That’s right, there are several versions of the God Apollo, but most come down to either Celtic or Greek versions. Granted, Celtic and Greek Mythology developed in similar manners. Starting in the Bronze Age as spoken legends and history shared for centuries. The question here, is why only Celtic and Greek? Who is the real Apollo?
What We Need To Keep In Mind…
Information is added and deleted from resource-to-resource and not knowing when that version was written or even first spoken, it becomes a melting pot of variants. They contort in strange directions as they collide with other cultures and religions. In those early centuries, the Celts and Greeks had no interest in one another, let alone if they had knowledge of one another’s existence. Eventually, a chain of events would drive the Celts to seek land to conquer towards the Mediterranean where they began to clash with one another. Due to this, most of the accounts involving Celtic mythology and early history is written by their enemies, the Romans.
Greeks developed a written language and many of the temples throughout the land were tasked for being keepers of the written lore, legends, prophecies, and mythology. As for the Celts, it was another matter which written history and mythology was seen as an insult to their ancestor’s oral practices. The individuals who devoted all their stories to memory were known at the Druids. Due to this, most of the original variants of the Celtic Mythos is dependent on very limited archaeological finds, written accounts from Romans after they had invaded Europe, or sadly, oral practices that had fallen apart and revived since the days they had ruled supreme.
The earliest written accounts involving the Celts was in the late sixth century B.C. in the works of Hecateus of Miletus where he mentioned a City of Celts called Narbonne. This is a port city in Southern France that gave the Celts access to the Greeks, which came under Roman rule by 118 B.C. As stated before, all we have about their traditions, religion, and culture prior to being pushed back by the Romans, is written mostly by one Roman General, Julius Caesar. According to Archaeological traces, even 1,400 years before the common era there were no signs of written language. Still, Julius Caesar found it rather interesting they had Gods who resembled those the Romans had adopted from Greek Mythology such as Ares, Hermes, and even Minerva. Even so, he had even witnessed some of the written language they used in 58 BC which had borrowed Greek lettering.
Regardless, we want to focus on Apollo. He noted simply that they prayed to Apollo in a similar fashion as the Romans, a god who was to ward off disease and illness. The problem escalates from here, where the Celtics had a very detailed and large pool of gods. Part of the Roman campaign was to help convert their newly conquered citizens by giving their existing gods Roman labels to group them into being as if it were one god of war, Mars or Ares, or all these gods of commerce, these guys are all known as Mercury hereafter! In turn, history has a ginormous list of Celtic Gods with the name Apollo attached. Weeding through this list exposes some intriguing crossed wires when you start to compare several resources side-by-side. During the Gallic Wars, the Celtic Apollo was indeed a totem for health. Despite it all, Romans were surprised to see the Celts had already adopted the namesake Apollo within their multitude of Gods, yet it was clear the Greeks had very little involvement in the matter.
The latest trend in the last thousand years leading up to the Common Era was focused on the fact Apollo was immune to disease and the people wanted to be free of it in the age of wars and conquerors. Often Apollo is associated with the sun, but the further you dig into the past, the larger the gap becomes with this association. In fact, at some point misinformation developed of Belenus, a man and god of the sun in Gaul history, so this information is far too fresh, too close to the common era variants of Apollo worshipped and recorded in the last decades of the BC era.
The earliest Celtic Apollo can be easily settled for as Apollo Amarcolitanus. His name implies he is the Apollo of the distant gaze which is found on the continent where the Celts began. I cannot, nor has anyone have an explanation as to how a Greek God found himself adopted by the Druids who saw him worthy to add to their many oral traditions. Nor can we explain why all the cultures and people found between the Greek and Celtic continents, from even Julius’ own records in 58 BC, said to have never heard of Apollo. Thus, the allure and magic of the Celtic Mythology thrives.
