My proof: Apollo was the Roman sun god
Friday, July 22, 2005 at 06:11AM
Political Mammal in My personal history

As a kid I was a reader (and re-reader) of Greek and Roman mythology (and to a lesser degree of Norse, Christian, Egyptian, and Native American myths). One day when I was a ten-year-old (in school in Canterbury, England for a year while my Dad taught at the University of Kent), we were given a class assignment to locate the answers to fifty wide-ranging questions like “What is the term that describes the type of trees that drop their leaves? It was basically and open-book test to help us learn research skills. So I discovered the word “deciduous.”

Surprisingly, a mythology question got me in trouble: “Who was the Roman sun god?” I was confident that Apollo was the Roman (and Greek) name for the god of the sun, and answered that question in that fashion.

I was quite shocked when that assignment came back and I had gotten 49/50—with the sun god question marked as my only error. When I went to my teacher for explanation, I was told that the Roman sun god was “Mithras.” I had never heard that name.

I felt that I had correctly answered the question. As I understand it now, Mithras is also a god associated with the sun from a popular pagan cult followed by Romans, but he was completely absent from any mythology with which I was familiar.

I do not remember considering teachers as the ultimate authority, but my reaction was unusual for me. I spent a ton of time in the library, looking up the word “Apollo” in dictionaries, reference books, mythologies, and encyclopedias. I transcribed every definition and reference I could find, compiled and typed up—on a manual typewriter—a several page document that I titled “My Proof.” I submitted that document to the teacher (who returned it to me with a mild comment that it looked like this episode had been beneficial in leading me to look through the literature.)

Thinking back almost thirty years, I wonder why that small matter got me so fired up. It was not about getting something wrong, or about being perfect, or anything like that. It was about justice. It was about someone in authority being inflexible and not acknowledging that I had a right answer. It was also because I had an ego involved in my knowledge of mythology – I had told other kids the answer to that question.

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