Apollo, in Greek mythology, was the god of the sun. He is associated especially with the rising sun, and hence with light and knowledge. He was renowned for reasoned logic, moderation, wisdom, and good practice - and in all this is contrasted with the creative but dark and undisciplined flair of Dionysus. Maxims on the walls of Apollo's temple at Delphi included "Know Thyself", and "Nothing in Excess".
Apollo is the god of science, learning, and philosophy; of medicine, healing, and the law; and of poetry, song and stringed instruments. Apollonian music was "serious and contemplative" and "provided the proper environment for thinking".
He became the "god of oracles, which reveal the secrets of the future, as the light of heaven dispels all darkness and detests nocturnal gloom".
In particular, Apollo was the patron of the oracle at Delphi, which was famous for pronouncements totally accurate with hindsight, but capable of devastating misinterpretation at the moment of action.(1) Investors have similar problems of interpretation. Apollo evidently had a remarkable sense of humour – as well as some memorable sense-of-humour-failures.(2) This is a god we'd like on our side.
(2) For example: (i)
When his infant brother Hermes stole his cattle, Apollo appealed to Zeus.
Bored by the adoring gaze of Clytie, he turned her into a sunflower, whose
face tracks the sun-god's daily progress across the sky. (iii) When Midas
judged Pan's pipe-playing preferable to his music on the lyre, Apollo turned
his ears into those of an ass.
Apollo promised to teach the art of prophecy to Cassandra if she accepted
his advances. She accepted the deal, took the gift, and reneged. Apollo
retaliated with the rider that her prophecies would never be believed.
A good introduction to Apollo may be found here; another is at Encyclopaedia Britannica, which mentions a possibility that he originated in Asia. A list of key stories and texts, including Herodotus' account of the oracle's treatment of Croesus, may be found on the site of the Perseus Project. Much more can be found by searching the database of texts on the same site. One such story is told by Ovid: how Phoebus Apollo allowed his son Phaethon to drive the sun's chariot, and how the cocksure boy flew too high and was destroyed - a cautionary tale for investors. Ben Graham in the 1960's effected an introduction to the little-known Warren Buffett while quoting the advice of Ovid's Apollo: "medio tutissimus ibis" - the middle way is safest.
Apollo is the god of music, having been introduced to the lyre by Hermes (who fashioned it from a tortoise shell), in exchange for the stolen cattle. Hermes was the messenger of the gods, known to the Romans as Mercury, and to my father's regiment, the Royal Corps of Signals, as Jimmy. According to Britannica, the planet Mercury was confusingly known in ancient Greece as Apollo when it appeared in the morning, and as Hermes when seen in the evening. There's a website presenting curious "sacred geometry" linking Zeus, Apollo and Hermes.
One of several surprises from Malaysia in the late 90's has been the emergence of Kuala Lumpur as a thriving centre of classical music. I'd like to thank Apollo for any part he played in this, and for leading me via Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night), recently played by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, to Stravinsky's Apollon Musagete (Apollo, leader of the muses). I also recommend Saint-Saens' Phaéton for a musical portrayal of Ovid's story. Amongst other delights of Malaysia are the jungles and wildlife. Apollo of course killed the Python, although I suspect it was a car which ran over the 12-footer squashed outside my house a few years ago. Malaysia also has dolphins. Delphi was named for Apollo's exploits while transformed into a dolphin. I have a particular soft spot for dolphins after my sojourn at the Hawaii research institute, and hence for Apollo Delphinius. Amongst the most amazing sights of Asia are the Hong Kong pink dolphins, severely endangered but surprisingly accessible - see them while you can.
Thomas Mathiesen's book Apollo's Lyre is highly recommended. If readers have any further information or pointers on Apollonian music, please contact us.
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