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vendredi, 23 mars 2018

The Black Sun: Dionysus, Nietzsche, and Greek Myth


The Black Sun: Dionysus, Nietzsche, and Greek Myth

Gwendolyn Taunton

Ex: https://manticorepress.net

Affirmation of life even it its strangest and sternest problems, the will to life rejoicing in its own inexhaustibility through the sacrifice of its highest types – that is what I call the Dionysian…Not so as to get rid of pity and terror, not so as to purify oneself of a dangerous emotion through its vehement discharge – it was thus Aristotle understood it – but, beyond pity and terror, to realize in oneself the eternal joy of becoming – that joy which also encompasses joy in destruction…And with that I again return to that place from which I set out –The Birth of Tragedy was my first revaluation of all values: with that I again plant myself in the soil out of which I draw all that I will and can – I, the last disciple of the philosopher Dionysus – I, the teacher of the eternal recurrence(Nietzsche, “What I Owe to the Ancients”)

It is a well known fact that most of the early writings of the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, revolve around a prognosis of duality concerning the two Hellenic deities, Apollo and Dionysus. This dichotomy, which first appears in The Birth of Tragedy, is subsequently modified by Nietzsche in his later works so that the characteristics of the God Apollo are reflected and absorbed by his polar opposite, Dionysus. Though this topic has been examined frequently by philosophers, it has not been examined sufficiently in terms of its relation to the Greek myths which pertain to the two Gods in question. Certainly, Nietzsche was no stranger to Classical myth, for prior to composing his philosophical works, Nietzsche was a professor of Classical Philology at the University of Basel. This interest in mythology is also illustrated in his exploration of the use of mythology as tool by which to shape culture. The Birth of Tragedy is based upon Greek myth and literature, and also contains much of the groundwork upon which he would develop his later premises. Setting the tone at the very beginning of The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche writes:[spacer height=”20px”]

We shall have gained much for the science of aesthetics, once we perceive not merely by logical inference, but with the immediate certainty of vision, that the continuous development of art is bound up with the Apollonian and Dionysian duality – just as procreation depends on the duality of the sexes, involving perpetual strife with only periodically intervening reconciliations. The terms Dionysian and Apollonian we borrow from the Greeks, who disclose to the discerning mind the profound mysteries of their view of art, not, to be sure, in concepts, but in the intensely clear figures of their gods. Through Apollo and Dionysus, the two art deities of the Greeks, we come to recognize that in the Greek world there existed a tremendous opposition…[1]

Initially then, Nietzsche’s theory concerning Apollo and Dionysus was primarily concerned with aesthetic theory, a theory which he would later expand to a position of predominance at the heart of his philosophy. Since Nietzsche chose the science of aesthetics as the starting point for his ideas, it is also the point at which we shall begin the comparison of his philosophy with the Hellenic Tradition.


The opposition between Apollo and Dionysus is one of the core themes within The Birth of Tragedy, but in Nietzsche’s later works, Apollo is mentioned only sporadically, if at all, and his figure appears to have been totally superseded by his rival Dionysus. In The Birth of Tragedy, Apollo and Dionysus are clearly defined by Nietzsche, and the spheres of their influence are carefully demarcated. In Nietzsche’s later writings, Apollo is conspicuous by the virtue of his absence – Dionysus remains and has ascended to a position of prominence in Nietzsche’s philosophy, but Apollo, who was an integral part of the dichotomy featured in The Birth of Tragedy, has disappeared, almost without a trace. There is in fact, a simple reason for the disappearance of Apollo – he is in fact still present, within the figure of Dionysus. What begins in The Birth of Tragedy as a dichotomy shifts to synthesis in Nietzsche’s later works, with the name Dionysus being used to refer to the unified aspect of both Apollo and Dionysus, in what Nietzsche believes to the ultimate manifestation of both deities. In early works the synthesis between Apollo & Dionysus is incomplete – they are still two opposing principles – “Thus in The Birth of Tragedy, Apollo, the god of light, beauty and harmony is in opposition to Dionysian drunkenness and chaos”.[2] The fraternal union of Apollo & Dionysus that forms the basis of Nietzsche’s view is, according to him, symbolized in art, and specifically in Greek tragedy.[3] Greek tragedy, by its fusion of dialogue and chorus; image and music, exhibits for Nietzsche the union of the Apollonian and Dionysian, a union in which Dionysian passion and dithyrambic madness merge with Apollonian measure and lucidity, and original chaos and pessimism are overcome in a tragic attitude that is affirmative and heroic.[4]

The moment of Dionysian “terror” arrives when […] a cognitive failure or wandering occurs, when the principle of individuation, which is Apollo’s “collapses” […] and gives way to another perception, to a contradiction of appearances and perhaps even to their defeasibility as such (their “exception”). It occurs “when [one] suddenly loses faith in […] the cognitive form of phenomena. Just as dreams […] satisfy profoundly our innermost being, our common [deepest] ground [der gemeinsame Untergrund], so too, symmetrically, do “terror” and “blissful” ecstasy…well up from the innermost depths [Grunde] of man once the strict controls of the Apollonian principle relax. Then “we steal a glimpse into the nature of the Dionysian”.[5]

