To Pythian Apollo

Homer

O Lord, Lycia is yours and lovely Maeonia and Miletus, charming city by the sea, but over wave-girt Delos you greatly reign your own self.

Leto’s all-glorious son goes to rocky Pytho, playing upon his hollow lyre, clad in divine, perfumed garments; and his lyre, at the touch of the golden key, sings sweet. Thence, swift as thought, he speeds from earth to Olympus, to the house of Zeus, to join the gathering of the other gods: then straightway the undying gods think only of the lyre and song, and all the Muses together, voice sweetly answering voice, hymn the unending gifts the gods enjoy and the sufferings of men, all that they endure at the hands of the deathless gods, and how they live witless and helpless and cannot find healing for death or defence against old age. Meanwhile the rich-tressed Graces and cheerful Seasons dance with Harmonia and Hebe and Aphrodite, daughter of Zeus, holding each other by the wrist. And among them sings one, not mean nor puny, but tall to look upon and enviable in mien, Artemis who delights in arrows, sister of Apollo. Among them sport Ares and the keen-eyed Slayer of Argus, while Apollo plays his lyre stepping high and featly and a radiance shines around him, the gleaming of his feet and close-woven vest. And they, even gold-tressed Leto and wise Zeus, rejoice in their great hearts as they watch their dear son playing among the undying gods.

How then shall I sing of you –though in all ways you are a worthy theme for song? Shall I sing of you as wooer and in the fields of love, how you went wooing the daughter of Azan along with god-like Ischys the son of well-horsed Elatius, or with Phorbas sprung from Triops, or with Ereutheus, or with Leucippus and the wife of Leucippus … you on foot, he with his chariot, yet he fell not short of Triops. Or shall I sing how at the first you went about the earth seeking a place of oracle for men, O far-shooting Apollo? To Pieria first you went down from Olympus and passed by sandy Lectus and Enienae and through the land of the Perrhaebi. Soon you came to Iolcus and set foot on Cenaeum in Euboea, famed for ships: you stood in the Lelantine plain, but it pleased not your heart to make a temple there and wooded groves. From there you crossed the Euripus, far-shooting Apollo, and went up the green, holy hills, going on to Mycalessus and grassy-bedded Teumessus,and so came to the wood-clad abode of Thebe; for as yet no man lived in holy Thebe, nor were there tracks or ways about Thebe’s wheat-bearing plain as yet.

And further still you went, O far-shooting Apollo, and came to Onchestus, Poseidon’s bright grove: there the new-broken colt distressed with drawing the trim chariot gets spirit again, and the skilled driver springs from his car and goes on his way. Then the horses for a while rattle the empty car, being rid of guidance; and if they break the chariot in the woody grove, men look after the horses, but tilt the chariot and leave it there; for this was the rite from the very first. And the drivers pray to the lord of the shrine; but the chariot falls to the lot of the god.

Further yet you went, O far-shooting Apollo, and reached next Cephissus’ sweet stream which pours forth its sweet-flowing water from Lilaea, and crossing over it, O worker from afar, you passed many-towered Ocalea and reached grassy Haliartus.

Then you went towards Telphusa: and there the pleasant place seemed fit for making a temple and wooded grove. You came very near and spoke to her: “Telphusa, here I am minded to make a glorious temple, an oracle for men, and hither they will always bring perfect hecatombs, both those who live in rich Peloponnesus and those of Europe and all the wave-washed isles, coming to seek oracles. And I will deliver to them all counsel that cannot fail, giving answer in my rich temple.”

So said Phoebus Apollo, and laid out all the foundations throughout, wide and very long. But when Telphusa saw this, she was angry in heart and spoke, saying: “Lord Phoebus, worker from afar, I will speak a word of counsel to your heart, since you are minded to make here a glorious temple to be an oracle for men who will always bring hither perfect hecatombs for you; yet I will speak out, and do you lay up my words in your heart. The trampling of swift horses and the sound of mules watering at my sacred springs will always irk you, and men will like better to gaze at the well-made chariots and stamping, swift-footed horses than at your great temple and the many treasures that are within.

