Sunday, June 23, 2013

TFBT: Once and for Always

“I will remember and not be unmindful of Apollo who shoots afar. As he goes through the house of Zeus, the gods tremble before him and all spring up from their seats when he draws near, as he bends his bright bow.”

                                      Homeric Hymn to Apollo

In the scene above, after the initial uproar, Leto disarms her son and leads him to a throne at the festive table.  His father Zeus passes him a cup of nectar and all is again once merry and delightful on Olympus. 
Jenny Strauss-Clay (The Politics of Olympus, 1989) asks whether this is “Apollo's first reception into Olympus…or whether it represents typical scene, repeated each and every time the god enters his father’s halls.”   Ten excellent pages of reading later, Clay observers, “That the time of the gods differs from ours.  (When I read that line I recalled from my adult confirmation class, Pastor Carroll Marohal saying God’s time was kairos time rather than our linear chronos time.  And Kurt Vonnegut's phrase, “unstuck in time.”)  Clay concludes that the opening scene “portrays both the first epiphany of the new god on the threshold of Olympus and his eternally repeated entrance into this father’s house…as he did the first time and as he will forever.”

I continued reading Clay’s excellent book and noticed the same “once and for always” phenomena in her analysis of “The Homeric Hymn to Demeter”.    The goddess said, (208-211)” it was not lawful for her to drink red wine, but bade them mix meal and water with soft mint and give her to drink. And Metaneira mixed the draught and gave it to the goddess as she bade. So the great queen Deo received it to observe the sacrament”  Here she is referencing  and establishing for all time a ritual in the Eleusinian mysteries, which she hasn’t even found yet. 
Currently I am as student of Professor Gregory Nagy in “The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 hours  Nagy seems to support the same “once and for always” notion    At  17§9. Nagy explains Electra’s confusion in the Libation-Bearers 118 (Aeschylus) "What should I say? Instruct me, inexperienced as I am, and lead me in my thinking."  Nagy suggests that Agamemnon is in the process of becoming a cult hero.  Electra’s offering will be the first of many.  Likewise in “Oedipus at Colonus”  Nagy suggests that all the rituals Oedipus performs for the first time prior to his death  represent Oedipus formulating his heroic legacy for Theseus (18§48). 

At Theogony 545 Prometheus once and for always arranges the portions during a sacrifice.  In Eumenides 482, Athena says, “I will establish this tribunal for all time.” and we’ve had 12 good men on a jury ever since.  
In short, I see evidence that when the Divine acts, it is once and for always and I encourage readers to test the hypothesis in their readings.


  1. When did Leto return to Olympus with her children? Did she bring them up in the wilderness as a single mom?
    As a whole, the tragi-comedy of her fleeing in the 9th month of pregnancy allegedly because of Hera's jealousy seems highly suspicious to me. Where is Zeus, the father-king, in this affair? After all, we know that he has beaten Hera on far less important occasions.
    I think the story becomes coherent only if we assume that Leto was fleeing Zeus, not Hera. Her father was Zeus' defeated and imprisoned enemy. Her sister Asteria had also fled to avoid being raped by Zeus. Also, Hesiod states that Zeus "married" Leto before Hera.
    About the libation - I though that not just the heroes but all the dead received libations from their family members.

  2. Maya, Hesiod make an orderly arrangement of Zeus' marriages, but it couldn't have been that easy! You can give yourself quite a headache trying to work out divine chronology. As Captain Janeway says the best way to handle a temporal paradox is ignore it.

    As to the pregnant Leto fleeing, be it the Python or the wrath of Hera, a close reading reveals that Leto isn't the one being chased, it is Apollo. Hera always persecutes her pregnant competion but once the "son" is born, she seems to get along fine with the other woman or goddess. Generally, snakes represent the old guard, the mother goddesses defending their honors, priveleges and temples. Note how quickly after birth Apollo claimed Delphi from Gaea/Themis/Phoebe. The Hera/Apollo conflict is just another manifestation of the Earth goddess/Sky god battle.

    As to the libation thing; Nagy argues that Electra had performed libations to the dead before but never heroic honors.