- 1 Herodotus, Histories IV. 32–36; Odyssey X. 82; Homeric Hymn 7 to Dionysos 27; Pindar, Pythian Ode 1 (...)
- 2 Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 2. 47.1 – 6; Aelian, On Animals 11.1; Pliny the Elder, Natural (...)
1In Greek myth, the seat of Boreas, god of the north wind, provided a northern boundary for the known world. The cold, often destructive, wind which heralded the coming of winter had many different residences north of Attica, and the terra incognita beyond Boreas constituted an imaginary realm, never subjected to the harsh weather conditions of frost and snow. Inhabited by a race of happy people, Hyperborea was supposedly bathed in eternal sunlight and provided ideal conditions for long, golden lives filled with innocent pastimes. The Hyperboreans were inseparably associated with the myths of Apollo; the sun god left Greece in the autumn to spend the winter in the far North, in a life of music, song and art, and returned to Greece in the spring, in a chariot drawn by northern swans. The myth of Apollo and the Hyperboreans goes back to Hesiod, Homer, Herodotus and Pindar,1 and becomes increasingly elaborate and complex by the time it appears in the writings of Diodorus, Aelian, Pliny and Pausanias.2 It presents us with a number of issues which appealed as strongly to the nineteenth-century mind as it did to the classical imagination, and it lies at the centre of the two pieces of short fiction by Walter Pater which form the basis of this essay.
- 3 Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 2. 47. 1 – 6.
- 4 Pater applies the term to Winckelmann in his 1867 essay on the German art historian. He is quoting (...)
- 5 ‘Duke Carl of Rosenmold’ was first published in Macmillan’s Magazine no 331, vol. 56 (May 1887): 19 (...)
2Revolving around the dichotomies of north-south and light-darkness, the myth of the Hyperborean Apollo raises the fundamental question of where the North begins, and where it ends, if ever. Classical sources disagree about the location of Boreas: in Northern Greece, in the Alps, or by the Ister–the Greek name for the Danube. Indeed, it would seem that as the Greek world expanded, the Hyperboreans moved further North and further West, with the result that by the time the Greek historian Diodorus was writing in the first century BC, the Hyperboreans were believed to live on the British Isles, across the sea beyond the Celts.3 Was Hyperborea bounded by sea, by rivers or by mountains, and who could cross from the known world into the unknown? Apollo’s privileged status as a transitional figure, crossing boundaries, assured him a life in eternal summer. Seen from a Greek perspective, the Hyperboreans formed an ‘other’, the fantasy of a northern golden world imagined from the South, and the myth thus constitutes an interesting counterpart to the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Northern European desire for the South, brought on by a ‘fatigue du nord’,4 as expressed in much Romantic writing. The golden land of Greece, longed for by Winckelmann, Goethe, Symonds, and Pater, is a nineteenth-century parallel to the ancient sunlit plains of Hyperborea: an aesthetic ideal place of the mind, where man, nature, art and the divine lived in perfect balance and harmony against a perpetually blue sky. In Antiquity the blue sky followed Apollo as the God of Light, yet I would argue that in his idiosyncratic use of the myth of Apollo, Walter Pater explores the notion of Hyperborea as a northern territory subjected to long dark winters. Pater’s Apollo is a dark deity, alluring, enigmatic and essentially destructive, a foreign influence on small communities in Germany and France in the two tales examined here: ‘Duke Carl of Rosenmold’ (1887) and ‘Apollo in Picardy’ (1893).5 Winter, darkness and sudden violent deaths belong to his northern world, where not even the cult or presence of Apollo as a pagan deity can bring about warmth, sunshine, procreation or art.
3I am interested in Pater’s use of paganism in the contexts of topography, chronology, and mythography, as one of the most quintessentially Greek of all gods is transported into a German and a French context. Pater’s German tale is set in the fictitious eighteenth-century duchy of Rosenmold—a thinly veiled portrait of Heidelberg, popularly known as ‘Athens of the North’—while his French tale takes place in the Middle Ages, in a monastery in the furthest north-west of France. Aspects of paganism are explored in the contexts of German aristocracy in the years just before the Enlightenment (every pun on Apollo as the god of light intended) and within the architectural and institutional framework of a medieval monastery at the time of the winter solstice and Christmas, when both pagans and Christians celebrate the return of light. I wish to examine the way in which time and place interact with revived cults of Apollo, both within the chronology of the stories themselves and within a late Victorian framework.
