We Are Daphne

A conversation on Twitter in late 2018 reminded me that, back in 2009, I was in the late stages of writing a song for Apollon. Apollon was my guide in my early years of learning how to worship the Hellenic Gods more appropriately and the one to whom I was most devoted in my early adulthood.

When I was 23-25, I was in a transition period, and after I moved to my current city and started working as a professional librarian, Hermes became far more present for me in my daily life, and he’s the one who occupies many of my thoughts.

Still, I think that this post would be interesting for you all, so I’m going to talk about the song I wrote.

Some Background

I found Ovid’s Metamorphoses profound when I was a young adult. It reminded me of the way Rachmaninov’s piano concertos pull multiple melodic threads into a climax, a slow build through story after story until the piece overflows. The stories feel like dancers spinning around a common center, especially since they interweave with one another. The climax in Ovid, of course, is Orpheus and his aftermath; at least, that was my perspective reading it as a polytheist who wanted to understand the gods.

At about that age, very involved in the Kyklos Apollon group, I wrote something called “We Are Daphne.” It came out of many of my complex thoughts about Apollon and the nature of mortals. I was 20-22 when I was working on it. I’ve always conceived of the stories of gods chasing after mortals differently from people who only know the myths secularly, perhaps because growing up in polytheism, I was not infrequently hit by divine 2x4s due to cluelessness. I also resisted developing a more recon-style practice until I was 20 because people in my in-person religious community said that recons were spiritually stunted, and I cared too much about what others thought.

While I’m less devoted to Apollon now than I was, he’s still a member of the godposse I worship on a regular basis in addition to the more routine prayers. Some of the most profound prayer experiences I have had happened during private Kyklos Apollon rituals, and the Twitter grapeshot poems I posted a while ago often came out of things I wrote post-ritual.

What I Said When I Was 22

Her story morphed from a myth about desire into a metaphor for the struggle of the individual against the gods. Perfect as they are, beautiful as they are, complete as they are, the Gods desire us. They make us sanctified. No matter how hard we try to evade them, to root ourselves in the mundane world, they find ways to break through and cultivate us. (Seriously: once Peneos turned Daphne into a laurel tree, she became sacred to Apollon.) Some may say that the divine powers that animate and move through the world are impersonal and uncaring, but I don’t believe that. In a mythological sense, humanity was formed using the Titans’ ashes (and, by association, the parts of Zagreus they had consumed). We are simultaneously innocent and destructive, yes, but it makes the Gods our much-more-awesome-and-100%-more-immortal kin. While I cannot say for sure, what if we spark their curiosity as much as they entice us?

Exit mystical digression, pursued by a bear. Now let’s get to the music.

Thinking about all of these things, I decided to write a song. While I only have the following so far—the main verses have been composed, but I have not yet found a melody—there isn’t really enough devotional music on teh Interwebs for people to play with … so I will share it with you. As I have never encountered a decent virtual editing system for music, I lost patience after a few hours and decided that anyone wanting to sing this would be intelligent enough to divide notes to fit the rhythm in the case of longer lines.

The “some say that the divine powers […] are uncaring” bit was a response to the trend among very hardline 5th Century BCE Athenian reconstructionists to ignore the extremely loud and visible evidence in Classics, anthropology, and archaeology about devotional behavior and personal relationships with god(s) in antiquity. I’ve noted a bit of this on Twitter recently in the context of reading Jennifer Larson’s Greek Nymphs: Myth, Cult, Lore, and she describes nymph worship fever that resembles some of the Great Awakenings that have happened in more modern times in America and Europe.

I do still stand behind what I said about the mutual curiosity and eros that exists between a god and ler devotee. It’s the mutual seeing and self-expansion that makes the profound devotional experiences what they are, and gods have a habit of making their worshippers more like them over time.

I read the story of Apollon and Daphne as related to that struggle against following a god — even today after #MeToo and the many secular Twitter conversations people have had about the meaning of gods’ myths. It has the other, less problematic meaning for me just due to the context in which I was exposed to it and how I understand it based on philosophy and actual practice. At the same time, a myth like that does serve as a barrier to many women. I don’t doubt that the story would have been very different if written in the modern era. One of the literary reasons for all of the nonconsensual and/or stalking-style relationships and/or rapes in Greek myths is that women have historically been held to unattainable standards for sexual virtue and chastity outside of (hetero) marriage, and nonconsensual relationships preserve that moral virtue while allowing for women to have sexual relationships and participate in the myths. Patriarchy is fucked up that way. (Incidentally, nymphai have always had more sexual freedom than mortal women in myth and folklore.)

From a philosophical perspective, we each have gods whom we follow and who follow us in a great dance of twisting and turning, and we trace out the circles with our actions and inactions. A fun intellectual exercise would be to dive very deep into the philosophical and other non-literal meanings of myths and create new versions that are true to their spirit — not to replace the myths as they are, but because there have always been multiple versions of myths, and this would refresh and enliven a lot of conversations. I think that one of the failures of many current feminist rewrites is that they usually just focus on what happens in a myth as opposed to what it actually says about gods and the world.

We Are Daphne

Apollo slumbers; tear-salt crusts his eyes.
As he dreams, light catches carpets of dust.
No one’s stopped by in a long, long time,
lyre in the corner’s covered with rust.

We are Daphne,
sitting on the riverbank
as the sun’s rays catch our hair.
We are Daphne,
hiding from the rolling thunder,
never knowing we’re not alone.

In a grove nestled among the cypress,
no one’s touched the altar in centuries.
And there’s a hollow place in your temple,
but the inscription remains: “I am here.”

We are Daphne,
offering the sunrise
ripe dates and tendrils of our hair.
We are Daphne,
unaware that you watch
from the shadow of the sycamore trees.

Broken stone paves the way to Memory,
who lies beyond your sacred, shallow grave.
So why must no one speak your name if we
all know you’re here? I see your open door!

We are Daphne,
running, panting, gasping;
recoiling from the touch of your fingertips.
We are Daphne,
crowned with laurel leaves,
paralyzed beside Peneus, who flows on.

Hands sweating, straining past the entryway,
I see you resting on a couch, blazing,
dripping with light. I catch droplets, sweaty
palms cupped, by the doorway; my god awakens.

We are Daphne,
the sap within us quickens,
turns to blood beneath our sturdy bark.
We are Daphne,
more than half alive,
uprooted, drifting through the fields.

We are Daphne,
bride of our god, veiled,
tormented with the chaos of our dreams.
We are Daphne,
challenged to exist,
to know, to love, to be the world united.

Yes, There’s a Sheet Music Version Apparently

This is a sheet music version. I did not remember ever doing this, but it was ten years ago, so go figure.

Note: This post’s Featured Image comes from the Wikimedia Commons, John William Waterhouse’s Apollo and Daphne. Waterhouse is one of my favorite painters.

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