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Apollo is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in ancient Greek and Roman religion, Greek and Roman mythology, and Greco–Roman Neopaganism. The ideal of the kouros (a beardless, athletic youth), Apollo has been variously recognized as a god of light and the sun, truth and prophecy, healing, plague, music, poetry, and more. Apollo is the son of Zeus and Leto, and has a twin sister, the chaste huntress Artemis. Apollo is known in Greek-influenced Etruscan mythology as Apulu.
As the patron of Delphi (Pythian Apollo), Apollo was an oracular god—the prophetic deity of the Delphic Oracle. Medicine and healing are associated with Apollo, whether through the god himself or mediated through his son Asclepius, yet Apollo was also seen as a god who could bring ill-health and deadly plague. Amongst the god's custodial charges, Apollo became associated with dominion over colonists, and as the patron defender of herds and flocks. As the leader of the Muses (Apollon Musegetes) and director of their choir, Apollo functioned as the patron god of music and poetry. Hermes created the lyre for him, and the instrument became a common attribute of Apollo. Hymns sung to Apollo were called paeans.
In Hellenistic times, especially during the 3rd century BCE, as Apollo Helios he became identified among Greeks with Helios, Titan god of the sun, and his sister Artemis similarly equated with Selene, Titan goddess of the moon In Latin texts, on the other hand, Joseph Fontenrose declared himself unable to find any conflation of Apollo with Sol among the Augustan poets of the 1st century, not even in the conjurations of Aeneas and Latinus in Aeneid XII (161–215). Apollo and Helios/Sol remained separate beings in literary and mythological texts until the 3rd century CE.
The cult centers of Apollo in Greece, Delphi and Delos, date from the 8th century BCE. The Delos sanctuary was primarily dedicated to Artemis, Apollo's twin sister. At Delphi, Apollo was venerated as the slayer of Pytho. For the Greeks, Apollo was all the Gods in one and through the centuries he acquired different functions which could originate from different gods. In archaic Greece he was the prophet, the oracular god who in older times was connected with "healing". In classical Greece he was the god of light and of music, but in popular religion he had a strong function to keep away evil.
From his eastern-origin Apollo brought the art of inspection from "symbols and omina" (σημεία και τέρατα : semeia kai terata), and of the observation of the omens of the days. The inspiration oracular-cult was probably introduced from Anatolia. The ritualism belonged to Apollo from the beginning. The Greeks created the legalism, the supervision of the orders of the gods, and the demand for moderation and harmony. Apollo became the god of shining youth, the protector of music, spiritual-life, moderation and perceptible order. The improvement of the old Anatolian god, and his elevation to an intellectual sphere, may be considered an achievement of the Greek people.
Healer and god-protector from evil
The function of Apollo as a "healer" is connected with Paean , the physician of the Gods in the Iliad, who seems to come from a more primitive religion. Paeοn is probably connected with the Mycenean Pa-ja-wo, but the etymology is the only evidence. He did not have a separate cult, but he was the personification of the holy magic-song sung by the magicians that was supposed to cure disease. Later the Greeks knew the original meaning of the relevant song "paean". The magicians were also called "seer-doctors", and they used an ecstatic prophetic art which was used exactly by the god Apollo at the oracles.
In the Iliad, Apollo is the healer under the gods, but he is also the bringer of disease and death with his arrows, similar to the function of the terrible Vedic god of disease Rudra.He sends a terrible plague to the Achaeans. The god who sends a disease can also prevent from it, therefore when it stops they make a purifying ceremony and offer him an "hecatomb" to ward off evil. When the oath of his priest appeases, they pray and with a song they call their own god, the beautiful Paean.
Some common epithets of Apollo as a healer are "paion" , "epikourios", "oulios", and "loimios" . In classical times, his strong function in popular religion was to keep away evil, and was therefore called "apotropaios" and "alexikakos" , throw away the evil). In later writers, the word, usually spelled "Paean", becomes a mere epithet of Apollo in his capacity as a god of healing.
