Commentary on Hymn VIII: To Antinous-Apollon

You shoot from afar, but your aim is true,
Antinous Apollon, master of the hunt.
You speak from afar, but your words are true,
Antinous Apollon, giver of prophecy.
You sound the harp and the notes ring true,
Antinous Apollon, leader of the Muses.
Where your light shines, we can see what is true.
When you have spoken, we can hear what is true.
When you lead the dance, the harmony is true
between body and mind, soul and spirit, self and other.
Ever-shining one, brilliant by day or night,
let your light shine in me and through me;
let your voice sing in me and through me;
let your truth ring in me and through me, truly.

The Antinous Mondragone, wearing the traditional youthful hairstyle of Apollon

The existence of the Antinous Mondragone, pictured above, testifies to the syncretism of Antinous and Apollon. Rendered in a semi-archaic style, the bust pictures Antinous with his famously abundant hair decorously gathered into the traditional young man’s style worn by Apollon. The titles of this deity include “Kynegetikos”, literally “leader of hounds”, rendered as “leader of the hunt”, and “Musegetikos”, leader of the Muses. When Apollon plays the lyre, the Muses dance, in an orderly, harmonious way.

Apollo is often thought of nowadays as “the sun god” or “the god of the sun”, but this is incorrect. Helios is properly the deity of the sun, a deity of the Titan generation (and likewise is Selene, the moon goddess, also a Titan). It is not misplaced, in my opinion, to think of him as a god of light. His frequent epithet “Phoibos” or “Phoebus” means “shining” or “bright”, and he was certainly associated with the sun and the light of day. He was famously a deity of music and poetry, the inspirer of the Muses as well as of mortals, of prophecy and oracular wisdom, and of reason, knowledge, and temperance.

He is less well known nowadays as a deity of both illness and healing. He could bestow or banish plague, and one of his titles, Smintheus, may refer to him as the god of mice, able to entice them or drive them away. He wielded the bow as well as the lyre, and some of his myths, like the story of Niobe and her children, portray him as a ruthless and efficient killer, “one who shoots from afar”. He and his sister Artemis shot down the children of Niobe–seven sons and seven daughters–because she boasted that her many offspring made her superior to Leto, the mother of Apollo and Artemis, who had borne only two.

The cult of Antinous Apollon seems to have focused mainly on the attributes of prophecy and healing, which I have mentioned in this hymn, but my own approach to him is more as a poet seeking inspiration than anything else. Devotion to Antinous has been richly inspiring to my writing, as I’ve already said. I have also appealed to him many times for help with issues of physical and mental health, and I should probably credit him with the excellent doctors, nurses, and therapist I have worked with in the last six years to manage those issues. He is the bringer of harmony to the different aspects of the self, the reconciler of opposites, even as he maintains his boundaries and gives his blessings from afar.

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