apollonooooooo.jpgThe Apollonian and the Dionysian are two cognitive states in which art appears as the power of nature in man.[6] Art for Nietzsche is fundamentally not an expression of culture, but is what Heidegger calls “eine Gestaltung des Willens zur Macht” a manifestation of the will to power. And since the will to power is the essence of being itself, art becomes “die Gestaltung des Seienden in Ganzen,” a manifestation of being as a whole.[7] This concept of the artist as a creator, and of the aspect of the creative process as the manifestation of the will, is a key component of much of Nietzsche’s thought – it is the artist, the creator who diligently scribes the new value tables. Taking this into accord, we must also allow for the possibility that Thus Spake Zarathustra opens the doors for a new form of artist, who rather than working with paint or clay, instead provides the Uebermensch, the artist that etches their social vision on the canvas of humanity itself.  It is in the character of the Uebermensch that we see the unification of the Dionysian (instinct) and Apollonian (intellect) as the manifestation of the will to power, to which Nietzsche also attributes the following tautological value “The Will to Truth is the Will to Power”.[8] This statement can be interpreted as meaning that by attributing the will to instinct, truth exists as a naturally occurring phenomena – it exists independently of the intellect, which permits many different interpretations of the truth in its primordial state. The truth lies primarily in the will, the subconscious, and the original raw instinctual state that Nietzsche identified with Dionysus. In The Gay Science Nietzsche says:

For the longest time, thinking was considered as only conscious, only now do we discover the truth that the greatest part of our intellectual activity lies in the unconscious […] theories of Schopenhauer and his teaching of the primacy of the will over the intellect. The unconscious becomes a source of wisdom and knowledge that can reach into the fundamental aspects of human existence, while the intellect is held to be an abstracting and falsifying mechanism that is directed, not toward truth but toward “mastery and possession.” [9]

Thus the will to power originates not in the conscious, but in the subconscious. Returning to the proposed dichotomy betwixt Dionysus and Apollo, in his later works the two creative impulses become increasingly merged, eventually reaching a point in his philosophy wherein Dionysus refers not to the singular God, but rather a syncretism of Apollo and Dionysus in equal quantity. “The two art drives must unfold their powers in a strict proportion, according to the law of eternal justice.”[10] For Nietzsche, the highest goal of tragedy is achieved in the harmony between two radically distinct realms of art, between the principles that govern the Apollonian plastic arts and epic poetry and those that govern the Dionysian art of music.[11] To be complete and  to derive ultimate mastery from the creative process, one must harness both the impulses represented by Apollo and Dionysus – the instinctual urge and potent creative power of Dionysus, coupled with the skill and intellectualism of Apollo’s craftsmanship – in sum both natural creative power from the will and the skills learnt within a social grouping. This definition will hold true for all creative ventures and is not restricted to the artistic process; ‘will’ and ‘skill’ need to act in harmony and concord.


In Nietzsche’s philosophy, Apollo and Dionysus are so closely entwined as to render them inseparable. Apollo, as the principle of appearance and of individuation, is that which grants appearance to the Dionysian form, without for Apollo, Dionysus remains bereft of physical appearance.

That [Dionysus] appears at all with such epic precision and clarity is the work of the dream interpreter, Apollo […] His appearances are at best instances of “typical ‘ideality,’” epiphanies of the “idea” or “idol”, mere masks and after images (Abbilde[er]). To “appear” Dionysus must take on a form.[12]

In his natural state, Dionysus has no form, it is only by reflux with Apollo, who represents the nature of form that Dionysus, as the nature of the formless, can appear to us at all. Likewise, Apollo without Dionysus becomes lost in a world of form – the complex levels of abstraction derived from the Dionysian impulse are absent. Neither god can function effectively without the workings of the other.  Dionysus appears, after all, only thanks to the Apollonian principle. This is Nietzsche’s rendition of Apollo and Dionysus, his reworking of the Hellenic mythos, forged into a powerful philosophy that has influenced much of the modern era. Yet how close is this new interpretation to the original mythology of the ancient Greeks, and how much of this is Nietzsche’s own creation? It is well known that Nietzsche and his contemporary Wagner both saw the merit in reshaping old myths to create new socio-political values. To fully understand Nietzsche’s retelling of the Dionysus myth and separate the modern ideas from that of the ancients, we need to examine the Hellenic sources on Dionysus.

apolyre.jpgMyths of Dionysus are often used to depict a stranger or an outsider to the community as a repository for the mysterious and prohibited features of another culture. Unsavory characteristics that the Greeks tend to ascribe to foreigners are attributed to him, and various myths depict his initial rejection by the authority of the polis – yet Dionysus’ birth at Thebes, as well as the appearance of his name on Linear B tablets, indicates that this is no stranger, but in fact a native, and that the rejected foreign characteristics ascribed to him are in fact Greek characteristics.[13] Rather than being a representative of foreign culture what we are in fact observing in the character of Dionysus is the archetype of the outsider; someone who sits outside the boundaries of the cultural norm, or who represents the disruptive element in society which either by its nature effects a change or is removed by the culture which its very presence threatens to alter. Dionysus represents as Plutarch observed, “the whole wet element” in nature – blood, semen, sap, wine, and all the life giving juice. He is in fact a synthesis of both chaos and form, of orgiastic impulses and visionary states – at one with the life of nature and its eternal cycle of birth and death, of destruction and creation.[14]  This disruptive element, by being associated with the blood, semen, sap, and wine is an obvious metaphor for the vital force itself, the wet element, being representative of “life in the raw”. This notion of “life” is intricately interwoven into the figure of Dionysus in the esoteric understanding of his cult, and indeed throughout the philosophy of the Greeks themselves, who had two different words for life, both possessing the  same root as Vita (Latin: Life) but present in very different phonetic forms: bios and zoë.[15]