But if you will be moved by me — for you, lord, are stronger and mightier than I, and your strength is very great — build at Crisa below the glades of Parnassus: there no bright chariot will clash, and there will be no noise of swift-footed horses near your well-built altar. But so the glorious tribes of men will bring gifts to you as Iepaeon (‘Hail-Healer’), and you will receive with delight rich sacrifices from the people dwelling round about.” So said Telphusa, that she alone, and not the Far-Shooter, should have renown there; and she persuaded the Far-Shooter.

Further yet you went, far-shooting Apollo, until you came to the town of the presumptuous Phlegyae who dwell on this earth in a lovely glade near the Cephisian lake, caring not for Zeus. And thence you went speeding swiftly to the mountain ridge, and came to Crisa beneath snowy Parnassus, a foothill turned towards the west: a cliff hangs over it from above, and a hollow, rugged glade runs under. There the lord Phoebus Apollo resolved to make his lovely temple, and thus he said:

“In this place I am minded to build a glorious temple to be an oracle for men, and here they will always bring perfect hecatombs, both they who dwell in rich Peloponnesus and the men of Europe and from all the wave-washed isles, coming to question me. And I will deliver to them all counsel that cannot fail, answering them in my rich temple.”

When he had said this, Phoebus Apollo laid out all the foundations throughout, wide and very long; and upon these the sons of Erginus, Trophonius and Agamedes, dear to the deathless gods, laid a footing of stone. And the countless tribes of men built the whole temple of wrought stones, to be sung of for ever.

But near by was a sweet flowing spring, and there with his strong bow the lord, the son of Zeus, killed the bloated, great she-dragon, a fierce monster wont to do great mischief to men upon earth, to men themselves and to their thin-shanked sheep; for she was a very bloody plague.

She it was who once received from gold-throned Hera and brought up fell, cruel Typhaon to be a plague to men. Once on a time Hera bare him because she was angry with father Zeus, when the Son of Cronos bare all-glorious Athena in his head. Thereupon queenly Hera was angry and spoke thus among the assembled gods:

“Hear from me, all gods and goddesses, how cloud-gathering Zeus begins to dishonor me wantonly, when he has made me his true-hearted wife. See now, apart from me he has given birth to bright-eyed Athena who is foremost among all the blessed gods. But my son Hephaestus whom I bare was weakly among all the blessed gods and shrivelled of foot, a shame and a disgrace to me in heaven, whom I myself took in my hands and cast out so that he fell in the great sea. But silver-shod Thetis the daughter of Nereus took and cared for him with her sisters: would that she had done other service to the blessed gods! O wicked one and crafty! What else will you now devise? How dared you by yourself give birth to bright-eyed Athena? Would not I have borne you a child — I, who was at least called your wife among the undying gods who hold wide heaven. Beware now lest I devise some evil thing for you hereafter: yes, now I will contrive that a son be born me to be foremost among the undying gods — and that without casting shame on the holy bond of wedlock between you and me. And I will not come to your bed, but will consort with the blessed gods far off from you.”

When she had so spoken, she went apart from the gods, being very angry. Then straightway large-eyed queenly Hera prayed, striking the ground flatwise with her hand, and speaking thus:

“Hear now, I pray, Earth and wide Heaven above and you Titan gods who dwell beneath the earth about great Tartarus, and from whom are sprung both gods and men! Harken you now to me, one and all, and grant that I may bear a child apart from Zeus, no wit lesser than him in strength — nay, let him be as much stronger than Zeus as all-seeing Zeus than Cronos.” Thus she cried and lashed the earth with her strong hand. Then the life-giving earth was moved: and when Hera saw it she was glad in heart, for she thought her prayer would be fulfilled. And thereafter she never came to the bed of wise Zeus for a full year, nor to sit in her carved chair as aforetime to plan wise counsel for him, but stayed in her temples where many pray, and delighted in her offerings, large-eyed queenly Hera.

But when the months and days were fulfilled and the seasons duly came on as the earth moved round, she bare one neither like the gods nor mortal men, fell, cruel Typhaon, to be a plague to men. Straightway large-eyed queenly Hera took him and bringing one evil thing to another such, gave him to the dragoness; and she received him. And this Typhaon used to work great mischief among the famous tribes of men. Whosoever met the dragoness, the day of doom would sweep him away, until the lord Apollo, who deals death from afar, shot a strong arrow at her. Then she, rent with bitter pangs, lay drawing great gasps for breath and rolling about that place. An awful noise swelled up unspeakable as she writhed continually this way and that amid the wood: and so she left her life, breathing it forth in blood. Then Phoebus Apollo boasted over her:

“Now rot here upon the soil that feeds man’ You at least shall live no more to be a fell bane to men who eat the fruit of the all-nourishing earth, and who will bring hither perfect hecatombs. Against cruel death neither Typhoeus shall avail you nor ill-famed Chimera, but here shall the Earth and shining Hyperion make you rot.”