Homer illustrated Paeon the god, and the song both of apotropaic thanksgiving or triumph. Such songs were originally addressed to Apollo, and afterwards to other gods: to Dionysus, to Apollo Helios, to Apollo's son Asclepius the healer. About the 4th century BCE, the paean became merely a formula of adulation; its object was either to implore protection against disease and misfortune, or to offer thanks after such protection had been rendered. It was in this way that Apollo had become recognised as the god of music. Apollo's role as the slayer of the Python led to his association with battle and victory; hence it became the Roman custom for a paean to be sung by an army on the march and before entering into battle, when a fleet left the harbour, and also after a victory had been won.
The connection with Dorians and their initiation festival apellai is reinforced by the month Apellaios in northwest Greek calendars, but it can explain only the Doric type of the name, which is connected with the Ancient Macedonian word "pella" (Pella), stone. Stones played an important part in the cult of the god, especially in the oracular shrine of Delphi (Omphalos). The "Homeric hymn" represents Apollo as a Northern intruder. His arrival must have occurred during the "dark ages" that followed the destruction of the Mycenaean civilization, and his conflict with Gaia (Mother Earth) was represented by the legend of his slaying her daughter the serpent Python.
The earth deity had power over the ghostly world, and it is believed that she was the deity behind the oracle. The older tales mentioned two dragons who were perhaps intentionally conflated. A female dragon named Delphyne who is obviously connected with Delphi and Apollo Delphinios, and a male serpent Typhon , the adversary of Zeus in the Titanomachy, who the narrators confused with Python. Python was the good daemon of the temple as it appears in Minoan religion, but she was represented as a dragon, as often happens in Northern European folklore as well as in the East.
Apollo and his sister Artemis can bring death with their arrows. The conception that diseases and death come from invisible shots sent by supernatural beings, or magicians is common in Germanic and Norse mythology. In Greek mythology Artemis was the leader of the nymphs, who had similar functions with the Nordic Elves.The "elf-shot" originally indicated disease or death attributed to the elves, but it was later attested denoting arrow-heads which were used by witches to harm people, and also for healing rituals.
The Vedic Rudra has some similar functions with Apollo. The terrible god is called "The Archer", and the bow is also an attribute of Shiva. Rudra could bring diseases with his arrows, but he was able to free people of them, and his alternative Shiba, is a healer physician god. However the Indo-European component of Apollo, does not explain his strong relation with omens, exorcisms, and with the oracular cult.
It seems an oracular cult existed in Delphi from the Mycenaean ages. In historical times, the priests of Delphi were called Labryaden, "the double-axe men", which indicates Minoan origin. The double-axe (λάβρυς:labrys) was the holy symbol of the Cretan labyrinth. The Homeric hymn adds that Apollo appeared as a dolphin and carried Cretan priests to Delphi, where they evidently transferred their religious practices. Apollo Delphinios was a sea-god especially worshiped in Crete and in the islands, and his name indicates his connection with Delphi and the holy serpent Delphyne (womb). Apollo's sister Artemis, who was the Greek goddess of hunting, is identified with Britomartis (Diktynna), the Minoan "Mistress of the animals". In her earliest depictions she is accompanied by the "Mister of the animals", a male god of hunting who had the bow as his attribute. We don't know his original name, but it seems that he was absorbed by the more powerful Apollo, who stood by the "Mistress of the animals", becoming her brother.
The old oracles in Delphi seem to be connected with a local tradition of the priesthood, and there is not clear evidence that a kind of inspiration-prophecy existed in the temple. This led some scholars to the conclusion that Pythia carried on the rituals in a consistent procedure through many centuries, according to the local tradition. In that regard, the mythical seeress Sibyl of Anatolian origin, with her ecstatic art, looks unrelated to the oracle itself.However, the Greek tradition is referring to the existence of vapours and chewing of laurel-leaves, which seem to be confirmed by recent studies.
