Propolos: Guide, companion, servant. Sophocles, The Root Cutters. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter. 

In the LSJ Propolos suggests “going,” or “acting before,”
and was usually applied to servants, attendants and those who minister to
another. Those who serve a God, or who interprets the Gods’ will to men are
also sometimes known as Propolos.

Jacqueline Feather, who admittedly approaches Hekate from a
more psychological angle, suggests that Hekate is Propolos when guiding the
Gods, and Phosphoros when guiding mortals. But there is naught to suggest that
this has a historic background.

Propolos can also mean ‘handmaiden,’ and Hekate’s role in
the Hymn to Demeter directly notes that She becomes the handmaiden of
Persephone. It is Hekate who sometimes guides Persephone into (and out of) the
Underworld. She also serves a similar purpose for the Dead themselves. It is
from this position that Hekate became the Mistress of Ghosts and Leader of the
Restless Dead. I have not had the chance to read the original Greek, but I
wonder if Sappho’s poem about Hekate being the attendant to Aphrodite describes
her as Propolos.

Iphigeneia, who is, according to some stories, also Hekate,
is the propolos of Artemis. The story goes that Iphigeneia, daughter of
Agamemnon, was offered as sacrifice to the Gods, because the Gods were holding
the King’s fleet from sailing for Troy. She was rescued by Artemis, and thereby
became her companion.

Hermes too is Propolos to Zeus. He regularly attends to the
King of the Gods, or serves as his messenger. We see them together in several
stories, perhaps most popularly the story of Deucalion and Pyrrha. He could
also attend on a few different Goddesses, alongside Pan.

But Priests could also be Propolos, though we are uncertain
of the specifics of their position and responsibilities. The title varied from
cult to cult, and usually the God’s attendant was expected to be the same
gender as the deity (which notable exceptions in the cultus of Cybele and
others.) Each cult had its specific responsibilities, which varied considerably
depending upon the polis and the variations of interpretations of the Gods.

I have encountered a lot of Hekatean practitioners who are
uncomfortable with the idea of Hekate being the handmaiden or attendant or
companion to anyone. They see her as the indomitable Queen of the Underworld.
And that’s cool. But I would argue that Queens (and Kings) are best understood
in terms not of their domination of others, as they are truly servants to the
responsibilities of their position. There is no degradation in service. I am
not made less by my helping others nor am I weakened by doing service to
another. Kings and Queens serve the good of their domains, and if they do not,
then they are not worthy of the throne. Hekate Propolos is not diminished by
her service to the other Gods, nor is Hermes, rather they are empowered and
magnified by their companionship with them!

Sources:

Lsj.translatum.gr
theoi.com

Feather, Jacqueline. Hekate’s
Hordes: Memoir’s Voice
, Pacifica Graduate Institute, 2009.
Harrison, Jane Ellen. Themis: A Study of
the Social Origins of Greek Religion,
Cambride, 2010.
Johnston, Sarah Iles. Restless Dead:
Encounters between the Living and the Dead in Ancient Greece
, Univ.
California, 2013.
Mikalson, Jon D. Ancient Greek Religion,
Wiley & Sons, 2009.
Ogden, Daniel. A Companion to Greek
Religion
, Wiley & Sons, 2010.
Peck,  Elisabeth Sinclair. A Study of the Greek Priestess, Univ.
Michigan, 1916.

Images:

Doyen, Gabriel Francois. “The Sacrifice of Iphigeneia,” oil
painting, 18th c. CE, now in the Maison Motais de Narbonne, via
wikicommons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Doyen_-_Le_sacrifice_d%E2%80%99Iphig%C3%A9nie.jpg

Smith, William. “Persephone (Proserpine) Enthroned,” from A Smaller Classical Mythology: with
translations from the Ancient Poets, and Questions Upon the Work
, John
Murray, 1882. Wood-engraving, 1882. Via wikicommons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Persephone_enthroned_(Illustrated_by_Engravings_on_Wood).jpg

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