The Hunt and the Hare

I was so tempted for a moment to title this post “Lucky Rabbits Foot” but that was so far abroad from the topic that it seemed that it would be completely misleading. This post is not about good fortune that the rabbit may or may not bring (not so lucky for the rabbit as they say), but rather the little know importance of the rabbit in the cult of Artemis and Apollon. In fact, it was something that I was a bit unaware of to. Oh yes I know that a particular vase painting of Artemis Bendis, the Greo-Thrakian syncretism of the Thrakian Bendis with the Greek Artemis, depicted her holding a hare as she stood before her seated twin. And I did know too that rabbits were depicted with Artemis on particular vessels in Thebes according to Pausanias, so I was not completely ignorant on the matter. I just didn’t understand the relationship.

The hare or rabbit is pretty universally among pagans revered as a symbol of fertility, given the large litters of young they have and rapid manner in which they multiply, and yet its association with Artemis seems to have little direct to do with fertility in any direct way. I discovered this when I came across a reference of Xenophon when researching the hare which states that from Apollon and Artemis came the sport of dogs and game, the art of hunting that they taught Chiron in order to honor him, and he and turn taught it to his own students. This would certainly explain the scene of the great hunt tapestry that was described by Euripedes in a scene at Delphi in his play Ion. Like the deer, a game animal closely connected to the divine twins, the hare can be considered  a kind of substitute for the deer…a lesser more common substitute. Here is the loose connection to fertility, that unlike large game beasts, owing it is rigorous breeding habits, hares are typically plentiful wherever they are found. It is of no wonder that Xenophon would designate an entire chapter to hunting the hare with the use of dogs and net. I was always confused on how the net, attributed to Artemis directly in an epithet, was used in hunting…indeed he describes the process in which nets were set for hares and dogs drove the quick beasts into the net. Of course the hunt begins, as Xenophon tells us with a prayer to Apollon and Artemis and a promise of tribute to the gods for a successful hunt.

Like the hunting of big game that we see in heroic exploits (such as Meager, Atlanta and a host of heroes hunting the Calydonian boar, or Herkales’ hunt of the Ceryneian Hind) that exemplifies the hunt of nobility as a spiritual exercise, the more common rabbit serves similar purpose that is accessible to anyone armed with a hound and a net. The relationship of Artemis to the natural principle of energy (as a nurse that which is sustaining, and a huntress that which propels forward) the hunt of the hare is an almost perfect example of the goddess hunting forth beings on a spiritual level from one state of existence to another as the soul progresses, the hare fleeing  before the dogs entering into the net that entraps it until it is ready to move on again. Apollon as one who receives the hunt of Artemis, destroyer god and god of the divine gate is the natural other half of this process for which he too is called the hunter and for which Xenophon states that tradition attributes the gift of the hunt from both deities. The hare, which like the deer, moves swiftly is a further mark of spiritual movement. The theoi are those who run, and therefore the pursuit and hunt of Apollon and Artemis is one of spiritual progress to apotheosis, to the liberation of the noble soul. Although Artemis protects all young, nurturing them until they are of the appropriate maturity for the hunt, images with the goddess with rabbits I would suspect indicates not so much the goddess protecting the rabbit, but that she is presenting it.

Unlike the deer of the progressed soul, however, the rabbit is like the common man, he is small and vulnerable with no resource against predators other than hiding. He is prolific to be sure, numerous in his environment wherever he lives like men across the other, and like the souls of men, he a lot a period of time sleeping away from the world before he comes again in the spring. The  hare is the very symbol of the souls of men in their relationship to the cycle and their  relationship with the twins, even as the flesh of the hare in more practical worldly terms satisfies the hunger of men who subsist on it as deeply entrenched as it is  the cycles of death and life. Hares and rabbits of various breeds are plentiful, and from which many may erratically be driven in common with every push. Many enter at a time through the large mystic gates, but through the narrow mystic gates that leads to liberation of the soul, fewer at a time reach that destination. The hare is like the first phase as the deer is for the second stage. And it is of interesting note that the dogs are more expertly interacted with in the hunt of hares than what Xenophon discusses with the hinds and the  boars. This could suggest that the dogs of Artemis particularly gather up the younger less progressed souls. The rabbits are like all of those charioteer souls as Plato describes entangled together near the surface of the other, in contrast to few that briefly get to rise near the god that it adores.

