Commentary on Hymn XV: To Antinous-Apollon, Liberator

Brightest of gods and fairest, purest of gods
and noblest, Antinous Apollon, far-shooter,
lyre-player, Muse-leader, health-giver,
you are the liberator because you are
the purifier, your rays shining through us
like lasers, searching and burning out
ill health, impurity, falsehood–temper
your light with warmth, your power with
compassion, python-killer, sybil-speaker,
lest you wound those who worship you
lest the cure exceed the disease.

The next trio of hymns is dedicated to Antinous Apollon. I have, to be honest, a lot of mixed feelings about Apollon. If you only read his myths, he can sometimes seem like the sort of male who insists he is perfectly rational at all times, especially when he is demanding you do his emotional labor or throwing a tantrum over your desire to act like an independent being. At best, he embodies the kind of high standards that torment perfectionists like myself–we want to live up to those standards or die trying.

But myth is not cult, and Apollon was worshipped as a healer, oracle, and inspirer, all roles which Antinous has played in my life. I know of many polytheists who are deeply, passionately devoted to the Lord of Light, so I don’t think my feelings about him are anything but my feelings. Many pagans and witches talk a lot about the shadow and the underworld and exploring the darkness and their devotion to all the spooky deities. I’ll tell you what scares me far more than the darkness: exposure to the light. Being seen, being known can be a terrifying prospect. Confronting a deity who is prepared to burn all the dross out of one’s soul makes me want to scuttle down to the Underworld and hide under Hades’ desk.

That’s why I pray in this hymn for Antinous Apollon to moderate his light, to make it more bearable for fragile mortal creatures. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition it is said that buddhas and bodhisattvas assume wrathful forms because these seemingly terrifying appearances are easier for humans to relate to in our unenlightened state. The pure and ruthless wisdom and compassion of the liberated ones, if we could experience it directly, would be more terrifying than any wrath they might show. That is the nature of Antinous Apollon as liberator.

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.

POEM: July afternoon

What I know of Apollon is this:
the unmoving July light, pitiless, serene,
a world with no shadows, no movement,
no escape. Trapped in this eternal moment
of the god’s regard, a gaze so intense, so
focused, that one burns up as beneath
a lens, understanding now why Daphne
and others fled, not wanting to be
consumed. Too late now: I turned
my face to him, willingly, and now
I can only lie still and wait
for him to be done with me.


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