Plotinos called zoë the “time of the soul”, during which the soul, in its course of rebirths, moves on from one bios to another […] the Greeks clung to a not-characterized “life” that underlies every bios and stands in a very different relationship to death than does a “life” that includes death among its characteristics […] This experience differs from the sum of experiences that constitute the bios, the content of each individual man’s written or unwritten biography. The experience of life without characterization – of precisely that life which “resounded” for the Greeks in the word zoë – is, on the other hand, indescribable.[16]

Zoë is Life in its immortal and transcendent aspect, and is thus representative of the pure primordial state. Zoëis the presupposition of the death drive; death exists only in relation to zoë. It is a product of life in accordance with a dialectic that is a process not of thought, but of life itself, of the zoë in each individual bios.[17]


The other primary association of Dionysus is with the chthonic elements, and we frequently find him taking the form of snakes. According to the myth of his dismemberment by the Titans, a myth which is strongly associated with Delphi, he was born of Persephone, after Zeus, taking snake form, had impregnated her. [18] In Euripides Bacchae, Dionysus, being the son of Semele, is a god of dark and frightening subterranean powers; yet being also the son of Zeus, he mediates between the chthonic and civilized worlds, once again playing the role of a liminal outsider that passes in transit from one domain to another.[19] Through his association with natural forces, a description of his temple has been left to us by a physician from Thasos: “A temple in the open air, an open air naos with an altar and a cradle of vine branches; a fine lair, always green; and for the initiates a room in which to sing the evoe.”[20] This stands in direct contrast to Apollo, who was represented by architectural and artificial beauty. Likewise his music was radically different to that of Apollo’s; “A stranger, he should be admitted into the city, for his music is varied, not distant and monotone like the tunes of Apollo’s golden lyre”. (Euripides Bacchae 126-134, 155-156)[21]

Both Gods were concerned with the imagery of life, art, and as we shall see soon, the sun. Moreover, though their forces were essentially opposite, they two Gods were essentially representative of two polarities for the same force, meeting occasionally in perfect balance to reveal an unfolding Hegelian dialectic that was the creative process of life itself and the esoteric nature of the solar path, for just as Dionysus was the chthonic deity (and here we intentionally use the word Chthon instead of the word Gē  – Chthon being literally underworld and Gē being the earth or ground) and Apollo was a Solar deity; but not the physical aspect of the sun as a heavenly body, this was ascribed by to the god Helios instead. Rather Apollo represented the human aspect of the solar path (and in this he is equivalent to the Vedic deity Savitar), and its application to the mortal realm; rather than being the light of the sky, Apollo is the light of the mind: intellect and creation. He is as bright as Dionysus is dark – in Dionysus the instinct, the natural force of zoë is prevalent, associated with the chthonic world below ground because he is immortal, his power normally unseen. He rules during Apollo’s absence in Hyperborea because the sun has passed to another land, the reign of the bright sun has passed and the time of the black sun commences – the black sun being the hidden aspect of the solar path, represented by the departure of Apollo in this myth.


Apollo is frequently mentioned in connection to Dionysus in Greek myth. Inscriptions dating from the third century B.C., mention that Dionysos Kadmeios reigned alongside Apollo over the assembly of Theben gods.[22] Likewise on Rhodes a holiday called Sminthia was celebrated there in memory of a time mice attacked the vines there and were destroyed by Apollo and Dionysus, who shared the epithet Sminthios on the island.[23] They are even cited together in the Odyssey (XI 312-25), and also in the story of the death of Koronis, who was shot by Artemis, and this at Apollo’s instigation because she had betrayed the god with a mortal lover.[24] Also, the twin peaks on Parnassos traditionally known as the “peaks of Apollo and Dionysus.”[25] Their association and worship however, was even more closely entwined at Delphi, for as Leicester Holland has perceived:

(1) Dionysus spoke oracles at Delphi before Apollo did; (2) his bones were placed in a basin beside the tripod; (3) the omphalos was his tomb. It is well known, moreover, that Dionysus was second only to Apollo in Delphian and Parnassian worship; Plutarch, in fact, assigns to Dionysus an equal share with Apollo in Delphi[26]

A Pindaric Scholiast says that Python ruled the prophetic tripod on which Dionysus was the first to speak oracles; that then Apollo killed the snake and took over.[27] The association of Apollo and Dionysus in Delphi, moreover, was not limited to their connection to the Delphic Oracle. We also find this relationship echoed in the commemoration of the Great flood which was celebrated each year at a Delphian festival called Aiglē, celebrated two or three days before the full moon of January or February, at the same time as the Athenian Anthesteria festival, the last day of which was devoted to commemorating the victims of the Great Flood; this was the same time of the year when Apollo was believed at Delphi to return from his sojourn among the Hyperboreans. Moreover, Dionysus is said to have perished and returned to life in the flood.[28] Apollo’s Hyperborean absence is his yearly death – Apollonios says that Apollo shed tears when he went to the Hyperborean land; thence flows the Eridanos, on whose banks the Heliades wail without cease; and extremely low spirits came over the Argonauts as they sailed that river of amber tears.[29]