4The Franco-German dynamic in the two tales is complex, and both texts take issue with some of the mid-nineteenth-century German scholarship on myth, classics and archaeology which Pater had studied in the 1860s and 1870s (Inman 1981 and 1990). The myth of the Hyperborean Apollo proliferated in much nineteenth-century German scholarship: keen to cultivate a northern-European identity, separate from, yet linked to classical Antiquity, nineteenth-century heirs of Winckelmann, such as Karl Otfried Müller, Friedrich Welcker and Ludwig Preller, all included chapters on the Hyperborean Apollo in their magisterial works on the Dorians and Greek mythology, weighing ancient sources against each other to find a more exact location of Hyperborea (Müller, I. 284–294; Preller, I, 157–159; Welcker, II, 348–364).
- 6 The Latin text and an English translation of Celtis’s Ode can be found in Monsman, 129n.
5France would seem to be closer to Apollo than Germany in Pater’s fiction, closer to ‘the real thing’, possibly on the basis of a more southern location and a Romance rather than a Germanic language. Thus the German Duke Carl admires and imitates the French Louis XIV for his Apollo-worship, and court life at Rosenmold is a bleak reflection, verging on parody, of the splendour at the court of le Roi Soleil. Carl’s discovery of the German Renaissance poet Conrad Celtis’s ‘Ode to Apollo’ feeds his desires for an encounter with the Greek god: Celtis’s poem invokes Apollo and expresses the hope that the Greek god will move north and visit Germany.6 As poet laureate he is crowned with the most Apolline of leaves. By contrast Louis XIV believes that he is the very incarnation of Apollo himself. Pater may, of course, also be intending a comment on different national scales of grandiloquence and megalomania, on northern provincialism and decentralization versus Gallic metropolitanism and centralization. In a heliocentric universe, a political system like the French, revolving around life at the court of le Roi Soleil, would seem far better suited for Apollo worship than the mouldy, damp and decaying parochial court culture at Rosenmold. Indeed, Carl is trying to merge north and south, as he also stars in a proto-Wagnerian Singspiel as Balder, the god of light in Norse mythology, lending much Teutonic high seriousness to his performance while sniggered at by his local audience.
- 7 Heine’s essay appeared first in a French version ‘Les Dieux en exil’ in the Revue des deux mondes ( (...)
6In spite of his reading and knowledge of the works of Müller, Welcker and Preller, Pater would seem to have been more influenced by a much more radical German writer in his notions of the northern Apollo. Heinrich Heine spent the last twenty-five years of his life in exile in Paris, partly to avoid German censorship, and partly because he felt more in tune with French intellectual and political life. One of Heine’s late texts, Les Dieux en exil (1853) put forward the idea that the pagan gods had survived in Europe after the onset of Christianity, but had assumed new and often much debased forms in the Christian world.7 Heine’s text was a compound of literary genres: part mythology, part essay, part fiction, and it undoubtedly served as an important source of inspiration for Pater. His medieval Apolline shepherd in Picardy is an intriguing reworking of Heine’s pagan ‘Gods in Exile’: a charismatic, restless creature, constantly on the move, who suddenly enters the tale, spreads his magic charm within a Carthusian monastery, wrecks havoc and violent destruction, only just as suddenly to disappear again and move further north from Picardy, presumably into Germany. Drawn by a northward pull, Apollyon is always in transit, spreading his influence, as he leaves Picardy just after the winter solstice. Where Carl was attracted by the Apollo cults of the south, Apollyon—who is the metamorphosed godhead himself, a pagan god adapting to his Christian surroundings—is bent on his northern journey into the light of the new year, after having starred at the Christmas mass in the guise of Christ the good shepherd. Where Carl stars at a court performance as Balder to great comic effect, Apollyon appears as the Light of the World within the monastic chapel. Pater’s two Apolline characters frequently change personas in their restless journeys through life; they are the constant centres of spectacle, whether defined by court codes, liturgy or pagan myths. Indeed, Apollyon is torn between a series of Christian and pagan personas, whether appearing as Christ or the Devil, or re-enacting the pagan myth of Apollo and Hyacinthus, as, by accident, possibly assisted by the northern wind, he kills the young acolyte Hyacinth by severing his head with a discus. In one of Pater’s most masterly pieces of narrative and descriptive prose Apollyon flings a recently unearthed discus, a ‘Devil’s penny piece’, at his young admirer in playfulness, while appearing in yet another of his many appearances: as the moving statue, a literary version of Myron’s famous statue of the Discobolus (the discus-thrower):
