Essay: Apollo is a Perfectionist and You are Not Good Enough for Him
How the Mind is its Own Enemy, and its Own Hero
I write about mythology and archetypes, and so far I’ve written a lot more about a few of the feminine archetypes than any of the masculine ones.
Artemis and Persephone have been my favorites lately.
One reason for that is I’m a woman, and they feel a little more accessible to me. Another reason I’ve spent so much time with them is that the more I write about a certain archetype, the more I learn, and the more I’m inspired to write. So I like to really explore a specific archetype to gain as much insight as I can about it before I’m comfortable moving on.
That’s a little tricky, because each of the archetypes has so many layers—I could create an entire blog for Persephone or Artemis alone.
But I don’t want to do that.
Lately I’ve been feeling Apollo tugging at my attention, so I thought I’d go in that direction. Apollo feels a little more accessible to me than some of the other masculine archetypes. Not sure why. I mean, Apollo is all about intellect and winning, and I’m certainly no scientist or Olympian. (Haha. Ha.)
Then it came to me.
I’ve been going through some deep emotional healing, and spending a lot of time in meditation and reflection. Sounds nice, right? Maybe a little self indulgent? But healing only happens when there’s a wound or a disease, and the process of healing is rarely comfortable. Even small cuts and scrapes itch something crazy while they’re healing.
Anyone who practices meditation and reflection in any serious way knows that it can be a real pain in the ass. It brings up all kinds of wounds and shadows, and you have to look at things about yourself that you wish weren’t there . . . and that you’re not sure how to fix.
Most of us eventually encounter some form of self hate in this process.
It’s natural. Human beings judge themselves. But I think that in an Apollo culture (which ours is), self-judgment can go to extreme levels.
Because Apollo has very high standards. Anytime we fall short in any way, we feel his judgment (our own judgment, that is). We move from self-judgment into self-hate.
So when I came up against this big nasty knot of self hate in my meditations, I realized it came from an intellectual place—I had seriously fallen short of my own standards. I also realized that my own standards were unattainable.
Apollo’s standards are generally unattainable for mere mortals. You can never be as smart as he thinks you should. You can never win as much as he thinks you should.
So in an Apollo culture, we’re kind of doomed to hold ourselves in certain levels of contempt.
Let’s talk about Apollo’s obsessions with perfection, and why he’s such an influence in our world right now.
Apollo represents the power of the mind and the glory of achievement.
He is logical and methodical.
He’s an amazing god. Look at all the stuff the intellect has allowed us to build and do in the world. We’ve created a vast, global network of cities. With skyscrapers and very very fast trains. We’ve created the internet, allowing for instant connection (well, theoretically) with people across the globe. We’ve been to the moon and are exploring the vast reaches of outer space with technology. We’ve cured diseases that used to plague humankind (good lord, I can’t stop the puns). We’ve genetically engineered papayas so a nasty papaya virus won’t be able to attack them.
That is all Apollo in action.
He is the god of just about everything. As GreekGodsAndGoddesses.com explains:
“Apollo is one of the most complex and important gods, and is the god of many things, including: music, poetry, art, oracles, archery, plague, medicine, the sun, light, and knowledge.”
He is also the god of law, order, and justice. And being the god of “knowledge” means he is basically the god of anything you can learn, and of the process of learning itself. Apollo has the ability to break just about anything down into a science, and to master it.
He. Is. Fucking. Brilliant.
And. He. Fucking. Knows. It.
And he likes to show it.
Being the archetypal overachieving genius, Apollo has a real lack of respect for anything that is not intellectual.
He can do music, poetry, and art—all those can be broken down into component parts (remember the Greeks had measured their sculptures and arts into perfect “divine proportions”), and the arts are also considered important aspects of civilization, which Apollo is responsible for.
He can even do prophecy, although he wouldn’t base it on intuition. I think that for Apollo, divination is more about looking into the mind of a man and forecasting what he’ll do or where he’ll go, all based on who and where he is. In that case, it’s like Apollo’s looking at a map and pointing out where the road you’re on goes to. It’s just logical. (You could do this kind of divination yourself . . . if you’d just KNOW THYSELF.)
But if something is superstitious or can’t be measured . . . Apollo sneers at it.
Apollo may be the god of many things, but the intellect can’t actually FEEL. It can analyze feelings, but the act and art of feeling itself is done by the heart. That’s a different archetype.
