The Serpent Arrows of Apollon and the Fire of Leto

Apollon’s arrows have been poetically described as serpent arrows. This signifies certain qualities of serpents of the venomous nature. The arrows are fiery, stingy and eating like flames in the skin, probably similar to the feel venom entering into the blood system. While I have never been bitten by a venomous snake, I have been stung by a wasp and can well understand the feeling of fire on the skin. It is an interesting turning of the imagination to imagine the arrows of Apollon projecting out, entwined with fiery serpents, dealing their death blows and consuming that which they pierce. They do not merely wound, but like greatly venomous creatures, their sting is certain death and consummation by fire.

As the Hellenic peoples saw Leto in the Egyptian Uto/Wadjet (the nurse of Horus and Bast, which may have some connection to how Leto was perceived in her relationship with Apollon and Artemis in the mysteries where the twins were regarded as the children of Demeter (Artemis) and Persephone (Apollon), we can see a definite serpentine connection as Uto is typically represented in the form of a winged cobra crowned by the sun, sometimes with the head of a woman in something of a naga or Echidna fashion. Although Hellenes identified Uto with the night, as preceding the light of the divine twins and said she escaped Typhoen by turning into a shrew, the serpentine nature of Uto is what is clear in Egypt. We can certainly get an idea of the flaming serpentine nature associated with Apollon via this association that Leto has as a matter of inheritance whether she is regarded as his mother or nurse. This oracle goddess who is both serpent and had a cult in which the shrew was given particular honor forms an interesting variation of the hunter/prey theme that I have written of before. In a sense she is herself like a self consuming fire, a self consuming serpent for she is both the serpent, the natural prey of the serpent, the shrew.  It provides an interesting dichotomy housed in one goddess  that gives some direction of thought that she is herself constantly consuming like all devouring time, nursing life and destroying it without effort and in every breath and movement. Night that is constantly bringing forth day and consuming it again.

This makes her, although she is not envisioned as a huntress, the principle companion of her daughter in the hunt. Whereas Artemis is the energy of the hunt, I imagine Leto to the be the very force of the nature of the hunt, the natural  repurposing cycle of birth and destruction. Likewise, as Apollon by his nature is preserver and destroyer, she is as the very force behind his destructive power. She, like her mother Phoebe, is one with Delphyne (which I believe may have occurred to the Hellenes historically given her association with Buto and Buto’s own oracular providence) who is both the serpent arrow of Apollon and the victim of the arrow. Yet for all of this she is possessing serpentine qualities of grace and beauty, although often concealed within the veils of shadows. Mysterious, lethal, but powerful and gracious all at once. Whereas Artemis is the mover of the energy, and Apollon directs the movement of energy…Leto is raw power itself. It is for this reason she is devouring and generating all at once and ceaselessly. Leto is inseparable from the cults of her children because she is coiled deep within both of their disciplines and natures. Her relationship with them s by necessary different than the maternal relationship of Demeter/Persephone. Fact of the matter, aside from directing and protecting her offspring one does not really see a very maternal side of Leto in terms that we commonly think of it. We see  the unknowable, the gracefully elegant, nurse and killer and fierce protectress……we see her raw power for which she was also associated with goddesses such as Rhea.

*correction: I misremembered the name. Buto has been corrected to Uto. Many thanks to Edward Butler for the correction!

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