In the great heat Apollyon had flung aside, as if forever, his last sorry remnant of workman’s attire, and challenged the boy to do the same. On the moonlit turf there, crouching, right foot foremost, and with face turned backwards to the disk in his right hand, his whole body, in that moment of rest, full of the circular motion he is about to commit to it, he seemed—beautiful, pale, spectre—to shine from within with a light of his own, like that of the glow-worm in the thicket, or the dead and rotten roots of the old trees. And as if they had a proper motion of their own in them, the disks, the quoits, ran, amid the delighted shouts and laughter of the boy, as he follows, scarce less swift, to score the points of their contact with the grass. Again and again they recommence, forgetful of the hours; while the death-bell cries out harshly for the grave’s occupant, and the corpse itself is borne along stealthily not far from them, and, unnoticed by either, the entire aspect of things has changed. Under the overcast sky it is in darkness they are playing, by guess and touch chiefly; and suddenly an icy blast of wind has lifted the roof from the old chapel, the trees are moaning in wild circular motion, and their devil’s penny-piece, when Apollyon throws it for the last time, is itself but a twirling leaf in the wind, till it sinks edgewise, sawing through the boy’s face, uplifted in the dark to trace it, crushing in the tender skull upon the brain.
His shout of laughter is turned in an instant to a cry of pain, of reproach; and in that which echoed it—an immense cry, as from the very heart of ancient tragedy, over the Picard wolds—it was as if that half-extinguished deity, its proper immensity, its old greatness and power, were restored for a moment. The villagers in their beds wondered. It was like the sound of some natural catastrophe.
The storm which followed was still in possession, still moving tearfully among the poplar groves, though it had spent its heat and thunder. The last drops of the blood of Hyacinth still trickled through the thick masses of dark hair, where the tonsure had been. An abundant rain, mingling with the copious purple stream, had coloured the grass all around where the corpse lay, stealing afar in tiny channels. (Pater 2014, 289–90)
7The death of Hyacinth is likened to the death of Pan, with great cosmic effect, as all of Nature mourns the sudden and tragic loss. The fertilizing blood which trickles quietly into the soil at the end of the passage is sacrificial blood which gives rise to the springing of new life, as youthful manhood is metamorphosed into blue flowers. Where Carl was spiritually destroyed by his admiration of all things French and brutally killed by an invading army of French soldiers, Apollyon is himself the destroyer, driven to destruction against his will. Pater’s sinister Apollo goes back to his earliest use of Heine in the opening passages of his 1871 essay on the Florentine neo-platonic philosopher Pico della Mirandola. Here he had included his own translation of the opening passages of the ‘Gods in Exile’, which recounted the re-emergence, after the onset of Christianity, of the Greek god of light as a shepherd in lower Austria:
Apollo seems to have been content to take service under graziers, and as he had once kept the cows of Admetus, so he lived now as a shepherd in Lower Austria. Here, however, having become suspected on account of his beautiful singing, he was recognized by a learned monk as one of the old pagan gods, and handed over to the spiritual tribunal. On the rack he confessed that he was the god Apollo; and before his execution he begged that he might be suffered to play once more upon the lyre, and to sing a song. And he played so touchingly, and sang with such magic, and was withal so beautiful in form and feature, that all the women wept, and many of them were so deeply impressed that they shortly afterwards fell sick. Some time afterwards the people wished to drag him from the grave again, that a stake might be driven through his body, in the belief that he had been a vampire, and that the sick women would by this means recover. But they found the grave empty. (Pater 1980, 24–25)
8Heine’s highly suggestive piece of fiction, linking Apollo to both Christ and the folkloristic vampire, introduces Pater’s Pico: a seminal reconciliatory figure, whose neo-platonism bridges the gulf between Christianity and paganism in the Florentine Renaissance. Apollo is both resurrected and undead, a handsome physical body to victimize in torture, full of charismatic sex appeal and magic musical powers, transcending the material world. His mysterious vanishing act leaves the reader with an open ending: he may have returned to Mount Olympus or the Elysian fields, or he may be a vampire on the prowl, ready to assert his dangerous influence somewhere else north of the Alps. This Apollo leaves the reader uneasy: no matter whether he constitutes a threat or a redemption, he is the very embodiment of Pater’s movement of the Renaissance, many-sided and complex, in touch with Antiquity and the modern world, a divine and diabolic shape-shifter.