You can see this in action with some of our most popular Apollo characters today—Spock and Sherlock Holmes. They’re both super-geniuses who prize logic and reason, they’re both the smartest guys in any room they enter, and they are both proudly unemotional. (They both play music too, incidentally.)
So: Apollo sees himself as better than everyone else around him. It makes sense. I mean, if you’re a super-genius surrounded by mere mortals of less than Apollonian intelligence . . . you’re not really going to enjoy smalltalk at parties.
So most of the time Apollo pretty much keeps to himself. This is from Men-Myths-Minds:
“[Apollo did not like] any violation of the boundaries between the gods and mortal men. Alone among the Olympian deities, Apollo never ‘sponsored’ or helped any of the Greek heroes because he felt that they should know their “place” and stay out of the god’s affairs.”
See? You really are not good enough for him.
Especially when you betray your own stupidity, which is actually very profound and deep, or when you fail to achieve things.
Apollo, the intellect, can be MERCILESS when he does not win. Again, Men-Myths-Minds:
“It is a good thing that Apollo usually won, for he was far from being a ‘good loser’. His opponents were often punished for winning. He literally took the skin off a satyr named Marsyus who had the audacity to beat him in a music competition.”
See? The intellect likes to be right and to win. You’d better not shame the intellect. It would rather be right than happy. It would rather win than have friends. It would rather be seen as “the best” than as “one of the guys.” It wants (and believes it deserves) special treatment and all kinds of prizes.
Your own shortcomings and failures are deeply, cruelly condemned by your own intellect.
But you, mere mortal, could never live up to Apollonian standards no matter how hard you try.
So you have always been damned to incite the condemnation of your own intellect.
Ours is an Apollo culture.
We are obsessed with progress, the power of our minds to master nature, build civilizations, advance technology, and to break everything down into its component parts so we can understand it and use it for our own ends.
Along with this Apollonian streak of self obsessed intellectual prowess comes a heavy helping of perfectionism.
Then comes our failure as mere mortals to live up to our own godly standards.
This starts in the intellect—the ego.
When we are babies, before the ego and intellect really begins to develop, we never judge ourselves. But as we develop a sense of personal identity and try to find where we fit in society, we learn that there are certain aspects of ourselves, and certain behaviors, that are unacceptable, and therefore unlovable and unworthy.
We learn to judge ourselves.
I will never forget the first time I saw my little niece, at three years old, express self judgment to the point that she turned against herself. She spilled her cup of milk, burst into tears, and exclaimed, “I’m doing everything wrong!” My heart broke. How could I explain to her that, while it was true she could have been more careful and she wouldn’t have spilled her milk, that it was okay she had made a mistake? Or that it was okay if she made that same mistake again and again? (She did.)
It wasn’t the first time I’d seen her cry because she was punished, but it was the first time I’d seen her cry because she’d punished herself—because she thought she wasn’t good enough.
Incidents like that demonstrate when the process of judging ourselves begins, but as we grow, so do the ways we fall short, and so do the ways we judge ourselves. We learn to judge ourselves in deeper, harsher ways, and it evolves into self hate.
The intellect is very hard on itself.
Apollo is a hard god.
He is not really a cruel one.
The intellect, it turns out, is capable of learning . . . even about itself. It is capable of Knowing Itself.
So we come back to meditation and reflection.
Given the right impetus, and space to think, the intellect is capable of understanding the ways in which it has turned against itself, and it is capable of turning toward healing.
(Apollo is also the god of healing, remember.)
If the intellect can see how demanding perfection has wounded it and held it back, then the intellect can stop engaging in those behaviors.
So does Apollo become merciful? Less demanding? Less perfectionist?
I don’t think so.
Apollo will never sacrifice perfection.
What he will do is redefine perfection for himself. He will create a definition of perfection that includes “balance” and “patience” and “responsiveness.” After all, one of Apollo’s mottos is “Nothing in Excess.”
Apollo is a wonderful and unique archetype with the ability to heal himself. It may feel like your mind is your enemy (and I hear this repeated a lot in spiritual groups, especially those focused on certain kinds of meditation), but it really is not. The more conscious the mind becomes, the more it becomes a tool for its own healing.
© Mythraeum 2016. The content of this article, except for quoted or linked source materials, is protected by copyright. Please contact me to request usage.SUBSCRIBE