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Classics Homeric Hymns
by
Andrew Faulkner

Introduction

The Homeric Hymns are a collection of thirty-three hexameter hymns to Greek deities, so named because they were often in Antiquity attributed to Homer, the supposed composer of the Iliad and Odyssey. The poems are, in fact, of varied date and provenance, although the majority are most probably products of the archaic period (7th to 6th centuries BCE). Four of the Homeric Hymns (two to Demeter, three to Apollo, four to Hermes, and five to Aphrodite) contain developed narratives of episodes in the lives of the deities celebrated and stretch from 293 to 580 lines. The first Hymn to Dionysus also contained an extended narrative of over 400 lines, but now survives only in fragments. There are two mid-length Hymns with narratives, seven to Dionysus (fifty-nine lines), and nineteen to Pan (forty-nine lines), but the rest of the poems in the corpus are short celebrations of divine powers consisting of between three and twenty-two lines. Critical attention has understandably focused most on the longer Homeric Hymns with extended narratives.

General Overviews

Concise general overviews of the Homeric Hymns are provided by Faulkner 2011 and Clay 1997. Excellent general comments may also be found in Parker 1991. Others can be found in the introductions to editions and translations, with notable contributions by Richardson 2010, West 2003, Cashford 2003, and Càssola 1975. The introduction to Allen, et al. 1936 is still extremely useful, but somewhat dated. Nünlist 2004 gives a brief overview of the Hymns and narratology.

Bibliographies

There is one online bibliography dedicated to the Homeric Hymns, compiled by Oliver Thomas in Oxford: Categorised Bibliography for the Homeric Hymns. It is arranged in categories according to topic and hymn, and within each category works are ordered chronologically, beginning with the most recent. Books and articles on the Homeric Hymns can also be found by using L’Année Philologique, the standard bibliographical database for classics.

Editions

The first printed edition of the Homeric Hymns was published in 1488 in Florence, together with the Iliad and Odyssey, by Demetrius Chalcondyles. This did not include what are now known as the first and second Hymns, to Dionysus and Demeter; these were not known until C. F. Matthaei discovered a manuscript in Moscow in 1777 containing the closing lines of the former and the entirety (with some lacunae) of the latter. Since the beginning of the 20th century, there have been several editions of the whole collection, of which the most important and widely consulted are Allen and Sikes 1904; Allen 1912; Allen, et al. 1936; Humbert 1936; Càssola 1975; and West 2003. Richardson 2010 is a valuable recent edition, together with an introduction and commentary, of the three long Homeric Hymns to Apollo, Hermes, and Aphrodite. Also useful is Zanetto 2000.

  • Homer. 1904. The Homeric hymns. Edited by Thomas W. Allen, and Edward E. Sikes. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Edition together with an introduction and commentary that follows upon Allen’s series of articles on the text of the Hymns, which appeared in the Journal for Hellenic Studies 15–18 between 1895 and 1898.

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  • Homer. 1912. Homeri opera 5. Edited by T. W. Allen. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Text of the Hymns, together with the Lives of Homer, in the Oxford Classical Text series.

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  • Homer. 1936. The Homeric hymns. Edited by Thomas W. Allen, William R. Halliday, and Edward E. Sikes. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A substantially revised version of Homer 1904, with the editorial involvement of W. R. Halliday. E. E. Sikes was not involved in the revisions for this volume.

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  • Homer. 1936. Homère, hymnes. 2d ed. Edited and translated into French by Jean Humbert. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

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    Edition with an introduction, notes, and French translation in the Budé series. The Hymns are organized according to deity, rather than the order transmitted in most manuscripts.

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  • Homer. 1975. Inni Omerici. Edited by Filippo Càssola. Milan: Mondadori.

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    Edition with an introduction, Italian translation, and commentary. This edition provides the most complete apparatus and study of the relation of the manuscripts; it remains the standard.

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  • Homer. 2000. Inni Omerici. 2d ed. Edited and translated into Italian by Giuseppe Zanetto. Milan: Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli.

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    Edition with an Italian translation and brief notes. The text has no apparatus criticus.

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  • Homer. 2003. The Homeric hymns, Homeric apocrypha, Lives of Homer. Edited and translated into English by Martin L. West. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Edition with an English translation that replaces the 1936 edition of the Hymns by H. G. Evelyn-White in the Loeb series (see Evelyn-White 1936). It contains a number of useful conjectures and more possible fragments of the first Hymn to Dionysus than previous editions.

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  • Homer. 2010. Three Homeric hymns: To Apollo, Hermes, and Aphrodite: Hymns 3, 4, and 5. Edited by Nicholas Richardson. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Edition of three of the long narrative Homeric Hymns in the Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics series. Includes useful apparatus and full commentary.

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English Translations

One has the choice of several excellent translations of the Hymns into English verse and prose completed since 1995. For verse translations, see Shelmerdine 1995, Crudden 2001, an Cashford 2003. The new Loeb prose translation of West 2003) provides an accurate and pleasing rendering of the original Greek. The earlier Loeb edition of Evelyn-White 1936) is somewhat dated, but still offers a readable translation that is available on the Perseus website. The classic translation of the Hymns by Chapman (originally published in 1624) has recently been reprinted by Princeton University Press (Chapman 2008).