This is the time of Dionysus’ reign at Delphi in which he was the center of Delphic worship for the three winter months, when Apollo was absent. Plutarch, himself a priest of the Pythian Apollo, Amphictyonic official and a frequent visitor to Delphi,  says that for nine months the paean was sung in Apollo’s honour at sacrifices, but at the beginning of winter the paeans suddenly ceased, then for three months men sang dithyrambs and addressed themselves to Dionysus rather than to Apollo.[30] Chthonian Dionysus manifested himself especially at the winter festival when the souls of the dead rose to walk briefly in the upper world again, in the festival that the Athenians called Anthesteria, whose Delphian counterpart was the Theophania. The Theophania marked the end of Dionysus’ reign and Apollo’s return; Dionysus and the ghosts descended once more to Hades realm.[31] In this immortal aspect Dionysus is very far removed from being a god of the dead and winter; representing instead immortal life, the zoë, which was employed in Dionysian cult to release psychosomatic energies summoned from the depths that were discharged in a physical cult of life.[32]


Dionysus is the depiction of transcendent primordial life, life that persists even during the absence of Apollo (the Sun) – for as much as Apollo is the Golden Sun, Dionysus is the Black or Winter Sun, reigning in the world below ground whilst Apollo’s presence departs for another hemisphere, dead to the people of Delphi, the Winter Sun reigns in Apollo’s absence. Far from being antagonistic opposites, Apollo and Dionysus were so closely related in Greek myth that according to Deinarchos, Dionysus was killed and buried at Delphi beside the golden Apollo.[33] Likewise, in the Lykourgos tetralogy of Aischylos, the cry “Ivy-Apollo, Bakchios, the soothsayer,” is heard when the Thracian bacchantes, the Bassarai, attacks Orpheus, the worshipper of Apollo and the sun. The cry suggests a higher knowledge of the connection between Apollo and Dionysus, the dark god, whom Orpheus denies in favour of the luminous god. In the Lykymnios of Euripides the same connection is attested by the cry, “Lord, laurel-loving Bakchios, Paean Apollo, player of the Lyre.”[34] Similarly, we find anotherpaean by Philodamos addressed to Dionysus from Delphi: “Come hither, Lord Dithyrambos, Backchos…..Bromios now in the spring’s holy period.”[35] The pediments of the temple of Apollo also portray on one side Apollo with Leto, Artemis, and the Muses, and on the other side Dionysus and the thyiads, and a vase painting of c.400 B.C. shows Apollo and Dionysus in Delphi holding their hands to one another.[36]

An analysis of Nietzsche’s philosophy concerning the role of Apollo and Dionysus in Hellenic myth thus reveals more than even a direct parallel. Not only did Nietzsche comprehend the nature of the opposition between Apollo and Dionysus, he understood this aspect of their cult on the esoteric level, that their forces, rather than being antagonistic are instead complementary, with both Gods performing two different aesthetic techniques in the service of the same social function, which reaches its pinnacle of development when both creative processes are elevated in tandem within an individual. Nietzsche understood the symbolism of myths and literature concerning the two gods, and he actually elaborated upon it, adding the works of Schopenhauer to create a complex philosophy concerning not only the interplay of aesthetics in the role of the creative process, but also the nature of the will and the psychological process used to create a certain type, which is exemplified in both his ideals of the Ubermensch and the Free Spirit. Both of these higher types derive their impetus from the synchronicity of the Dionysian and Apollonian drives, hence why in Nietzsche’s later works following The Birth of Tragedy only the Dionysian impulse is referred to, this term not being used to signify just Dionysus, but rather the balanced integration of the two forces. This ideal of eternal life (zoë) is also located in Nietzsche’s theory of Eternal Reoccurrence – it denies the timeless eternity of a supernatural God, but affirms the eternity of the ever-creating and destroying powers in nature and man, for like the solar symbolism of Apollo and Dionysus, it is a notion of cyclical time. To Nietzsche, the figure of Dionysus is the supreme affirmation of life, the instinct and the will to power, with the will to power being an expression of the will to life and to truth at its highest exaltation – “It is a Dionysian Yea-Saying to the world as it is, without deduction, exception and selection…it is the highest attitude that a philosopher can reach; to stand Dionysiacally toward existence: my formula for this is amor fati”’[37]  Dionysus is thus to both Nietzsche and the Greeks, the highest expression of Life in its primordial and transcendent meaning, the hidden power of the Black Sun and the subconscious impulse of the will.


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[1]James I. Porter, The Invention of Dionysus: An Essay on the Birth of Tragedy, (California: Stanford University Press, 2002), 40

[2]Rose Pfeffer, Nietzsche: Disciple of Dionysus, (New Jersey: Associated University Presses, Inc. 1977), 31

[3] Ibid.,31

[4] Ibid., 51

[5] James I. Porter, The Invention of Dionysus: An Essay on the Birth of Tragedy, 50-51

[6] Ibid., 221

[7] Ibid., 205-206

[8] Rose Pfeffer, Nietzsche: Disciple of Dionysus, 114

[9] Ibid, 113

[10] James I. Porter, The Invention of Dionysus: An Essay on the Birth of Tragedy, 82

[11] Rose Pfeffer, Nietzsche: Disciple of Dionysus, 32

[12] James I. Porter, The Invention of Dionysus: An Essay on the Birth of Tragedy, 99

[13]Dora C. Pozzi, and John M. Wickerman, Myth & the Polis, (New York: Cornell University 1991), 36

[14]Rose Pfeffer, Nietzsche: Disciple of Dionysus,  126

[15] Carl Kerényi, Dionysos Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life, (New Jersey: Princeton university press,  1996), xxxxi