Thus said Phoebus, exulting over her: and darkness covered her eyes. And the holy strength of Helios made her rot away there; wherefore the place is now called Pytho, and men call the lord Apollo by another name, Pythian; because on that spot the power of piercing Helios made the monster rot away.

Then Phoebus Apollo saw that the sweet-flowing spring had beguiled him, and he started out in anger against Telphusa; and soon coming to her, he stood close by and spoke to her:

“Telphusa, you were not, after all, to keep to yourself this lovely place by deceiving my mind, and pour forth your clear flowing water: here my renown shall also be and not yours alone?”

Thus spoke the lord, far-working Apollo, and pushed over upon her a crag with a shower of rocks, hiding her streams: and he made himself an altar in a wooded grove very near the clear-flowing stream. In that place all men pray to the great one by the name Telphusian, because he humbled the stream of holy Telphusa.

Then Phoebus Apollo pondered in his heart what men he should bring in to be his ministers in sacrifice and to serve him in rocky Pytho. And while he considered this, he became aware of a swift ship upon the wine-like sea in which were many men and goodly, Cretans from Cnossos, the city of Minos, they who do sacrifice to the prince and announce his decrees, whatsoever Phoebus Apollo, bearer of the golden blade, speaks in answer from his laurel tree below the dells of Parnassus.

These men were sailing in their black ship for traffic and for profit to sandy Pylos and to the men of Pylos. But Phoebus Apollo met them: in the open sea he sprang upon their swift ship, like a dolphin in shape, and lay there, a great and awesome monster, and none of them gave heed so as to understand ; but they sought to cast the dolphin overboard. But he kept shaking the black ship every way and making the timbers quiver. So they sat silent in their craft for fear, and did not loose the sheets throughout the black, hollow ship, nor lowered the sail of their dark-prowed vessel, but as they had set it first of all with oxhide ropes, so they kept sailing on; for a rushing south wind hurried on the swift ship from behind. First they passed by Malea, and then along the Laconian coast they came to Taenarum, sea-garlanded town and country of Helios who gladdens men, where the thick-fleeced sheep of the lord Helios feed continually and occupy a gladsome country. There they wished to put their ship to shore, and land and comprehend the great marvel and see with their eyes whether the monster would remain upon the deck of the hollow ship, or spring back into the briny deep where fishes shoal. But the well-built ship would not obey the helm, but went on its way all along Peloponnesus: and the lord, far-working Apollo, guided it easily with the breath of the breeze. So the ship ran on its course and came to Arena and lovely Argyphea and Thryon, the ford of Alpheus, and well-placed Aepy and sandy Pylos and the men of Pylos; past Cruni it went and Chalcis and past Dyme and fair Elis, where the Epei rule. And at the time when she was making for Pherae, exulting in the breeze from Zeus, there appeared to them below the clouds the steep mountain of Ithaca, and Dulichium and Same and wooded Zacynthus. But when they were passed by all the coast of Peloponnesus, then, towards Crisa, that vast gulf began to heave in sight which through all its length cuts off the rich isle of Pelops. There came on them a strong, clear west-wind by ordinance of Zeus and blew from heaven vehemently, that with all speed the ship might finish coursing over the briny water of the sea. So they began again to voyage back towards the dawn and the sun: and the lord Apollo, son of Zeus, led them on until they reached far-seen Crisa, land of vines, and into haven: there the sea-coursing ship grounded on the sands.

Then, like a star at noonday, the lord, far-working Apollo, leaped from the ship: flashes of fire flew from him thick and their brightness reached to heaven. He entered into his shrine between priceless tripods, and there made a flame to flare up bright, showing forth the splendor of his shafts, so that their radiance filled all Crisa, and the wives and well-girded daughters of the Crisaeans raised a cry at that outburst of Phoebus; for he cast great fear upon them all. From his shrine he sprang forth again, swift as a thought, to speed again to the ship, bearing the form of a man, brisk and sturdy, in the prime of his youth, while his broad shoulders were covered with his hair: and he spoke to the Cretans, uttering winged words:

“Strangers, who are you? Whence come you sailing along the paths of the sea? Are you for traffic, or do you wander at random over the sea as pirates do who put their own lives to hazard and bring mischief to men of foreign parts as they roam? Why rest you so and are afraid, and do not go ashore nor stow the gear of your black ship? For that is the custom of men who live by bread, whenever they come to land in their dark ships from the main, spent with toil: at once desire for sweet food catches them about the heart.”