Plato describes the priestesses of Delphi and Dodona as frenzied women, obsessed by "mania" (μανία:frenzy), a Greek word connected with "mantis" (μάντις:prophet). Frenzied women like Sibyls from whose lips the god speaks are recorded in the Near East as Mari in the second millennium BC.Although Crete had contacts with Mari from 2000 BC, there is no evidence that the ecstatic prophetic art existed during the Minoan and Mycenean ages. It is more probable that this art was introduced later from Anatolia and regenerated an existing oracular cult that was local to Delphi and dormant in several areas of Greece.
A non-Greek origin of Apollo has long been assumed in scholarship.The name of Apollo's mother Leto has Lydian origin, and she was worshipped on the coasts of Asia Minor. The inspiration oracular cult was probably introduced into Greece from Anatolia, which is the origin of Sibyl, and where existed some of the oldest oracular shrines. Omens, symbols, purifications, and exorcisms appear in old Assyro-Babylonian texts, and these rituals were spread into the empire of the Hittites. In a Hittite text is mentioned that the king invited a Babylonian priestess for a certain "purification".
A similar story is mentioned by Plutarch. He writes that the Cretan- seer Epimenides, purified Athens after the pollution brought by the Alcmeonidae, and that the seer's expertise in sacrifices and reform of funeral practices were of great help to Solon in his reform of the Athenian state. The story indicates that Epimenides was probably heir to the shamanic religions of Asia, and proves together with the Homeric hymn, that Crete had a resisting religion up to the historical times. It seems that these rituals were dormant in Greece, and they were reinforced when the Greeks migrated to Anatolia.
Homer pictures Apollo on the side of the Trojans, fighting against the Achaeans, during the Trojan War. He is pictured as a terrible god, less trusted by the Greeks than other gods. The god seems to be related to Appaliunas, a tutelary god of Wilusa (Troy) in Asia Minor, but the word is not complete. The stones found in front of the gates of Homeric Troy were the symbols of Apollo. The Greeks gave to him the name αγυιεύς agyieus as the protector god of public places and houses who wards off evil, and his symbol was a tapered stone or column. However, while usually Greek festivals were celebrated at the full moon, all the feasts of Apollo were celebrated at the seventh day of the month, and the emphasis given to that day (sibutu) indicates a Babylonian origin.
The Late Bronze Age (from 1700 to 1200 BCE) Hittite and Hurrian Aplu was a god of plague, invoked during plague years. Here we have an apotropaic situation, where a god originally bringing the plague was invoked to end it. Aplu, meaning the son of, was a title given to the god Nergal, who was linked to the Babylonian god of the sun Shamash. Homer interprets Apollo as a terrible god (δεινός θεός) who brings death and disease with his arrows, but who can also heal, possessing a magic art that separates him from the other Greek gods. In Iliad, his priest prays to Apollo Smintheus, the mouse god who retains an older agricultural function as the protector from field rats. All these functions, including the function of the healer-god Paean, who seems to have Mycenean origin, are fused in the cult of Apollo.
Unusually among the Olympic deities, Apollo had two cult sites that had widespread influence: Delos and Delphi. In cult practice, Delian Apollo and Pythian Apollo (the Apollo of Delphi) were so distinct that they might both have shrines in the same locality.Apollo's cult was already fully established when written sources commenced, about 650 BCE. Apollo became extremely important to the Greek world as an oracular deity in the archaic period, and the frequency of theophoric names such as Apollodorus or Apollonios and cities named Apollonia testify to his popularity. Oracular sanctuaries to Apollo were established in other sites. In the 2nd and 3rd century CE, those at Didyma and Clarus pronounced the so-called "theological oracles", in which Apollo confirms that all deities are aspects or servants of an all-encompassing, highest deity. "In the 3rd century, Apollo fell silent. Julian the Apostate (359 - 61) tried to revive the Delphic oracle, but failed
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