Contemplating Aristonoos’ Compositions for Apollon and Hestia

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!

📿

2 thoughts on “Contemplating Aristonoos’ Compositions for Apollon and Hestia

  1. 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.

    A passage like this shows how Suhrawardi’s metaphysics of light could function as a rough approximation of a legitimate Platonic position. Note particularly the priority of superessential or divine light over truth, a kind of theophanic existentialism.

    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?

    I would say that Apollon’s purification is involved with the establishment of the oracle because by undergoing purification, Apollon creates a space for souls to be purified in similar fashion.

    As for the rotting (pythein) of Python under the sun, I would say that this is the material dimension of the myth, and speaks of a corporeal process of “cooking” that plays some role in the operation of the oracle, an esoteric doctrine difficult for us to reconstruct. But reflections on such processes (fermentation, etc.) formed a significant part of ancient Greek medicine.

    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.)

    There’s a lot of interesting ideas in Vernant, you should check him out some time. One of the best of the “structuralist” school.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A. I don’t know who Suhrawardi is, but I just saved the article from the SEoP to Pocket so I can get your reference better. The divine light > truth > sensible light reminds me of changes in phase in sciences from plasma > gas > liquid > solid; even though the number of terms is different in each case, it’s really fun analogically to think of the last as the frozen/solid. (Would that make divine light experiences deposition? 😂) Sorry, I’ve been dazzled by science lol.

      B. Yes, it does set an example, doesn’t it? It also shows integrity of the entire system because in the myth, the God is not an exception to the need for purification, so there’s a certain amount of integrity and stability here. Thanks for the anecdote about the corporeal cooking.

      C. I just downloaded something he wrote that has a different date (1969), which I’m guessing informed the 1974 monograph.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s