Commentaries

There exist good commentaries on the whole collection, but these are naturally limited in the amount of detailed attention they give to individual poems. Those that exist tend to focus on the language of the poems and their relationship to other early hexameter poetry. The long narrative Hymns have also received individual commentaries, with recent work considering more fully issues of literary criticism.

Whole Collection

There have been several commentaries on the whole collection of Homeric Hymns published since the beginning of the 19th century. Most comprehensive are Allen, et al. 1936 and Càssola 1975, but earlier editions still offer helpful guidance, particularly on issues of textual criticism. Notable 19th-century commentaries are Gemoll 1886 and Baumeister 1860. Richardson 2010 is a valuable and up-to-date commentary on the Hymns to Apollo, Hermes, and Aphrodite.

Individual Homeric Hymns

Detailed commentaries on the long Hymns to Demeter, Apollo, Hermes, and Aphrodite are now either in print or in preparation for publication. The first comprehensive modern commentary on an individual long Hymn was Richardson 1978, on the Hymn to Demeter; on this poem, see also Foley 1994, with more focus on literary criticism. Detailed commentary on the Hymn to Aphrodite are now available in Faulkner 2008 and Olson 2012; helpful comments on lines 36–291 are also found in van der Ben 1986, which responds to the selective commentary on the poem in van Eck 1978. A partial commentary on the Hymn to Apollo was completed by Mike Chappell (Chappell 1995) as a doctoral dissertation in London. On the Homeric Hymm to Hermes we now have a full-length commentary in Vergados 2012 as well as the partial commentary by Thomas 2009 (a doctoral thesis, currently being expanded and revised for publication).

Language and Style

The language of the Homeric Hymns is similar to that of other early hexameter poetry and has been compared to the language of the Homeric epics and Hesiod in several extensive studies. The language of the Hymns varies from one poem to another, but is generally considered to represent a more developed stage in the tradition of hexameter poetry than the Iliad and Odyssey. The most nuanced and statistically comprehensive study of the Hymns’ language is Janko 1982, which remains a standard reference work. Janko developed the methodology of Hoekstra 1969, which examined advanced linguistic features alongside formular (or formulaic) modification in the long narrative Hymns (with the exception of the Hymn to Hermes). Postlethewaite 1972 also examines formulaic composition in the Hymns. Many scholars have used comparative linguistic studies as a means of determining relative date, but Pavese 1972 and Pavese 1974 emphasize distinct mainland and Ionian traditions of epic poetry. West 1995 rejects Janko’s statistical comparison as a reliable indication of relative chronology on the grounds that factors apart from date, such as content and individual style, determine linguistic innovation. The earlier study of Zumbach 1955 does not consider statistical variation of linguistic criteria, but it still offers useful comments on individual words. Detailed studies of language and style can also be found in commentaries on Individual Homeric Hymns.

  • Hoekstra, Arie. 1969. The sub-epic stage of the formulaic tradition: Studies in the Homeric hymns to Apollo, to Aphrodite and to Demeter. Amsterdam: Hakkert.

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    Careful comparison of the Homeric Hymns with other epic poetry through examination of linguistic features and formulaic modification. The Hymn to Hermes is not included because it is considered to be of a later date.

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  • Janko, Richard. 1982. Homer, Hesiod, and the hymns: Diachronic development in epic diction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Benchmark analysis of linguistic criteria and “formular modification.” Individual instances of modification and advanced diction in the long Hymns are discussed in separate sections and a relative chronology for early epic poetry is proposed after careful consideration of internal and external evidence.

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  • Pavese, Carlo Odo. 1972. Tradizioni e generi poetici della Grecia arcaica. Rome: Ateneo.

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    Study of the language of early epic poetry, including the Homeric epics, Hesiod, and the Homeric Hymns. Argues for distinct Ionian and mainland traditions of poetry. See Janko 1982, pp. 12–16, for a contrary position.

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  • Pavese, Carlo Odo. 1974. Studi sulla tradizione epica rapsodica. Rome: Ateneo.

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    An expansion and elaboration upon Pavese 1972.

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  • Postlethewaite, Norman. 1972. “Formulaic Composition in the Homeric Hymns.” PhD diss., Univ. of Sheffield.

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    Study of the mobility of common formulae in the Homeric Hymns and Homeric epic. Hesiod is excluded.

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  • West, Martin L. 1995. The date of the “Iliad.” Museum Helveticum 52:203–219.

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    The reliability of statistical comparison of linguistic criteria as a means of relative dating is called into question, contra Janko 1982 and others, pp. 204–205.

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  • Zumbach, Othmar. 1955. Neuerungen in der Sprache der homerischen Hymnen. Winterthur, Switzerland: Keller.

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    Examination of individual forms and words in the Homeric Hymns. Many assumptions about the relationship of the Hymns to Hesiod and Homer are outdated, but there are nonetheless many useful observations.