[16] Ibid., xxxxv

[17] Ibid., 204-205

[18] Joseph Fontenrose, Python: A Study of Delphic Myth and its Origins (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 378

[19]Dora C. Pozzi, and John M. Wickerman, Myth & the Polis,  147

[20]Marcel Detienne, trans. Arthur Goldhammer Dionysos At Large, (London: Harvard Univeristy Press 1989), 46

[21]Dora C. Pozzi, and John M. Wickerman, Myth & the Polis,   144

[22] Marcel Detienne, trans. Arthur Goldhammer Dionysos At Large, 18

[23] Daniel E. Gershenson, Apollo the Wolf-God in Journal of Indo-European Studies, Mongraph number 8 (Virginia: Institute for the Study of Man 1991), 32

[24]Carl Kerényi, Dionysos Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life, (New Jersey: Princeton university press,  1996), 103

[25] Dora C. Pozzi, and John M. Wickerman, Myth & the Polis,  139

[26] Joseph Fontenrose, Python: A Study of Delphic Myth and its Origins (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 375

[27] Ibid., 376

[28]Daniel E. Gershenson, Apollo the Wolf-God in Journal of Indo-European Studies, Monograph number 8, 61

[29] Joseph Fontenrose, Python: A Study of Delphic Myth and its Origins (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 387

[30] Ibid., 379

[31] Ibid., 380-381

[32] Ibid., 219

[33] Ibid., 388

[34] Carl Kerényi, Dionysos Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life, (New Jersey: Princeton university press,  1996), 233

[35] Ibid.,217

[36] Walter F. Otto, Dionysus: Myth and Cult, (Dallas: Spring Publications, 1989) 203

[37] Rose Pfeffer, Nietzsche: Disciple of Dionysus,  261

dimanche, 04 décembre 2016

The Prehistoric Origins of Apollo


The Prehistoric Origins of Apollo

By Prof. Fritz Graf, PhD.
Ex: http://sciencereligionmyth.blogspot.com 

Apollo’s name has no clear parallels in other Indo-European languages, and he is the only Olympian god whose name does not figure on the Linear B tablets (a word fragment on a Cnossus tablet has been read as a form of his name, but the reading is highly conjectural and has convinced few scholars). The absence may well be significant. We possess well over a thousand texts that come from the palaces of Thebes in Boeotia, Mycenae, and Pylus in the Peloponnese, Cnossus and Chania on Crete, that is from practically the entire geographical area of the Mycenaean world, with the exception of the west coast of Asia Minor. Only a fraction contains information on religion, not only the names of gods and their sanctuaries, but also month names that preserve a major festival and personal names that contain a divine name (so-called theophoric names); but the sample is large enough to preserve almost all major Greek divine names. Thus, there is enough material to make an omission seem statistically significant and not just the result of the small size of the sample. But the absence creates a problem: if Apollo did not exist in Bronze Age Greece, where did he come from?

Scholars have attempted several answers. None has remained uncontested. There are four main possibilities: Apollo could be an Indo-European divinity, present although not attested in Bronze Age Greece, or introduced from the margins of the Mycenaean world after its collapse; or he was not Greek but Near Eastern, with again the options of a hidden presence in Bronze Age Greece or a later introduction. Scholars who accepted the absence of Apollo from the Mycenaean pantheon had two options. If he had no place in Mycenaean Greece, he had to come from elsewhere, at some time between the fall of this world and the epoch of Homer and Hesiod, that is during the so-called “Dark Age” and the following Geometric Epoch. During most of this period, Greece had isolated itself from Near Eastern influences but was internally changed by population movements, especially the expansion of the Dorians from the mountains of Northwestern Greece, outside the Mycenaean area, into what had constituted the core of the Mycenaean realm, the Peloponnese, Crete, and the Southern Aegean. Thus, a Dorian origin of Apollo was an almost obvious hypothesis; but since the Dorians were Greeks, albeit with a different dialect, one had to come up with a Greek or at least an Indo-European etymology for his name to make this convincing. If, however, scholars could find no such etymology, they assumed an Anatolian or West Semitic origin: in Western Anatolia, Greeks had already settled during Mycenaean times but arrived again in large numbers during the Dark Age, and contacts with Phoenicia became frequent well before Homer, as the arrival of the alphabet around 800 BCE shows. Finally, if one did not accept Apollo’s absence in the Linear B texts as proof of his historical absence in the Mycenaean world (after all, the argument was based on statistics only), or if one accepted the one fragment from Cnossus, there was even more occasion for Anatolian or Near Eastern origins, in the absence of an Indo-European etymology.

A Bronze Age Apollo of whatever origin could find corroboration in Apollo’s surprising and early presence on the island of Cyprus. Excavations have found several archaic sanctuaries, some being simple open-air spaces with an altar, others as complex as the sanctuary of Apollo Hylatas at Kourion that may have contained a rectangular temple as early as the sixth or even late seventh century BCE. Inscriptions in the local Cypriot writing system attest several cults of Apollo with varying epithets, from Amyklaios to Tamasios, and a month whose name derives from Apollo Agyieus.

