Sunday, 18 October 2015

Disbelieving in Apollo

I needed some spiritual renewal this Sunday, having possibly spent a bit too much of Saturday 'disbelieving in' Bacchus. Today will therefore be spent with the equally non-existent Apollo. In accordance, with long-standing religious tradition, let's begin with an injunction to avoid having too much fun. Apollo is the god of music, so here's Plato coming across like an evangelical Christian:
"Our music was once divided into its proper forms... There were no whistles, unmusical mob-noises, or clapping for applause. The rule was to listen silently and learn; boys, teachers, and the crowd were kept in order by threat of the stick... Later, an unmusical anarchy was led by poets who had natural talent... Through foolishness they deceived themselves into thinking that there was no right or wrong way in music, that it was to be judged good or bad by the pleasure it gave"
I immediately broke this rule by enjoying the First and Second Delphic Hymns to Apollo but your mileage may vary. These hymns are reconstituted from fragments of ancient Greek notation dated to 128 BCE, though I do suspect they're arranged to suit modern ears. If you hate them, well done, Plato would approve!

First Delphic Hymn to Apollo

Second Delphic Hymn to Apollo

When I was young and single enough to have a favorite poet, and that poet was W.H.Auden, I happily bought into his denunciation of Apollo in the poem entitled Under Which Lyre. True, he favored Hermes instead:
"The sons of Hermes love to play,
And only do their best when they
Are told they oughtn't;
Apollo's children never shrink
From boring jobs but have to think
Their work important."
It sounds like J.K.Rowling was inspired by this passage when she was creating the Hogwarts houses and in retrospect, those 20th century Oxford/Cambridge types like Auden probably did spend far too much time disbelieving in Greek gods. The interesting aspect of their habit is that it played quite a role in gay history - or at least the gay history of the upper classes - by exposing educated young men to a society where homosexuality had an acceptable form. But the important thing for me here is that Auden gives some really good tips on how not to believe in Apollo.

William Blake, who also disbelieved in Apollo,
depicts The Overthrow of Apollo and the
Pagan Gods
(on the morning of Christ's Nativity)
"Thou shalt not do as the dean pleases,
Thou shalt not write thy doctor's thesis
On education,
Thou shalt not worship projects nor
Shalt thou bow down before

Thou shalt not answer questionnaires
Or quizzes upon World-Affairs,
Nor with compliance
Take any test. Thou shalt not sit
With statisticians nor commit
A social science.

Thou shalt not be on friendly terms
With guys in advertising firms,
Nor speak with such
As read the Bible for its prose,
Nor, above all, make love to those
Who wash too much.

Thou shalt not live within thy means
Nor on plain water and raw greens.
If thou must choose 
Between the chances, choose the odd;
Read the New Yorker, trust in God;
And take short views."

I only agree with about half of all that. In many ways, I suspect Auden was misled on the subject of Apollo who was often quite disorderly and chaotic, bringing plagues and healing alternately, prophesying in mind-altering-substance-induced riddles, threatening not to make the sun rise at the drop of a hat, and trying to sleep with large numbers of humans and supernaturals of any sex whether they wanted him or not.

Since I disbelieve in him I won't have to take sides, which is good because bad things tended to happen to people on the opposite side of Apollo in competitions. Midas disliked his music and got donkey ears for his pains (maybe I should have mentioned that earlier) and Marsyas was flayed alive for losing a music competition against him. In other words, Apollo was a Bad Boy and worse than that, he was cute by definition.

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