So, being, as I am, stuck on the penultimate installment of the Apotheosis Project, wherein I’ll lay the groundwork for a ritual unifying the upper and lower faces of divinity, I decided to have a chat with Apollon, to get some perspective.
I will also do so with Hekate, later, to get her perspective. I know better than to ask Hermes any theological questions, and Ariadne has said her peace on the subject.
Apollon had a lot to say here, and it wasn’t all marshmallows and cotton candy. I did not fact-check his words about the Niobids, but I will do so later.
Thenea: So, Apollon. Tell me about Apotheosis.
Apollon: Did you want me to give you a starting definition?
Thenea: Sure, that would be a good start.
Apollon: I think one should be prudent about what one calls apotheosis. In your work, I notice a conflation between attaining immortality, and attaining godhood. They are related processes, but as I am certain you are aware, not all immortal beings are deities, nor are all deities immortal.
Apotheosis in the Greek mythos contains, inherently, immortality. However, more than immortality is required to become a Greek deity. For ease, I believe it is prudent to call them two distinct processes.
Immortality is an internal process. It is the process of identifying, strengthening and affirming an everlasting commitment to being who you are. Apotheosis, by contrast, is external, and generally democratic.
Case in point: a person could be the most wise, kind, intelligent and enlightened soul on the planet, and no one could know about them. No amount of spiritual attainment makes someone into a deity. Yet if a person of modest attainment and sufficient political acumen convinces those around them to worship, then that person becomes deity.
Consider the tale of the Niobids. The plain text suggests that Leto (my mother), was jealous of Niobe, or hurt by her comments, and Artemis and I consequently ran off to avenge her. Yet this understanding is lacking, substantially.
Consider Niobe’s words: she begins her rise to deity-hood by trying to tear another deity down. Rather than simply, and modestly, demonstrating her wisdom, power, or usefulness, such as we saw Dionysos doing as he was establishing his cults.
Consider a deity who views success as a zero sum game, a deity who embodies the idea that tearing other people down is the best way to succeed. What kind of society would have come into being on account of her?
We sent a message to the people, in whose hands, the decision ultimately and forever rests: Niobe cannot save her own children. What good will her favor do you?
Thenea: Do you consider the tale of the Niobids to be literal?
Apollon: In the one sense, that it is a story with a moral, and that is told and retold in many ways, no. It is a myth. Yet the myth itself was based upon something which — if my memory is accurate, a debatable thing for a deity — was ultimately an actual historical event. Or perhaps many historical events. I seem to recall that it was all the rage, for a time, for women to get up on big rocks and claim their divinity. The regrettable fad ended with us having a lot of mythological cautionary tales.
Thenea: Interesting. I was thinking that, if you consider it as a failed apotheosis narrative, the slaying of her children might have been a requisite step in the process.
Apollon: That is true. Thematically, all figures who become immortal, or who are trying to become immortal, must undergo a process of separation from mortal life. Having a dozen or so children is not a particularly good recipe for facilitating separation from mortal life. A more important take-home from this is that a deity must be a deity of something, and that they should not be foolish in the ways of the spiritual world. Try to claim divinity before you have these things to offer a following, and the established gods will strike you down. Try to claim your divinity by tearing down deities or belittling other humans, and the Greek deities, in particular, will make a spectacular example of you, such that your name will become synonymous with the torment you suffered at our hands.
Thenea: Well, there is a super cheerful thought.
Apollon: Unhappy to contemplate, but it needed to be said. One who would undertake this work needs to hear that admonition before they begin, and not scant seconds before climbing up on a rock to boast that they are better than some deity or other. Perhaps it was those very words you needed to hear before you could permit yourself to proceed. Immortality is the right of every soul to pursue. Deification, on the other hand, is not a game or a joke. It is not to be undertaken lightly, without trepidation, or without immense respect for those who have walked that road before you.
Thenea: Yeah, I’m definitely more about the immortality and a lot less about the being a deity. I sort of want to reincarnate.
Apollon: Thank you, Thenea, for letting me say my peace. Onward to Hekate, I suppose — but do not delay long in finishing your work. If I am telling you to forgo writing me a hymn and a devotional to complete this project, know that it is very important indeed, especially to me, and to my son, Asklepios.
Thenea: And thank you, Apollon, for your words of wisdom.
In your opinion, and based on your discussions with the gods, are all gods made, or are some born gods? In other words, can godhood be considered, in some, an inborn, physical condition?
Obviously, I have no idea.
Immortality, I feel sure, is something that a being has owing to its understanding of itself.
But as for being a deity? Consider the Minoan deities who were rendered as mortals and subsequently killed. Consider even Hermes, who went for a spell with the vast majority of people thinking he was a sage, an angel or a saint.
I have searched high and low for a definition of “deity.” They should be wise, but they aren’t always. They should be good, but they aren’t always. They should be powerful, but I don’t need to re-cap European history for you.
The only consistent definition of deity, the only one that seems, to my mind, to always be applicable, is “What humans worship.”
Can people be born into that state of being a deity? Well, the Pharaoh of Egypt certainly was.
And Alexander, grew to that level, he became so well known and influential by sheer military prowess that he was seen as a demigod, or even a god. Just a piggy back with an example on the pharaohs part.
Anyhow, this was a very interesting post, I enjoyed reading it.
Not to mention Antinous, and many others…
I mostly used Pharaoh as an example of someone born into deity status, but you are right to point out that he is also a human being, and being considered a deity while yet alive is a feature he shares with Alexander.
People do often make very firm statements about what the gods are, defining them as inherently non-physical, but when you are talking about the Mediterranean, or certain parts of Asia (Japan, China, Southeast Asia), that definition of deity just doesn’t fly.
It seems to be a shared belief in cultures with an influential priest class (besides Christianity), especially in the Classical Era.
Christianity comes pretty close to deifying the Pope with the whole Papal infallibility thing. Although I am completely aware that they do not consider the Pope to be a deity.
Although I suppose they’re pretty close with deifying the saints that they made based on deities or heroes of the area.
This is fascinating to me, for all sorts of reasons…
And, the democratic nature of the issue brings to mind something from last month (can’t believe it was that long ago!), which you may find amusing and/or interesting (!?!):
Will you be putting out a print publication of some description with your thoughts on apotheosis? It would be useful to do so, I think…
Yes, I will be putting out a book on the Apotheosis-related material once I’m done creating it. I’ve already started writing the introduction.
That… that looks amazingly entertaining. I am going to have to read all of that when I get a slid block of time.
I look forward to your thoughts on it when you do have time! 😉 Keep up the excellent work here–you’ll have one buyer for sure when the book comes out! (And if you need a Preface, Foreword, or Prologue, and would like me to write one, you have only to ask!)
Thank you so much!
I really like this post, it was very interesting. Thank you.