Homeric Hymns

The thirty-three anonymous Homeric Hymns celebrating individual gods are a collection of ancient Greek hymns, "Homeric" in the sense that they employ the same epic meter— dactylic hexameter— as the "Iliad" and "Odyssey", use many similar formulas and are couched in the same dialect. They were uncritically attributed to Homer himself in Antiquity—from the earliest written reference to them, Thucydides (iii.104)—and the label has stuck. "the whole collection, as a collection, is "Homeric" in the only useful sense that can be put upon the word;" A. W. Verrall noted in 1894, [A. W. Verrall, "The Hymn to Apollo: An Essay in the Homeric Question" "The Journal of Hellenic Studies" "'14" (1894:1-29) p. 2. ] "that is to say, it has come down labeled as 'Homer' from the earliest times of Greek book-literature."

The oldest of the "Hymns" were written in the seventh century BCE, somewhat later than Hesiod and the usually accepted date for the writing down of the Homeric epics. This still places the older Homeric hymns among the oldest monuments of Greek literature; but although most of them were composed in the seventh and sixth centuries, a few may be Hellenistic, and the "Hymn to Ares" might be a late pagan work, inserted when it was observed that a hymn to Ares was lacking. Walter Burkert has suggested that the "Hymn to Apollo", attributed by an ancient source to Cynaethus of Chios (a member of the Homeridae), was composed in 522 BCE for performance at the unusual double festival held by Polycrates of Samos to honour Apollo of Delos and of Delphi. [Walter Burkert, 'Kynaithos, Polycrates and the Homeric Hymn to Apollo' in "Arktouros: Hellenic studies presented to B. M. W. Knox" ed. G. W. Bowersock, W. Burkert, M. C. J. Putnam (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1979) pp. 53-62.]

The hymns, which must be the remains of a once more strongly represented genre, vary widely in length, some being as brief as three or four lines, while others are in excess of five hundred lines. The long ones comprise an invocation, praise, and narrative, sometimes quite extended. In the briefest ones, the narrative element is lacking. The longer ones show signs of having been assembled from pre-existing disparate materials.

Most surviving Byzantine manuscripts begin with the third Hymn. A chance discovery in Moscow, 1777, recovered the two hymns that open the collection, the fragmentary "To Dionysus" and "To Demeter", in a single fifteenth century manuscript. Some at least of the shorter ones may be excerpts that have omitted the narrative central section, preserving only the useful invocation and introduction, ["husks, introductions and conclusions from which the narrative core has been removed" as Robert Parker calls them, "The 'Hymn to Demeter' and the 'Homeric Hymns'" "Greece & Rome" 2nd Series 38.1 (April 1991, pp. 1-17) p. 1. Parker notes that, for instance, Hymn 18 preserves a version of the beginning and end of the "Hymn to Hermes".] which a rhapsode could employ in the manner of a prelude. The thirty-three hymns praise most of the major gods of Greek mythology; at least the shorter ones may have served as preludes to the recitation of epic verse at festivals by professional rhapsodes: often the singer concludes by saying that now he will pass to another song. A thirty-fourth, "To Hosts" is not a hymn, but a reminder that hospitality is a sacred duty enjoined by the gods, a pointed reminder when coming from a professional rhapsode.

Gods who have Homeric hymns dedicated to them include:

*The Dioscuri, Castor and Polydeuces
*Pythian Apollo


External links

* [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0138;layout=;loc=1.1;query=toc English etext of the Homeric Hymns] Translation by H.G. Evelyn-White at Perseus. Annotated with links to proper names, Greek text, etc.
* [http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/OMACL/Hesiod/hymns.html English etext of the Homeric Hymns] at the Berkeley Sunsite
* [http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/9232/9232.intro.html Introduction to the Homeric Hymns] A condensed version of the introduction by Diane J. Rayor, "The Homeric Hymns : A Translation, with Introduction and Notes" (2004)

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