It would seem that Xenophon classifies hunting in three levels. Whereas he spends much time regarding the virtues undertaken in the hunt of the hare which requires superior handling of the dogs, the hunt of the hind requires greater personal skill on the part of the hunter, and the hunt of the boar is the most dangerous and most manly of hunts which lauds the boar hunt as the most noble form of hunting and one that is quite rare. Therefore we have the common rabbit of Apollon and Artemis, the deer which is somewhat more associated with Artemis and is the  beat of her chariot, and lastly the boar which is typically contacted almost singularly with Apollon, the boar of which has been depicted pulling his own chariot and the kingly chariot of Admetus that Apollon  procured for him, and Artemis to a lesser degree.

In closing there is no small symbolic attachment to the hare/rabbit in the cult of Apollon and Artemis and especially in regard to the mysteries. The hare calls for a certain level of spiritual appreciation. The association of the rabbit in Vedic mythology with Chandra the moon recalls to mind that strong lunar association that these divine twins possess that may or may not be incidental  and could point to a potential Indo-European  foundation in cult.

5 thoughts on “The Hunt and the Hare

  1. What do you think of the omen in Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, where the Greeks at Aulis see two eagles eating a mother hare with unborn babies in her womb? The seer Kalkhas interprets the sign: “Artemis the undefiled/is angered with pity/at the flying hounds of her father/eating the unborn young in the hare and the shivering mother./She is sick at the eagle’s feasting” (trans. Lattimore). Does that relate at all to the symbolism you’re writing about, or is it mostly about Artemis as a protector of young females?

    In other versions of the story, Agamemnon “shot a stag and boasted that he surpassed even Artemis,” so you do have the hare-deer substitution again, at least.

    • Ooooo that is not something I considered at all. Well certainly the omen of the rabbit being torn open by the pair of eagles was not seen as a good omen by the seer, the two eagles respectively as Agamemnon and Menelaus. They win their prize, their conquest, the obect of their hunt, but make major sacrifices….the destruction of the young within the womb says something quite important to me. It wasn’t that the hare was killed, but killed pregnant with a litter in terms of what I spoke of in this post would mean the premature slaughter and death of multitude, or stealing the potential spiritual experience and path of many. Not the heroes who win their acclaim with the brother kings, but the proceeding generations who suffer, not only among the Trojans who are enslaved and whose babes are thrown from the walls, but also the futures of the proceeding Hellenes such as Orestes. So the omen was both positive in some sense, but also having huge negative implications by their vanity in their pursuit. Same thing regarding Agamemnon with the stag (and as you pointed out a very obvious substitution) and his boast….woe due to his vanity. The hunt is not for the sake of appeasing vanity, but a personal pursuit and quest.

      • “The proceeding generations who suffer, not only among the Trojans who are enslaved and whose babes are thrown from the walls, but also the futures of the proceeding Hellenes such as Orestes.” Wow, yes. The inter-generational theme is huge in the Oresteia, and so is the theme of the “victors” suffering as well as the vanquished. I like how you tie the two together, I think those are really important ideas…I’ve heard people talk about similar ideas with regard to apartheid South Africa and the colonization of the Americas, actually.

        “The hunt is not for the sake of appeasing vanity, but a personal pursuit and quest.” Again, I really like your insights. This one was especially relevant to some ideas that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Thank you!

      • Indeed, and look and Neoplotimus (sp?), the son of Achilles….his father went among the blessed as a hero….and the son was murdered at Delphi…..

        I am really very glad that you got something out of all of this. I had not heard of these ideas being talked abut in regards to colonization….so now you have made me curious 🙂

      • I’m sure there are people who have written about it, but it came up in conversation during a class on Native American Literature I took several years ago, so I don’t know offhand what a good written source is…but the basic question is that while it’s fairly obvious that colonization is dehumanizing to the psyche of the colonized, people don’t always consider how it dehumanizes the psyche of the colonizer. Which is not to say that the colonizer is a “victim” or anything like that, just that the process is like a blade with no handle.

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