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For Phebus, King of Gaul, see Febus (King of Gaul)

Phebus is a Middle-English form of Latin Phoebus (in French Fébus), both a title of the god Apollo and a title of the sun god, often distinguished from Apollo.

Phebus ApolloEdit

In Classical CultureEdit

The Greek word Phoibos ‘Radiant’ was commonly used as a title of the Greek god Apollōn, who sometimes appeared as an illuminated, shining figure. The name Apollōn was adapted into Latin as Apollo, this form also being the one normally used in English to translate the more proper Greek Apollōn. Similarly Phoibos was Latinized as Phoebus.

Phoebus Apollo was son of Jove (Gk. Zeus) by Latona (Gk. Leto). His elder twin sister was Diana (Gk. Artemis), a deity more closely connected with hunting and the woodlands than was true of Apollo.

Phoebus Apollo was worshiped as an archer god, a herdsman, and a god of ecstatic prophecy. Phoebus Apollo and his archer counterparts in other pantheons was often a plague god who spread disease through his invisible arrows. But the Greek god tended to become more worshiped as a healer. Phoebus Apollo was connected with music, especially music produced by stringed instruments such as the lyre, probably because prehistorically stringed musical instruments evolved from the bow. He is often pictured as dancing, accompanied by the nine Muses. Apollo disliked wild, eastern music, music associated with the flute.

As god of light, Phoebus Apollo was connected with the Sun and his sister Diana with the Moon, but this was only a sometime religious connection, not a mythological one. In mythological texts (and in medieval) texts, Phoebus Apollo is always clearly distinguished from Phoebus the sun god who unlike Phoebus Apollo is a charioteer and a horseman. The period in which Phoebus Apollo was sometimes connected with the Sun was also the period when Greek scientists believed that the Sun was actually a large ball of gas orbiting the Earth, not a man in a chariot who drove it across the sky during the day and returned to the east of the flat Earth in a giant cup floating on the River Ocean.

Equations to Other GodsEdit

Apollo was identified with other similar gods, including the Phoenician plague god and war god Reshef, the Egyptian god Horus, and the Celtic god Mabon, who was renowned as a hunter. The Hindu god Rudra, now normally called Śiva, was also probably related, being in his early worship also a god of the hunt, a god of music, and a god of hidden knowledge.

Phoebus in Wace and LawmanEdit

Wace adds Phoebus (Fébus) as one of the gods whom Hengist claims to worship and he is followed in this by Lawman. No explicit identification of Phoebus with any Germanic god is found and Wace may have added Phoebus to Hengist’s gods arbitrarily, but it is possible that Phoebus Apollo might be identified with the Norse god Ullr.

Ullr was an archer god who dwelt in a region called Ýdalir ‘Yew Dales’, yew being an important material in the making of bows. Snorri Sturlason says, as translated by Young:

Ullr, Sif’s son and Thór’s stepson, is one [too]. He is such a good archer and ski-runner that no one can rival him. He is beautiful to look at as well and he has all the characteristics of a warrior. It is also good to call on him in duels.

Ullr’s father is not named and may have been unknown to Snorri.

Saxo Grammaticus refers to Ullr as a “cunning wizard”.

The name Ullr means ‘Glory’. Compare Phoebus meaning ‘Shining’. The Old English cognate wuldor also means ‘glory’ but is not found as a proper name, although it figures frequently in kennings for the Christian God such as wuldres cyning ‘king of glory’, wuldorfæder ‘glory-father’ or wuldor alwealda ‘glorious all-ruler’. The name is reconstructed as *Wulþuz in Proto-Germanic.

Phoebus, if the account in Wace and Lawman is taken literally, could not refer to Phoebus as a sun god because in Old English the Sun was female and was a goddess.

Phoebus the Sun GodEdit

In Greek the Sun was called Helios. Homer also calls him Hyperion ‘High-One’ but in later texts Hyperion is the name of the father of the Sun, his mother’s name being Theia ‘Goddess’ or Euryphaessa ‘Wide-shining’. His two sisters were Selene ‘Moon’ and Eos ‘Dawn’. Helios is sometimes called Titan.

In the Latin language the Sun was called Sol and also worshiped as a god, and naturally identified with Helios. But Latin poets also very often gave him the titles Titan and Phoebus, though never identifying, outside some purely religious texts, Phoebus Sol with Phoebus Apollo.

Latin poets often conventionally referred to the Sun as Phoebus in his car (chariot) and this trope was adopted by medieval poets and authors. Febus, meaning the Sun, occurs in Guiron the Courteous 110. Phebus in his car also appears three times in the medieval English poem Lancelot of the Laik.

Some Name VariationsEdit

LATIN: Phoebus, Phœbus; FRENCH: Fébus, Febus; ENGLISH: Phebus.

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