Apollo and Dionysius

In the classical era, the Greeks emphasized intellect over emotion, mind over body. This split still defines much of western thought.

But there is a tradition arising in Delphi that suggests a different understanding lived. For nine months of the year, the god Apollo oversaw the work of the oracle, and the shrine and town sang his hymns. But as winter set in, he handed oversight to Dionysius, god of ecstasy and emotion. There is a vase which depicts the two shaking hands under a palm tree, a picture of this twice annual exchange of authority.

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During the winter, the people of Delphi sang hymns to Dionysius, and in the caves above the city, the mystery rites were celebrated. When spring came, Apollo came back and prophesy was possible again.

In his recent book The Oracle, William J. Broad argued for a scientific explanation for why the oracle could not work in winter. He could be right.

It is also possible that in this place where the mind broke through the boundaries of logical thought, the people understood that intuition, emotional knowledge, embodied thought played an important part in human understanding.

For me, there is a story lurking. One of these days, I will write of someone who seeks Apollo’s wisdom but arrives on the verge of winter and must live under Dionysius. I don’t know yet if it will be a time of impatience or suffering, but somehow I think that the winter will be essential preparation for them to receive Apollo’s wisdom.


About cathyhird

I am an author, former farmer, retired minister, and when I get a chance, a weaver. Storytelling that inspires is important to me. I have two novels set in ancient Greece, Moon of the Goddess and Before the New Moon Rises.
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