apollon2.jpgIn a way, Apollo should not exist on Cyprus, or only in later times, if he was Dorian or entered the Greek world after the collapse of the Bronze Age societies. Cyprus, the large island that bridged the sea between Southern Anatolia and Western Syria, was inhabited by a native population; Greeks arrived at the very end of the Mycenaean period. They must have been Mycenaean Greeks who were displaced by the turmoil at the time when their Greek empire was crumbling. They brought with them their language, a dialect that was akin to the dialect of Arcadia in the Central Peloponnese to where Mycenaeans retreated from the invading Dorians, and they brought with them their writing system, a syllabic system closely connected with Linear A and B that quickly developed its own local variation and survived until Hellenistic times; then it was ousted by the more convenient Greek alphabet. The long survival of this system shows that, after its importation in the eleventh century BCE, Cypriot culture was very stable and only slowly became part of the larger Greek world. There was no later Greek immigration, either large-scale or modest, during the Iron Age: when Phoenicians immigrated in the eighth century, Cypriot culture, if anything, turned to the Near East. It is only plausible to assume that the Mycenaean settlers also brought their cults and gods with them: thus, the gods and festivals attested in the Cypriot texts are likely to reflect not Iron Age Greek religion but the Mycenaean heritage imported at the very end of the Bronze Age.

This leaves room for many theories and ideas that followed the pattern I outlined above. Only two attempts have commanded more than passing attention, a derivation from the Hittite pantheon in Bronze Age Anatolia and a Dorian hypothesis that made Apollo the main divinity of the Dorians who pushed south from their original home in Northwestern Greece, once the fall of the Mycenaean Empire let them do so.

Apollo and the Hittites
In 1936, Bedřich Hrozný, the Czech scholar who deciphered the Hittite language, claimed to have read the divine name Apulunas on several late Hittite altars inscribed in Hittite hieroglyphs, together with the name Rutas. He immediately understood them as antecedents of Apollo and Artemis and defined Apulunas’ function as that of a protector of altars, sacred areas, and gates. He thus added, as he thought, proof to the idea that Apollo, his sister, and, implicitly, their mother Leto were Anatolian divinities: after all, had not Homer insisted on their protection of Troy, and did not all three have a close conection with Lycia? The reading has been rejected by other specialists – but Hittite Apollo did not disappear: he surfaced as Appaliunas, a divinity in a (damaged) list of oath divinities invoked by the Hittite king Muwattalis and king Alaksandus of Wilusa; the text immediately preceding Appaliunas is broken. Since scholars identify Wilusa with Ilion, Apollo seems to appear in Troy, and Manfred Korfmann, the German archaeologist who impressively changed the accepted archaeological image of Bronze Age Troy, immediately adopted the idea and helped popularize it: Homer’s Apollo, the protector of the Trojans, seemed well established in Aegean prehistory, in the very city Homer was singing about.

Problems remain, besides Apollo’s absence from Linear B and the thorny question of how the Iliad relates to Bronze Age history, even after the rejection of Hrozný’s reading. Contemporary proponents of an Anatolian Apollo still follow Hrozný and point to Apollo’s Lycian connection that is already present in Homer; they feel encouraged by Wilamowitz, the most influential classicist in Hrozný’s time, who had concurred. But Lycian inscriptions found since then in Xanthus, where Leto had her main shrine, have cast severe doubts on whether Wilamowitz was right. Neither Leto’s nor Apollo’s name is attested in the indigenous texts, among which pride of place belongs to a text dated to 358 BCE, written in Lycian, Greek, and Aramaic. As in a few other indigenous texts, Leto is “The Mother of the Sanctuary” (meaning the one in Xanthus), without a proper name. Only in the Aramaic text has what one would call the Apolline triad, Lato (l’tw’), Artemus (’rtemwš) and a god called Hšatrapati, the Iranian Mitra Varuna as the equivalent of the young powerful god whom Greeks called Apollo. In the Lycian text, the Greek personal name Apollodotus, “given by Apollo” was rendered in Lycian in way that made clear that the Lycian equivalent of Apollo was Natr-, a name of uncertain etymology but one that has no linguistic relation whatsoever with Apollo. No member of the Apolline triad, then, had a Lycian name that sounded like Leto, Apollo, or Artemis: the names were Greek, not indigenous to Lycia. Lycia may have been Apollo’s country in myth (and in Homer), but not in history. The sanctuary of Xanthus does not transform Hittite cults into the Iron Age, and a Bronze Age Anatolian Apollo seems far-fetched, to say the least. This directs our quest back to Greece.

Apollo and the Dorian Assembly 
In different Greek dialects, Apollo’s name took several forms. Ionians and Athenians called him Apollōn, Thessalians syncopated this to Aploun; many Dorians used the form Apellōn that resonated with the Cypriot Apeilōn. Several scholars, most authoritatively Walter Burkert, pointed out that there was a Greek dialectal word with which the Dorian form of the god’s name, Apellōn, was already connected in antiquity: whereas most Greeks called their assembly ekklesia, the Spartans used the term apella. In their dialect, then, Apellon would be “the Assembly God.” In the Dorian states, the assembly of all free adult men was the supreme political instrument: at least once a year, these men assembled to decide on all central matters of politics. Apollo as its god would fit his role in the archaic city-states that I worked out in the last chapter. To make this work, we have to assume that apella was already the term for this institution among the early Northwestern Greeks, before the Dorians entered the Peloponnese. This assumption can be backed by the fact that most Dorian cities had a month named Apellaios. Greek month names derive from the names of festivals, not from the names of gods: Apellaios leads to a festival named Apellai. Such a festival is attested in Delphi, outside the Dorian dialectal area but within the West Greek area: it is the main festival of a Delphian brotherhood, a phratry. As we saw in the last chapter, phratries are closely connected with Apollo as their protector and with citizenship: this again connects the god and the festival with the same archaic political and cultic nexus.

