Who was Apollo?
Apollo was the Greek God of healing, diseases, medicine, archery, music, dance, poetry, the Sun, justice and the leader of the Muses. He was known as one of the most important deities in classical Greek religion, important enough to be adopted wholesale in his existing form by the Romans.
Apollo was the son of the God Zeus and Leto. He was twin brother of the Goddess Artemis and, as a child of Zeus, had numerous other siblings including Aeacus, Angelos, Aphrodite, Ares, Athena, Eileithyia, Enyo, Eris, Ersa, the Graces, Hebe, Helen of Troy, Hephaestus, Heracles, Hermes, the Horae, Dionysus, the Litae, Minos, the Muses, the Moirai, Pandia, Persephone, Perseus and Rhadamanthus. Apollo was an even more prodigious lover than his father, indulging in numerous liaisons with both men and women, and fathering many children including Asclepius, Aristaeus, Corybantes, Hymenaeus, Ialemus, Apollonis, Borysthenis, Cephisso, Agreus, Amphiaraus, Amphissus, Amphithemis, Anius, Apis, Arabus, Centaurus, Ceos, Chaeron, Chios, Chariclo, Chrysorrhoas, Coronus, Cycnus, Cydon, Delphus, Dorus, Dryops, Eleuther, Epidaurus, Eriopis, Erymanthus, Eurydice, Hector, Iamus, Idmon, Ileus, Ismenus, Laodocus, Lapithus, Linus, Linus of Thrace, Lycomedes, Lycorus, Marathus, Melaneus, Melite, Miletus, Mopsus, Naxos, Oaxes, Oncius, Orpheus, Tenes, Troilus, Parthenos, Phagrus, Phemonoe, Philammon, Phylacides, Phylander, Polypoetes, Syrus, Tenerus, Trophonius and Zeuxippus.
Apollo was an oracular god who brought help to those in need and warded off evil. His association with medicine meant that he delivered people from illness and epidemics, though conversely he could also bring upon the population ill-health and plague with his arrows. He is credited with the invention of archery along with his twin Artemis. He was also seen as a protector of young, concerned with children’s health and education. He was patron shepherds, protecting flocks and crops. Apollo promoted the founding of new towns and constitution, being the giver of laws.
Apollo was a regular feature in art, usually depicted with a strong, handsome, muscular and beardless man. He is often shown holding a kithara (a form of harp) or a bow and sometimes reclining against a tree. He is regularly depicted with luscious, curling hair and a halo to reflect his position as God of the Sun. Common Apollonian symbols include the bow and arrow, kithara, plectrum, sword, sacrificial tripod, laurel plant/ leaves, bay tree, wolves, deer, dolphins, swans, cicadas, ravens, crows, hawks, griffins, snakes and mice. Epithets attached to Apollo included ‘light of the sun’, ‘born of a wolf’, ‘healer’, ‘founder’, ‘ancestor’ and ‘prophetic’.
Occupations associated with Apollo include animal husbandry, archery, childcare, dancing, education, epidemiology, farming, law, medicine, music, nursing, pharmacy, shepherding, songwriting, sound technician, town planning and record production.
Similar deities to Apollo which are found in other cultures include the Egyptian Gods Horus and Ra, Norse God Baldur and the Hindu God Surya. Apollo was directly adopted by the Romans, although some Roman poets later named him Phoebus.
The Apollo Archetype
Apollo’s various associations with the Sun, medicine, the creative arts and the creation/ recreation of nature have ensured that the Apollo archetype has also become the Creator. This archetype is of one associated with imagination, creativity, hard work and self-expression.
The archetypal Apollo takes great pride in their hard-working attitude, imagination and creativity, harnessing these attributes in their whole approach to life. They are constantly on a journey to re-create and improve themselves and the world around them for the better (at least as they see it), from the smallest changes to the largest advancements imaginable. The creator may seek to create children, find a cure for cancer or change the whole structure of the society in which they live. Whatever it is they seek to achieve they approach it with clarity, strategy and an intellectual approach.
The archetypal Apollo has a tendency to become obsessive with their creations and single-minded to the point that there is no room for anything else in their life. They may have a desire to have relationships, children, friendships and so on but simply not be able to make room for these things in their life alongside their creative vision. This can lead to loneliness and emotional distance as well as an ever increasing need to create in order to fill the void. They are comfortable with society’s need to express itself but have a deep-seated fear that everything around them may in fact be an illusion and the need to reassure themselves about reality only drives them to create all the more.
The archetypal Apollo clearly prefers objectivity over subjectivity, thinking over feeling, distance over closeness, clear definitions over blurred lines. They like to see the world in black and white. They are organised, methodical and good at budgeting. They seek moderation, harmoniousness and unemotional perfection in life, even if this means creating distance from others in order to achieve this and are unlikely to be much concerned with romantic love. Despite all of this they enjoy the creative arts of the world – music, art, theatre – and are able to find an escape from daily reality in this world.
Characteristics of the Apollo archetype
- Emotionally distant
- Seeking Definition
- Values Harmony
‘Apollo, the god of light, of reason, of proportion, harmony, number – Apollo blinds those who press too close in worship. Don’t look straight at the sun.’
– Ursula K. Le Guin
“Apollo, Apollo—but he is my lord. I will keep silence. He is wise forever, though his oracle spoke brutal words. We are bound to acquiesce. And you must do now as Fate and Zeus ordain.”
― Euripides, Electra
“What appears in the former statue of Apollo, however, cannot simply be equated with the Olympian of the same name, who had to ensure light, contours, foreknowledge and security of form in his days of completeness. Rather, as the poem’s title implies, he stands for something much older, something rising from prehistoric sources. He symbolizes a divine magma in which something of the first ordering force, as old as the world itself, becomes manifest. There is no doubt that memories of Rodin and his cyclopian work ethic had an effect on Rilke here. During his work with the great artist, he experienced what it means to work on the surfaces of bodies until they are nothing but a fabric of carefully shaped, luminous, almost seeing ‘places’. A few years earlier, he had written of Rodin’s sculptures that ‘there were endless places, and none of them did not have something happening in them’. Each place is a point at which Apollo, the god of forms and surfaces, makes a visually intense and haptically palpable compromise with his older opponent Dionysus, the god of urges and currents. That this energized Apollo embodies a manifestation of Dionysus is indicated by the statement that the stone glistens ‘like wild beasts’ fur’.”
― Peter Sloterdijk, Du mußt dein Leben ändern