we are not so different
when they break you apart
I will be here to collect each piece
not to soothe your naked heart
but to give closure to now-ashen limbs
recollecting the time I sang for you
and your tears fell like overripe grapes
from their twisting, tangled vines
I wrote these verses while thinking about Apollon and Dionysos a few days ago. When I was in my 20s, and before I started reading the Platonists, I accepted the opposition between them without thinking so much of it, a rift that comes from Nietzsche, arguments written in texts that neither I nor many polytheists have read. Because I am a devotee of Apollon, I felt very awkward for years praying to Dionysos, and it was unclear to me why I loved the Anthesteria. Maybe one of the reasons I was so reluctant to admit I was into mysticism is that it wasn’t supposed to be Apollonian.
As mentioned before here somewhere (likely in a post gushing about Plato being brilliant?), one of the pivotal moments of change towards better mental health for me, and just a more grounded mental framework in general, was when I prayed to Dionysos using prayer beads for 30 days. My cat and I were having some friction, I wanted divine assistance, and I’ve always associated him with cats due to the images of him riding big cats. It ended up prompting a path forward to fixing more than that. Reading the Phaedo, praying, and encountering concepts from Platonic commentators helped me realize that the oppositional pair is just an artifact that is much less relevant than the pervasive cultural diffusion of that idea would have us think, a convenient filter that has been explored in creative work like Rush’s Cygnus X-1, and certainly in other types of (usually fictional or secular cultural commentary) work about these Gods. How, if true, does Apollon have an epithet Dionysiodotes?
What impacted me the most was the section in Hermias’ commentary on the Phaedrus about the divine madnesses, how every God has a mode of mania, and how the four that were picked out there (in stages) build on one another and complement one another — the madness of the Muses, of initiations (including the Dionysian ones), of Apollon’s telestic bliss, and the crowning light of Eros who connects all together. It makes sense that this is the section of that commentary where we are thrust out of the lecture notes, remembering that Hermias took down notes on Syrianus and that Proclus has questions, and Hermias noted that interruption down as noteworthy for deepening the discussion. Perhaps one difference between the two is that Apollon is often experienced through interior light, and Dionysos has such strong connections to substances that alter our embodied substrate and that stimulate the soul through that change of physical state, much like how the driver of a chariot will alter ler technique depending on the characteristics of the ground beneath the horses’ hooves and the wheels. Then again, the Pythia is associated with Earth and interior places, so that difference isn’t even very strong when submitted to scrutiny.
Proclus’ Platonic Theology, which describes what are often abstract and difficult Platonic concepts about everything within and without becoming in terms of the Gods, does place Apollon and Dionysos at different “stages” of the unfolding of all things, but not in an oppositional sense. Dionysos is the encosmic ruler; Apollon is at the center of a truth-bearing triad, and as the central term (remaining-proceeding-reverting), the fact that he’s related to proceeding means that Dionysos and Apollon are more akin to each other than one might think. This is why the image of Apollon taking the limbs of Dionysos for burial strikes me so hard — the compassionate act of closure, the act of going out. (It’s especially striking given what we know about Delos and all of the laws against death touching that island, as the God is willfully touching remains in this myth, albeit godly ones.) And if our souls are all like Dionysos, this means that on some level, the same compassion is offered to us when we are ripped apart, and he enacts the same effortful separation of Titanic and Bacchic that were mixed in the refuse of lighting-fire, his hands caked with soot as he renders what he finds pure.
Maybe putting a rift between the two of them is just another symptom of our detached modern crises insofar as we attach specific types of potential to each of the Gods, a compartmentalization we do to keep what is actually very messy tidy and fragmented into neat data analysis bins without even realizing that we’re doing it.