Apollon-Piombino.jpgIn this reading, Apollo arrived in Greece with the Dorians who slowly moved into the Peloponnese and from there took over the towns of Crete, after the fall of Mycenaean power. Four centuries later, at the time of Homer and Hesiod, the god had become an established divinity in all of Greece, and a firm part of the narrative tradition of epic poetry. Such an expansion presupposes some degree of religious and cultural interpenetration and exchange throughout Greece during the Dark Ages. This somewhat contradicts the traditional image of this period as a time when the single communities of Greece were mostly turned towards themselves, with little connection with each other. But such a picture is based mainly on the rather scarce archaeological evidence; communication between people, even migration, does not always leave archaeological traces, and cults are based on myths and narratives, not on artifacts. And well before Homer, communications inside Greece opened up again, as shown by the rapid spread of the alphabet or of the so-called Proto-Geometric pottery style that both belong to the ninth or early eighth centuries BCE.

The main obstacle to this hypothesis is Apollo’s well-attested presence on Cyprus, in a form, Apeilon, that is very close to the Dorian Apellon: would not Apollo then be a Cypriot? Burkert removed this obstacle with the assumption of a very early import to Cyprus from Dorian Amyclae; Amyclae, we remember, had an important and old shrine of the god. Another scenario is possible as well: the Mycenaean lords who fled to Cyprus did so only after their society integrated a part of the Dorian intruders and their tutelary god Apollo. After all, the pressure of the Dorians must have been felt for quite a while, and their bands that were organized around the cult of Apollo could have started to trickle south even before the fall of the kingdoms, and blended in with the Mycenaeans.

Overall, then, I am still inclined to follow Burkert’s hypothesis that is grounded in social and political history, rather than to accept somewhat vague Anatolian origins – even if I am aware that the neat coincidence of etymology and function might well be yet another of these circular mirages of which the history of etymologizing divine names is so full. And it needs to be stressed that the picture of a simple diffusion from the invading Dorians to the rest of Greece is somewhat too neat. Things, as often, are messier, for two reasons: there are clear traces of Near Eastern influence in Apollo’s myth and cult, and there are vestiges of a Mycenaean tradition that cannot be overlooked.

Mycenaean Antecedents
The most obvious Mycenaean antecedent of Apollo is the god Paiawon who is attested in two Linear B texts from Cnossus on Crete. One text is too fragmentary to teach us much, the other is rather laconic and presents a list of recipients of offerings: “to Atana Potinija, Enyalios, Paiawon, Poseidaon” – that is “Lady Athana” (the Mycenaean form of Athena), Enyalios (a name that Homer uses as a synonym of Ares, whereas local cult distinguishes the two war gods), Paean, and Poseidon. The list cannot inform us on any function besides the fact that Paiawon seems to be a major divinity, on the same level as the other three who from Homer onwards appear among the twelve Olympian gods. In the language of Homer, the Mycenaean Paiawon develops to Paiēōn; in other dialects this double vowel is simplified to Paiān or Paiōn. All three forms are attested in extant Greek texts; and we dealt with the problem that, in Homer, Paeon seems an independent mythological person, the physician of Olympus, whereas in later Greek, Paean is an epithet of Apollo the Healer to whom the paean was sung and danced. It should be pointed out that the refrain of any paean always was “ie Paean,” regardless whether it was sung for Apollo or Asclepius or even, in a rare case, to Dionysus. I feel tempted to see this as a vestige of the god Paean’s former independence and even to imagine that the paean as a ritual form goes back to the Bronze Age as well. Proof, of course, is impossible. But maybe it is no coincidence that Cretan healers and purifiers were famous in later Greece: Bronze Age remnants survived better in Crete, and the paean was connected with healing and purification. This does not mean that Apollo as such was a Mycenanean god; if anything, it rather suggests the contrary, that a non-Mycenaean Apollo absorbed the formerly independent Mycenaean healing god Paiawon, perhaps including one of his rituals, the song-and-dance paean. 

Near Eastern Influences
Greece was always at the margins of the ancient Near Eastern world; it has always been tempting to look for Oriental influences in Greek culture and religion. In the case of Apollo, theories went from partial influences to wholesale derivation. Wilamowitz, at one time the leading classical scholar in Germany, derived Apollo from Anatolia, stirring up a controversy whose ideological resonances are unmistakable; after all, from the days of Winckelmann, Apollo seemed the most Greek of all the gods. Others went even further, stressing the god’s absence in Linear B, and made him come from Syria or Phoenicia. This is wildly exaggerated; but there can be no doubt that partial influences exist. They are best visible in two areas: healing and the calendar.

In the past, arguments from the calendar were paramount. In the calendar of the Greeks, a month coincides with one cycle of the moon: the first day thus is the day when the moon will just be visible, the seventh day is the day when the moon is half full and as such clearly visible. Apollo is connected with both days. The seventh day is somewhat more prominent: every month, Apollo receives a sacrifice on the seventh day, all his major festivals are held on a seventh, and his birthday is on the seventh day of a specific month. But already in Homer, he is also connected with new moon, noumēnía: he is Noumenios, and his worshippers can be organized in a group of noumeniastai. Long ago, Martin P. Nilsson, the leading scholar on Greek religion in the first half of the last century, connected this with the Babylonian calendar where the seventh day is very important. He went even further. Every lunar calendar will, rather fast, get out of step with the solar cycle that defines the seasonal year; to remedy this, all systems invented intercalation, the insertion of additional days. Greek calendars introduced an extra month every ninth year, to cover the gap between the solar and the lunar cycle. According to Nilsson, they did so under Babylonian influence that was mediated through Delphi: Delphi’s main festivals were originally held every ninth year, and only Delphi would have enough influence in the Archaic Epoch to impose such a system upon all Greek states. However, this is very speculative; Nilsson certainly was wrong in his additional assumption that Delphi also introduced the system of months: month names are already attested in the Greek Bronze Age. Still, the connection of Apollo’s seventh day with the prominence of the same day in the Mesopotamian calendar is interesting.