9In his two imaginary portraits, Pater explores the northern Apollo at different moments: in medieval France, where Pater’s Renaissance began (Pater 1980, xxiii), as illustrated by his inclusion of ‘Two Early French Stories’ as the opening of The Renaissance. The northern Rococo comes as a late flowering of the Renaissance spirit, and the eighteenth-century Duke Carl is a precursor of Pater’s Winckelmann who concludes The Renaissance. Indeed, in Pater’s Winckelmann essay of 1867, Raphael’s depiction of Apollo on the Parnassus in the Vatican Stanze is the epitome of the Renaissance spirit, with Winckelmann as a direct descendant: ‘In this fresco it is the classical tradition, the orthodoxy of taste, that Raphael commemorates. Winckelmann’s intellectual history authenticates the claims of this tradition in human culture’ (Pater 1980, 157). Winckelmann thus becomes the mediator between the ancient Apollo in his Renaissance incarnation and modernity, a German librarian working within the walls of the Vatican, under the benevolent influence of the Mediterranean sun.
10The duplicitous Hyperborean Apollo obviously captured Pater’s imagination. His translation from Heine in the Pico essay has a sequel in the opening of ‘Apollo in Picardy’, which has been intriguing scholars for decades. The tale begins with a quotation from an unidentified ‘writer of Teutonic proclivities’ who most of all sounds like a clone between Heine and Pater himself. The lengthy passage revisits Heine and the classical sources on the Hyperborean Apollo and takes the reader much further North than the classical writers ever dreamed of, while also alluding to a chaotic topsy-turvy of summer and winter, caused by a sun god who is reluctant even to return to his native Greece:
- 8 Harrison observes that the passage ‘reads like a synthesis of his [Pater’s] own reflections’ and su (...)
‘Consecutive upon Apollo in all his solar fervor and effulgence,’ says a writer of Teutonic proclivities,8 ‘we may discern even among the Greeks themselves, elusively, as would be natural with such a being, almost like a mock sun amid the mists, the northern or ultra-northern sun-god. In hints and fragments the lexicographers and others have told us something of this Hyperborean Apollo, fancies about him which evidence some knowledge of the Land of the Midnight Sun, of the sun’s ways among the Laplanders, of a hoary summer breathing very softly on the violet beds, or say, the London-pride and crab-apples, provided for those meagre people, somewhere amid the remoteness of their icy seas. In such wise Apollo had already anticipated his sad fortunes in the middle age as a god definitely in exile, driven north of the Alps, and even here ever in flight before the summer. Summer, indeed, he leaves now to the management of others, finding his way from France and Germany to still paler countries, yet making or taking with him always a certain seductive summer-in-winter, though also with a divine or titanic regret, a titanic revolt in his heart, and consequent inversion at times of his old beneficent and properly solar doings. For his favours, his fallacious good-humour, which has in truth a touch of malign magic about it, he makes men pay sometimes a terrible price, and is, in fact, a devil!’ (Pater 2014, 271–272)
- 9 Revelation 9:11: ‘And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose na (...)
- 10 In the First Part of Bunyan’s allegory Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) Christian fights a lengthy battle (...)
- 11 In his celebrated essay ‘Style’ (1888), Pater speaks at length of ‘making the most of a word’, argu (...)