Strange as it may seem, Greek Mythology and early culture was passed on for centuries by oral traditions long before it finally developed into a written archaic Latin format. It’s as if the cake ingredients for both cultures started the same, but how they were baked and presented to the world evolved in drastically different ways. Written accounts of Apollo can be found in the Sibylline Texts, but note you will not find “Apollo” written in its pages. Instead, a different and peculiar namesake is written here, Patara. Older Greek mythology involving the god associates him with wolves, not the sun, and even labels him at some point as the King of Arcadia.
Amazing to consider, but the Sibyls, or Oracles, had invested in Apollo. Not only had they abandoned the original deity they were devoted to, Gaea or Gaia, but they used Apollo as a spearhead of interest from the local Greek tribes to help develop the Lycian Union as an impromptu bodyguard system for themselves. At this point, Apollo stood for protection and strength, which in turn explains why the Lycian League named their city Patara, keeping the early drafts of their constitution within a temple devoted to Apollo himself. If we look to Patara’s beginnings, we are referring between the 8th century BC and 12th century BC, the end of the Bronze Age.
Sybils spoke of their existence and devotion to Patara ceasing, and even cover the fall of the din of Pataras, but unlike so many kings, gods, and entities within those pages, never do they discuss the death of Patara nor Apollo. In fact, Phoebus who can also be seen as Artemis, Apollo’s twin sister, was seen in the same light as the Celtics as a false God or hag who would mislead men, despite her prowess and intelligence. Unlike the Celts, the Greeks had the Oracles and other entities who wrote mythology and history down. Even this, though, can be just as mixed up and confusing as most of the instances found under Celtic mythology. Other resources state that Apollo rested in Patara for the Winter or that it was his birthplace. Perhaps, if there was some legendary man during this influential time in Greece, he carried this name and lived as he were the God Apollo himself.
Greek Apollo has outlived his Celtic counterpart in popularity, but he also is one who is well documented with historical events that match many of his earlier tales. The stories involving Boreas of the Lykaon, one of the tribes who started the Lycain League, has historical roots. As the Oracles even state, Nyctimus did indeed dissolve the throne after Boreas was slain. Many of the myths and legends state it was Apollo who killed him for all the sins he committed. Others dictate Zeus cursed Boreas and his men to live their lives as dog-headed men, which later inspired werewolf culture and Lycanthropes.
O Lycians, Lycians, there shall come a wolf, To lick thy blood, when Sannians shall come, With city-wasting Ares and the Carpians, Shall draw near with Ausonians to fight. And then by his own shameless recklessness The bastard son15 shall put the king to death, And he himself for his impiety.
– Sibylline Sacred Texts
Here is where I leave you with my own quirky flair. Mind you, I am a Fantasy Romance author by trade who has a geeky talent for research via the books and internet articles I get my greedy fingers on. This was the sort of material I loved coming across when developing my character Romasanta in The Cedric Series.
Here it is… what are the chances the oracles sent out warriors and believers of Apollo out on a Pilgrimage? And by some obscure chain of events, one found himself in a new place where he brought the knowledge of Greek living into a still rather barbaric society who had a deity system so much like the one back home? Perhaps the Celtic Apollo carried a faraway gaze, one in which longed for his original Greek home.
- The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore by Patricia Monaghan
- Wikipedia on Narboone: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narbonne
- Sibylline Oracle Text: http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/sib/
- Julius Caesar’s Work: http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/jcsr/index.htm
- The Dictionary of Mythology by J.A.Coleman
- The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology by Arthur Cotterell & Rachel Storm
- The Encyclopedia of Ancient Myths and Culture by Quantum Books
- Lycia Government: http://www.lycianturkey.com/lycian_government.htm
- Patara Findings of Lycian League: http://www.lycianturkey.com/lycia-american-constitution.htm
Valerie Willis is the author of The Cedric Series, a high-rated Paranormal Fantasy Romance Series featuring an anti-hero dragged away from the revenge he seeks on his maker by love and the onset of a larger threat. Valerie’s work is inspired by a melting pot of mythology, folklores, history, topped off with a healthy dose of foreshadowing.