As to healing, it seems by now established that itinerant Near Eastern healers visited Greece during the Archaic Age and left their traces. The most tangible trace is the role the dog plays in the cult of Asclepius: the dog is central to the Mesopotamian goddess of healing, Gula, two of whose statuettes were dedicated in seventh-century Samos. In Akkadian, Gula is also called azugullatu, “Great Physician”: the word may be at the root of Asclepius’ name, and it resonates in a singular cult title of Apollo on the island of Anaphe, Asgelatas. Later, Greeks turned the epithet into Aiglatas, from aigle “radiance,” and told the story that Apollo appeared to the Argonauts as a radiant star to save them from shipwreck. This looks like the later rationalization of a word that nobody understood anymore and that may be a trace of an Oriental healer who instituted this specific cult. Another Oriental detail is the plague arrows Apollo shoots in Iliad 1, as we saw, and his role as an armed gatekeeper to keep away pestilence that is attested in several Clarian oracles.


Yet another area of Oriental influence is Apollo’s role in divine genealogy. To Hesiod and, to a lesser degree, to Homer, Apollo is the oldest son of Zeus: Zeus is the god who controls the present social, moral, and natural order, Apollo is his crown prince and, so to speak, designated successor, if Zeus were ever to step back. This explains, among other things, Apollo’s direct access to Zeus’ plans and knowledge. A similar constellation recurs in West Semitic and Anatolian mythologies. Here, the god most closely resembling Zeus in function and appearance is the Storm God in his different local forms; he is also the god of kings and of the present political and moral world order. In Hittite mythology, his son is Telepinu, a young god whose mythology talks about his disappearance in anger and whose rituals may have been be connected with the New Year’s festival to secure the continuation of the social and natural order. In some respects, the young and tempestuous Telepinu reminds one of Apollo.

In narratives from Ugarit in Northern Syria, the Storm God is accompanied by Reshep, the plague god or “Lord of the Arrow.” In bilingual inscriptions from Cyprus, his Phoenician equivalent, also called Reshep, becomes Greek Apollo. In iconography, Reshep is usually represented as a warrior with a helmet and a very short tunic, walking and brandishing a weapon with his raised right arm; these images are attested in the Eastern Mediterranean from the late Bronze Age to the Greek Archaic Age. In Cyprus, such a god appears in a famous bronze image from the large sanctuary complex at Citium; since he wears a helmet adorned with two horns, some scholars understood him as the Bronze Age version of the later Cypriot Apollo Keraïtas, “Horned Apollo.”

Greek Apollo, most of the time, looks very different. But a very similar statuette has been found in Apollo’s sanctuary at Amyclae in Southern Sparta. Here, it must reflect Apollo’s archaic statue in this sanctuary that we know from Pausanias’ description:

"I know nobody who might have measured its size, but I guess it must be about thirty cubits high. It is not the work of Bathycles [the sculptor who made the base for the image], but old and not worked with artifice. It has no face, and its hands and feet are added from stone, the rest looks like a bronze column. On its head, it has a helmet, in its hands a lance and a bow."
(Description of Greece, 3.10.2)

An image on a coin shows not only that the body could be dressed in a cloak to soften the strangeness of its shape but also that it brandished the lance with its raised right hand: the coincidence with the Reshep iconography seems perfect, and the Oriental influence almost obvious. It has even been suggested that the place name Amyclae is Near Eastern: there is a Phoenician Reshep Mukal, “Mighty Reshep,” whom the Cypriot Greeks translated as Apollo Amyklos. The Greek epithet cannot derive from the place name (it would have to be Amyklaîos), but it shares the same verbal root; its basic phonetic structure is the same as that of mukal. Thus, one wonders whether it was Phoenician or Cypriot sailors who first founded a sanctuary on this lonely promontory on one of the trade routes to the west.

Apollo’s origins are complex and not fully explained. He is not attested in the Mycenaean Linear B texts (with a very uncertain exception), but well established in Greek religion at the time of Homer and Hesiod, and central in fundamental political and social institutions of the Archaic Epoch. There are obvious Near Eastern influences in his myths and even in some aspects of his cult; but neither a West Semitic origin nor an Anatolian origin of the god are convincing, and his protection of the Trojans needs not to reflect such an origin. The absence of Linear B documents is intriguing and puzzling; but his early presence in Cyprus does not necessarily invalidate the conclusion drawn from this absence, that he was unknown in Mycenaean religion. It is possible that he was not present here, whereas the Northwestern Greeks worshipped him already in the Bronze Age as the protector of their apéllai, the warriors’ assemblies. As protector of warriors, he entered, with them, the former Mycenaean area at the very beginning of the Transitional Period between the Bronze and the Iron Age (the Greek “Dark Age”): this allows for several centuries of transformations and adaptations, and it is not inconceivable that Apolline warriors even sailed to Cyprus among the Mycenaean refugees and settlers.