April 26, 2010

Homeric Hymns

For my lit project, I read the Homeric Hymns.

The Hymns are a collection of 34 poems, each in praise of a particular god. These Hymns are a mysterious bunch. They vary in length, the shortest being only several lines long, the longest almost 600. Nobody really knows who wrote them or when. Some date back to Homer's time (thus their name), others seem to have been written in later antiquity. One Hymn poet identifies himself as a blind singer from Chios; this little detail sparked what may be the biggest rumor about Homer's biography.

All the Hymns follow a similar formula. First they announce which god they are singing about (and include a number of epithets, as all Greeks do in naming their gods). Then they move on to some biographical myth about the god. Then they close, usually as a final entreaty, often as a transition into another song. These endings indicate that the singer of these Hymns used them as a preface for something else. What that ensuing song might have been is, like the Hymns, a mystery.

Without any details about what these Hymns were or who wrote them, all a modern reader can do is enjoy them for what they are. The longer Hymns are moderately entertaining. I rather enjoyed the Hymn to Demeter (2) and the Hymn to Hermes (4). Aside from Classical scholars, the Hymns are largely unread. I do not expect I will convince anybody to read them, but for the sake of your general knowledge I will provide a very standard Hymn which should tell you what every other Hymn is like. Hymn to Artemis (27):
Artemis I sing, of the arrow of gold and the hunting cry,
Chaste virgin pursuing the deer, showering arrows,
Own sister of gold-bladed Apollo, who courses
Over the shadowy hills and wind-swept peaks
Taking delight in the chase, and, bending her golden bow,
Sends forth her arrows of anguish. The peaks of the high mountain tremble,
And the shady woodland screams with the cries of wild creatures;
Earth itself shudders, and the deep sea teeming with fish,
As the brave goddess turns this way and that, slaying the race of wild beasts.
But when the showerer of arrows is sated with searching for game
And her heart is content, she slackens the well-bent bow
And goes to the great house of her dear brother, Phoebus Apollo,
In the rich land of Delphi, and orders the beautiful dance of the Muses and Graces.
There, hanging up her curve-backed bow and her quiver of arrows,
Her figure adorned with elegant raiment, she takes command
And leads in the dances. They all raise their heavenly voices
In hymns of praise to Leto, delicate-ankled,
Telling in song of how she gave birth to children
Foremost in counsel and deeds among the immortals.

Farewell, children of Zeus and of lovely-haired Leto;
I will remember you both and another song too.
[I really must blog about film again. Writing about Ancient lit has to be the most boring thing I could be doing with this blog.]


DG said...

a little boring. but it's what you're doing these days. film isn't much better. you should write about trees.

Ian said...

I don't know anything about trees. Except that they are amazing.

My friend and I were going to make a movie about a tree once. We were going to be the first avant-garde film-botanists (probably not the first, actually). Sadly, it did not work out.

Anonymous said...

agree.I step in here once in a while and it's covered with nonsense about fairly uninteresting literature. Where is the movie-bullshit, the douchy collegetrips, reminiscing long lost romances in poetic write-ups?

be well

/ olof