which I believe is actually the daemon-guardian Delphyne as she gazes down on the Erinyes unkindly as Apollon approaches one. The serpent in her hair is quite alike the full half serpent images of the “monster” facing off with Apollon.


apollon battling python

Delphyne is not the only instance where we see a woman-serpent type of daemon associated with Apollon. Apollon on occasion for punishing Argos sent another echidna-type dragoness as a plague. I find these to be almost like nagas, and as such are particularly connected with the cult of Apollon as nagas are connected with the cult of Shiva. Edward Butler was kind enough to point to me that nagas too didn’t always have shiny reputations especially among followers of Vishnu. This reinforces this association for me of being that serves the purpose of the gods that may not be wholely doing awesomely kind wonderful things…but as a daemon doesn’t necessarily need to either. They serve the direction of the gods and purpose there put. It just depends on what god you are looking at, which may affect how you perceive the daemon and its role, and also how you are looking at the purpose of myth as I mentioned above. So in a positive sense this daemon type is associated with Apollon but also I would say with Hera.

Another popular “monster” associated with Apollon are griffins. I have spoken of griffins numerous times on my blog, so I won’t go into too much depth other than to say that griffins tend to act as guadians and mounts for Apollon. As such they represent the guardians not only of his blessed guardian (or rather the passage into) but also carry him back over the mountains upon his return with the blessed grains from Hyperborea. Griffins are creatures that are naturally shared with Zeus, wherein they are called the hounds of Zeus, and in some sources also with Dionysos wherein we find references to griffins being leopard spotted rather than having the body of a lion. Griffins are the divine combination of both the royal lion and the swift bird of prey, both of which are sacred to Apollon and Zeus particularly.


The last “monster” I want to include here are the Kledones/Sirens. I lump these together because the Kledones at Delphi were the “voices”, and I believe were also associated with another temple of his mentioned by Pausanias but the city of which I cannot recall offhand. The Kledones were said to sing prophecies from the roof of Apollon’s temple in its most earliest incarnations and enchanted visitors to the temple. The Kledones are treated almost wholly benevolently (and whose title Apollon has as an epithet as Apollon Kledones), whereas the Sirens tend to be a mixed bag but doubtlessly have an association with the Kledones and may be another form of the same creature (which in my opinion they are). Sirens are believed to the predecessors to the Muses. They were believed to rules the seven harmonic spheres prior to the muses, and their contest with the muses is perhaps one of the best known (following which the muses adorned themselves with the feathers of the Sirens, perhaps symbolically assuming the cosmic spot of the Sirens). It is not surprising perhaps to find a “monster” associated with beautiful entrancing music or sounds being connected with the cult worship of Apollon. Music as persuasion was well understood among Hellenes on a spiritual and practical level, so the concept of a creature who can sway men with her song either to accomplish certain ends, or giving forth prophecy would likely well fit in. Unlike modern interpretations of Sirens as mermaid type creatures, they were typically represented as bird like creatures.


Now why I am discussing all of this? Because as they are connected with aspects of Apollon’s cult and his divine functions I have started including their imagery in pairs on my altar. I have the griffins in place, but will be adding a pair of Echidna-like “dragonesses”/nagas as well as a pair of Kledones/Sirens.



2 thoughts on “Apollon’s “monsters”

  1. The Muses were depicted as swans, weren’t they? Swans make an interesting link between the myth of Leto and that of Leda which hints at something older. The wandering/migratory nature of swans and their mournful songs of travail certainly resonate with Leto’s story (and come to think of it, with Delos)!

    • I had not come across that particular piece of information. Interesting! I will give it some contemplation indeed. The migratory nature of Apollon (and his mother Leto) is something that really been an import feature in my worship of them. Being able to tie the Muses in that way would give it another angle certainly.

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