In Greek myth, the North wind had a home: a cave on Mount Haemus in Thrace. From there he sent the cold winds, and to emphasize this artists painted him with his hair and beard spiky with ice. As its name suggests, the land of Hyperborea lay beyond Boreas’ realm, where cold, along with old age and want, was unknown.
The Greek god Apollo is the most rational, artistic and fastidious of the Olympians. So why is an animal noted for its ravening nature part of his cult?
Hyperborea, and the Hyperboreans, seem to have had an enduring life among the ancient Greeks and Romans, even if they couldn’t always agree on where it was. It first intrigued me because of the story that Apollo went there every winter.
The philosopher Plato recorded the last words of his mentor, Socrates, in a dialogue called the Phaedo. According to him, Socrates tried to console his followers by contrasting the nightingale and the swan. In myth the nightingale sang for sorrow, while swans only sang once, at their death. Socrates argued that swans sang because, as Apollo’s birds, they could foresee the joys of the afterworld.
When I was young, I imagined the manna that fell from heaven as being some sort of bread, possibly akin to communion wafers. It made sense to my young, Catholic, self.
Much later in life, I had to rethink the nature of manna, because of two books. One was the Poetic Edda, and the other was The Hive by Bee Wilson (a very appropriate name). Wilson’s book talks mainly about honey from the hive, but she does mention manna or meli, as the ancient Greeks called it, which falls from ash trees.