So [Khrúsēs] spoke in prayer, and Phoibos Apollo heard him,Iliad, Book I, trans. Lattimore
and strode down along the pinnacles of Olympos, angered
in his heart, carrying across his shoulders the bow and the hooded
quiver; and the shafts clashed on the shoulders of the god walking
angrily. He came as night comes down and knelt then
apart and opposite the ships and let go an arrow.
Terrible was the clash that rose from the bow of silver.
For a while now, I’ve had this post in draft mode, with only the quotation above, a paragraph of thought dump, and a vague sensation in my chest that I must have rerouted some of this to Twitter due to the short length (because why else would this have been in a post draft for so many months?).
He came down as night comes down is so, so Apollonian. As night comes down calls to mind the many thoughts I was having about dark light while digging deep into black holes and singularities; it is light, and it is life, but one that pulls us apart. The word down also evokes his arrows even before the arrows come into play. It is a solemn word, a careful word.
The quotation could also be regarded as an illustration of how a God becomes active in the world. Theurgic acts link us to the Gods. In the Iliad, Khrúsēs first begins by praying to Apollōn, attuning himself to the God and establishing that divine connection.
Apollōn, as a God, does not actually come down, but it does awaken the God’s activity — here, through the material daimones related to plague. The naming of the heart is key here. It reminds me of how Athēnē saved Dionysos’ heart, making the heart a powerful symbol of the vital and intellectual parts of the God. The shafts clash because even the objects of the God are moved by him (in a certain sense, they are also him). Apollōn then comes down to kneel, a symbol of the extension of the God’s activity down to the daimones in his retinue that bring plague. The silver bow, due to its color and shape, could be linked with the sublunary world.
All of this before even releasing the first arrow.
Of course, outside of the mythical setting, the demands of a devotee are less dramatic. I would argue that, as a matter of decency, we should not be praying for plague — Khrúsēs has no other recourse. Outside of invasion, hostage, and similar situations, praying to the Gods for what is most good for us allows them, with all that they “know” about us, to confer what they may. It’s up to us to trust them.