11The identification of Apollo with a devil has much of the same shock effect on the reader as the empty grave and the allusions to the vampire in the Heine passage. From poetic evocations of hoary summers, crab-apples and summer-in-winter, the writer changes direction to sudden images of diabolic rebellion and human sacrifice. Apollo becomes a Lucifer, a bearer of light, and Pater subsequently develops his Apollyon, with clear references to the devil figures in Revelation 9:119 and in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678),10 while punning on Greek and Hebrew etymologies. In Greek, ‘Apollyon’ is an active participle of ‘apollumi’, to destroy, in Hebrew ‘Abaddon’ an intensive form of ‘destruction’. Abaddon/Apollyon is represented as a devil-like figure in Christian eschatology and Pater clearly desired to create an intense fusion of Christian and pagan destructive deities in his dialogue with Heine. The fact that he could also ‘make the most of a word’ and create etymological puns in the process only added to his intellectual and philological accomplishment.11 Pater was not alone in his view of the duplicitous Apollo. In his poem ‘The Last Oracle’ (1878), Algernon Charles Swinburne had repeatedly invoked him, with clear Shelleyan echoes: ‘Oh father of all of us, Paian, Apollo/Destroyer and healer, hear!’ (Swinburne 5-10).
12Apart from the Christian/pagan reverberations of the passage, Pater’s ‘quotation’ could also be seen as a late-Victorian, decadent response to some major mid-nineteenth-century anxieties about the cooling of the sun, brought about by recent geological and evolutionary discoveries. Gillian Beer maps some of these theories, expressed in the 1860s and 1870s by such scientists as William Thomson and Hermann Helmholtz, that the sun had only a limited store of heat which, given its recently established great geological age, with all likelihood had almost been spent (Beer 159–180). As Beer demonstrates, these mid-Victorian anxieties found expression in anything from scientific publications to periodical essays and fiction, almost in confirmation of the theories of the German comparative philologist and mythographer Max Müller that all linguistic activity could be traced back to man’s preoccupation with the movements of the sun. Müller was a major Oxford scholar in the second half of the nineteenth century. Appointed Chair, first of Modern Languages and subsequently of Comparative Philology at the University in 1850, he was a public figure in academic circles to quite a different degree than Pater. Yet the two seemed destined to live opposite each other: privately in Bradmore Road in North Oxford; their colleges, Brasenose and All Souls lie on either side of Radcliffe Square, and even in death, in Holywell Cemetery, Pater’s plain cross is just opposite Müller’s ornate and spectacular Celtic cross. Müller’s concern with race, language and myth took its starting point in his claim that for the Aryan people, language and solar myth were inseparably connected. As Beer sums up: ‘In Müller’s system all linguistic and mythological signification leads back towards the sun and the phenomena of weather, and to the fear of non-recurrence. He claimed that primitive peoples constantly feared that the sun would not rise again’ (Beer 165).
- 12 Very little is known of the friendship between Andrew Lang and Pater. All letters in Lang’s possess (...)
13Pater’s Oxford friend, the poet/classicist/anthropologist Andrew Lang,12 questioned Müller’s obsessive philological concern with the sun, yet in his seminal Myth, Ritual and Religion of 1887, Lang presented Apollo as a complex nature god, closely tied to the cult of light on the one hand, while also intimately linked to the destructive aspects of the animal world on the other, through his association in folklore with wolves, rams, and lizards and a swarm of other animals. He began his section on Apollo with an attack on K. O. Müller, as a representative of a generation of German scholars who had played down Apollo’s role as god of sunlight: ‘It is a pretty coincidence that a German scholar, Otfried Müller, who had always opposed Apollo’s claim to be a sun-god, was killed by a sun-stroke at Delphi. The god avenged himself in his ancient home’ (Lang, II, 193). This became the beginning of a portrait of a highly duplicitous god, already well known in Classical literature in the tension between the avenging shooter of pestilence-laden arrows and the serene leader of the nine Muses, but Lang’s interest in folklore and popular ritual led to an exploration of the connection between the Hyperboreans, light, and the wolf in a passage which, in its dismissal of popular etymology, alluded to the Müllerian science of language. The werewolf lurks in the background, as the folkloristic vampire had been a point of reference in Heine’s text, and as a tamer of beasts, closely associated with the arts, Apollo approaches Orpheus as the epitome of civilization in a profound contact with the innermost wildness of animal life:
Among the wilder myths which grouped themselves round the figure of Apollo was the fable that his mother Leto was changed into a wolf. The fable ran that Leto, in the shape of a wolf, came in twelve days from the Hyperboreans to Delos. This may be explained as a volks-etymologie from the god’s name, ‘Lycegenes,’ which is generally held to mean ‘born of light.’ But the presence of very many animals in the Apollo legend and in his temples, corresponding as it does to similar facts already observed in the religion of the lower races, can scarcely be due to popular etymologies alone. (Lang 199)
He is capable of metamorphosis into various beasts, and his temple courts are thronged with images of frogs, and mice, and wolves, and dogs, and ravens, over whose elder worship he throws his protection. He is the god of sudden death; he is amorous and revengeful. The fair humanities of old religion boast no figure more beautiful; yet he, too, bears the birth-marks of ancient creeds, and there is a shadow that stains his legend and darkens the radiance of his glory. (Lang 207–208)
14Pater might well have taken his cue from Lang for his Apollyon, who is both a lover and a destroyer of animals, a charmer and a hunter, who draws the northern animals to his abode, borne by the northern wind which, strangely, seems to come to a halt at the very latitude where Apollyon dwells. Mating and nest-building take place at Christmas time, at moonlight or under the northern light, the aurora borealis, which has been transposed from the far North to the north of France under the influence of Apollyon:
Friend Apollyon seemed able to draw the wild animals, too, to share their sport, yet not altogether kindly. Tired, surfeited, he destroys them when his game with them is at an end; breaks the toy; deftly snaps asunder the fragile back. Though all alike would come at his call, or the sound of his harp, he had his preferences; warred in the night-time, as if on principle, against the creatures of the day. The small furry thing he pierced with his arrow fled to him nevertheless caressingly, with broken limb, to die palpitating in his hand. In this wonderful season, the migratory birds, from Norway, from Britain beyond the seas, came there, as usual, on the north wind, with sudden tumult of wings; but went that year no farther, had built their nests by Christmas-time, filled that belt of woodland around the vale with the chatter of their business and love quarrels. In turn, they drew after them strangers no one here had ever known before; the like of which Hyacinth, who knew his bestiary, had never seen even in a picture. The wild-cat, the wild-swan–the boy peeped on these wonders as they floated over the vale, or glided with unwonted confidence over its turf, under the moonlight, or that frequent continuous aurora which was not the dawn. (Pater 2014, 282–283)
15By 1893 debates about solar myths had been circulating for some three decades, and with his diabolic Apollo in the North Pater is alluding to such a cold world where the sun has disappeared. Apollyon is not himself a source of light; he is lit by other external sources. When we first see him as a handsome youth, he appears to be an Endymion, lit by the loving rays of the moon. The northern light in the passage above is a magnetic radiation, much discussed in mid-Victorian science. In the fatal sports scene at the end, where Apollyon kills Hyacinth with a discus, the whole narrative revolves around circular shapes and movements, in a setting presided over by the full moon, a planetary double of the destructive discus. Lunar influence casts a spell of insanity over the final third of the narrative, as the Prior Saint-Jean asks Apollyon to fetch him the moon, shortly before he goes completely insane and disappears into a world of hallucinations. Most of the narrative takes place in moonlit enclosures, such as barns, chapels, walled graveyards, and towers. The empty grave of Heine’s Apollo lurks somewhere in the background as a confined space which attempts to contain the uncontainable. Drawn towards death and darkness, Apollo refuses to be confined, but he carries the darkness of the grave with him as he proceeds north, not towards the light of the Resurrection but most likely towards further destruction. ‘Apollo in Picardy’ is Pater’s Ode to the North Wind: the cyclical recurrence of the Hyperborean Apollo gives us Pater’s own bleak version of a Shelleyan Destroyer and Preserver, a nature deity with roots in Late Victorian science, philology, mythography and folklore. The Paterian Hyperborean Apollo is as restless as the wind, in constant movement, and although ‘Apollo in Picardy’ was to be Pater’s last finished imaginary portrait, the text forms a superb coda to his lifelong preoccupation with the movement of the Renaissance.