So speaking, he put courage in their hearts, and the master of the Cretans answered him and said: “Stranger — though you are nothing like mortal men in shape or stature, but are as the deathless gods — hail and all happiness to you, and may the gods give you good. Now tell me truly that I may surely know it: what country is this, and what land, and what men live herein? As for us, with thoughts set otherwards, we were sailing over the great sea to Pylos from Crete (for from there we declare that we are sprung), but now are come on shipboard to this place by no means willingly — another way and other paths — and gladly would we return. But one of the deathless gods brought us here against our will.”

Then far-working Apollo answered them and said: “Strangers who once dwelt about wooded Cnossos but now shall return no more each to his loved city and fair house and dear wife; here shall you keep my rich temple that is honored by many men. I am the son of Zeus; Apollo is my name: but you I brought here over the wide gulf of the sea, meaning you no hurt; nay, here you shall keep my rich temple that is greatly honored among men, and you shall know the plans of the deathless gods, and by their will you shall be honored continually for all time. And now come, make haste and do as I say. First loose the sheets and lower the sail, and then draw the swift ship up upon the land. Take out your goods and the gear of the straight ship, and make an altar upon the beach of the sea: light fire upon it and make an offering of white meal. Next, stand side by side around the altar and pray: and in as much as at the first on the hazy sea I sprang upon the swift ship in the form of a dolphin, pray to me as Apollo Delphinius; also the altar itself shall be called Delphinius and overlooking for ever. Afterwards, sup beside your dark ship and pour an offering to the blessed gods who dwell on Olympus. But when you have put away craving for sweet food, come with me singing the hymn Ie Paean (Hail, Healer!), until you come to the place where you shall keep my rich temple.”

So said Apollo. And they readily harkened to him and obeyed him. First they unfastened the sheets and let down the sail and lowered the mast by the forestays upon the mast-rest. Then, landing upon the beach of the sea, they hauled up the ship from the water to dry land and fixed long stays under it. Also they made an altar upon the beach of the sea, and when they had lit a fire, made an offering of white meal, and prayed standing around the altar as Apollo had bidden them. Then they took their meal by the swift, black ship, and poured an offering to the blessed gods who dwell on Olympus. And when they had put away craving for drink and food, they started out with the lord Apollo, the son of Zeus, to lead them, holding a lyre in his hands, and playing sweetly as he stepped high and featly. So the Cretans followed him to Pytho, marching in time as they chanted the Ie Paean after the manner of the Cretan paean-singers and of those in whose hearts the heavenly Muse has put sweet-voiced song. With tireless feet they approached the ridge and straightway came to Parnassus and the lovely place where they were to dwell honored by many men. There Apollo brought them and showed them his most holy sanctuary and rich temple.

But their spirit was stirred in their dear breasts, and the master of the Cretans asked him, saying:

“Lord, since you have brought us here far from our dear ones and our fatherland, — for so it seemed good to your heart,– tell us now how we shall live. That we would know of you. This land is not to be desired either for vineyards or for pastures so that we can live well thereon and also minister to men.”

Then Apollo, the son of Zeus, smiled upon them and said: “Foolish mortals and poor drudges are you, that you seek cares and hard toils and straits! Easily will I tell you a word and set it in your hearts. Though each one of you with knife in hand should slaughter sheep continually, yet would you always have abundant store, even all that the glorious tribes of men bring here for me. But guard you my temple and receive the tribes of men that gather to this place, and especially show mortal men my will, and do you keep righteousness in your heart. But if any shall be disobedient and pay no heed to my warning, or if there shall be any idle word or deed and outrage as is common among mortal men, then other men shall be your masters and with a strong hand shall make you subject for ever. All has been told you: do you keep it in your heart.”

And so, farewell, son of Zeus and Leto; but I will remember you and another hymn also.

 

 

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