For the past three days, I have been pondering a few lines from Aristonoos’ paian to Apollon, written in a Delphic context, as translated by Furley and Bremer in Greek Hymns: Volume 1 – The Texts in Translation. (I put it in the Thargelia ritual.) The translators say that “Delphi awarded Aristonoos and his descendants privileged rights of access to the Delphic oracle on the strength of the ‘hymns he composed to the gods'” (p. 120).
The lines that have slithered their way into my brain are, “Purged in the Vale of Tempe / by the will of Zeus on high, / helped by Pallas on your way to Pytho, o Apollo” (ln. 17-19). Tempe is a gorge, and Pineios flows through it; it is a favorite haunt of Apollon and the Mousai. On seeing photographs, it’s no wonder that Upstate New York — littered with gorges, glacier-scars of lakes everywhere — has always had a haunting association with the Mousai for me, a siren song carved by water moving through rock that sings in the mind when one walks any of the gorges there.
I was caught on purged in the Vale of Tempe, though, and considering what that might mean theologically. Apollon kills the serpent who guards Delphi, which secures his ownership over the holy seat and the end of Themis’ control over it. What does it mean about taking the seat that it requires a death and a water purification? What of Apollon’s long-term association with Pineios, where Eros had him run after Daphne and where he and the Mousai frequent? Is this what is required for an oracle of that importance? The analogy is that Delphi is situated at the navel, the point at which (again, in analogy) nourishment once entered a (mammalian) fetus before birth, yes? Is this related to the universe, then, as a focal point — the rotting monster like a curious afterbirth, with Themis the one who holds the order of things tightly bound before releasing it to the harmonizer and oracular god who is active in giving his insights in the changeable, messy world around us? Does the purification at Tempe have something to do with generation? Is it also a blessing? Why, after so long knowing this part of the myth, am I wondering about it now?
I tried to locate more information on Tempe in the online Loeb library and did not find anything that was not already apparent. Then, I jumped into the Platonic Theology of Proclus to one of the sections about Apollon and the solar series to see if it could provide some clues, even though I generally do not trust jumping partway into something I haven’t fully read yet — especially Proclus, whom I already know is difficult. Here are two passages from Book VI, Chapter XII, translated by Thomas Taylor:
- “But in the [6th book of the] Republic, arranging the sun analogous to the good, and sensible light, to the light proceeding from the good to the intelligible, and calling the light which is present to the intelligible from the good, truth, connecting likewise intellect and the intelligible with each other, he evidently collects together these two series, I mean the Apolloniacal and the solar. For each of these is analogous to the good. But sensible light, and intellectual truth, are analogous to superessential light. And these three lights are successive to each other, viz. the divine, the intellectual, and sensible light; the last indeed pervading to sensibles from the visible sun; but the second extending from Apollo to intellectuals; and the first, from the good to intelligibles” (p. 429).
- “For the name of this God being one, unfolds all his powers, to the lovers of the contemplation of truth. This therefore is a very illustrious indication of the Apolloniacal peculiarity, viz. to collect multitude into one, to comprehend number in unity, to produce many things from one, and through intellectual simplicity to convolve to himself all the variety of secondary natures, and by one hyparxis to unite into one, multiform essences and powers” (p. 429).
- “By his emission of arrows, his power is indicated which is subversive of every thing inordinate, confused, and incommesurate, through a cause which is the source of the jaculation of arrows” (p. 430).
So … is Apollon leaving the monster to rot under the heat of Helios just a part of handing the action down the chain, and is the purification at Tempe some parallel piece of this? It does open up the way to truth, at least in a weird way given the riddling nature of many oracles that require intellectual activity to unpack them. I have no answers. Only questions. More of them, always, with every breath I take.
Leaving that for now, the other surviving hymn from Aristonoos is to Hestia (which Baring the Aegis has put up online), which excited me because Furley and Bremer go into a discussion of the 24th Homeric Hymn to Hestia and the lines about her hair exuding (olive) oil in the discussion following their translation. Hestia receives many honors at Delphi, and the way that they described this was so vivid that I truly just wanted to share this:
The last point in this description — the olive oil dripping from Hestia’s hair — may link with another feature of Delphi. Hesiod narrates the story of how Zeus consecrated the stone which Kronos had swallowed in his stead and later regurgitated: ‘Zeus fixed this stone in the wide earth at holy Pytho below the slopes of Mt. Parnassos: it was to be a monument for posterity and a marvel to mankind.’ Pausanias mentions this rock, adding that it is anointed with fresh oil every day, and decorated with woolen fillets at every festival of the gods. Thus Hestia was linked with at least two prominent features of Delphi’s sacred topography: the omphalos itself, and ‘Kronos’ rock’ as well. […] Hestia was not so much the goddess of fire — that was Hephaistos’ prerogative — but rather of the spatial complex necessary to light fire and cook food or burn offerings.William D. Furley & Jan Maarten Bremer, Greek Hymns: Volume 1 – Texts in Translation, p. 117-118
I thought that this imagery was really beautiful, especially the bit towards the end about Hestia and the “spatial complex.” (The authors cite Vernant, 1974, I, 124-70, on Hermes and Hestia, so this idea may come from that person, not from them.) It echoes some of the questions I had earlier about the symbol of the navel and the beautiful unfolding of the oracular power at the site as it passed from Themis to Apollon. It was she who, according to the Orphic Hymn #79, taught Apollon “the art of giving laws” and who taught people “holy worship” (in the version translated by Athanassakis).
In sum, some fun thoughts over the past few days. Enjoy, and I hope it leaves you something to ponder, too!