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Studies of Individual Hymns

The long narrative Homeric Hymns—to Demeter, Apollo, Hermes, and Aphrodite—have attracted numerous book-length and article-length studies. The mid-length Hymns—7 to Dionysus and Hymn 19 to Pan—have also garnered some individual attention, as have several of the shorter Hymns. The works listed here under the subsections for the long Hymns are only a representative selection of studies, which themselves provide a further bibliography. Indispensable literary interpretations of the four long Hymns may be found in Clay 2006, first published in 1989.

  • Clay, Jenny Strauss. 2006. The politics of Olympus: Form and meaning in the major Homeric hymns. London: Duckworth.

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    Originally published in 1989. Linear literary interpretations of the four long Homeric Hymns, which emphasize the poems’ Panhellenic outlook and the intermediary role their narratives play in the establishment of the divine cosmos as a distinct genre between Hesiodic and Homeric poetry.

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First Hymn to Dionysus

This poem survives in only four fragments, but once extended beyond 400 lines. What appear to be the final twelve lines of the poem are contained in manuscript M, discovered by C. F. Matthiae in Moscow in 1777. Lines from the beginning of the poem are quoted by Diodorus Siculus, which overlap with the text of a Geneva papyrus identified by Hurst 1994. The most complete reconstruction of the poem is in West 2001 and West 2011, which also attributes P. Oxy. 670 and a one-line quote from Crates of Mallos to the Hymn, which West considers archaic; in the attribution of the former, West follows Merkelbach 1973. P. Oxy. 670 tells of Hephaestus’s imprisonment of Hera on her throne and Dionysus’s rescue of the goddess, which was probably the narrative told in the Hymn to Dionysus. This attribution is now generally accepted, although Dihle 2002 has argued that all of the surviving fragments of the Hymn are Hellenistic. Faulkner 2010 observes that two points of language in P. Oxy. 670 are not otherwise attested before the 4th century BCE.

Second Hymn to Demeter

The Hymn to Demeter, along with the end of the first Hymn to Dionysus, was first discovered in manuscript M by C. F. Matthiae in Moscow in 1777. Fragments of the poem have since been found on papyrus. The foundation for recent work on the poem is Richardson 1978, which provides a full commentary and consideration of the poem’s relationship to Eleusinian cult. Clinton 1986 argues that the poet was not from Attica and had no special connection to Eleusis; this is refuted by Parker 1991. Clinton 1992 then argues that the poem is more strongly linked to the Thesmophoria than the Mysteries at Eleusis. The most recent evaluation of the Hymn’s connection to cult is Kledt 2004. A valuable collection of literary interpretations of the poem may be found in Foley 1994, which also provides a helpful introduction and commentary. Segal 1981 is a classic study of the artistry of repetition in the poem and oral poetics. Beck 2001 offers a stimulating evaluation of direct speech and the mother-daughter relationship in Hymn to Demeter. A recent discussion of the chief interpretative problems surrounding the hymn is available in Richardson 2011.

Third Hymn to Apollo

The scholarship on this poem is vast. The Hymn to Apollo has often been considered to be composed of two originally separate hymns to Delian and Pythian Apollo. This position is argued for in detail by Förstel 1979, which provides a useful overview of earlier literature on the topic (pp. 20–62); compare West 1975 and Chappell 2006. Others, however, have argued that the Hymn as we have it is a unified composition: see Miller 1986. Good recent overviews of the topic may be found in Martin 2000 and Chappell 2011. Bakker 2002 considers the composition of the unified hymn from the cognitive perspectives of memory and perception. On the structure of the poem, see Niles 1979. Peponi 2009 is a recent interpretation of the much-discussed portrayal of the choral performance of the Delian maidens in the Hymn. On the Hymn’s performance and relationship with choral activity, see also Aloni 1989.

Fourth Hymn to Hermes

This poem is universally thought to be the latest of the long Homeric Hymns, and its narrative has often been considered an incohesive hodgepodge. Its language is certainly the least traditional, and it most probably dates to the second half of the 6th or the first half of the 5th century BCE. Many important studies of the Hymn have been undertaken in recent years as doctoral work. Vergados 2012 (cited under Individual Homeric Hymns) and Thomas 2009 offer detailed commentaries, with recent reviews of scholarship on a variety of topics, including narrative structure, musical performance, humor, and the dating of the poem. Vergados 2011 engagingly treats the question of humour and epiphany in the hymn. Nobili 2008 gives extended treatment to the Hymn, arguing for its connection to Athens and the Panathenaea. Others, however, have connected the poem to Olympia—see recently Johnston 2002. The Hymn is particularly humorous, in contrast to the more solemn narratives of the Hymns to Apollo and Demeter, and Hermes’s tricky nature is celebrated. See Brown 1947 and, more recently, Fletcher 2008 on Hermes the trickster and the oaths he swears. A detailed study of the Hymn’s poetics may also now be found in Jaillard 2007. On Apollo’s interaction with Hermes, see Harrell 1991.

Fifth Hymn to Aphrodite

This poem, probably one of the oldest Hymns, is closely connected to the Iliad by the similarity of Aphrodite’s prophecy to Anchises and Poseidon’s prophecy about Aeneas’s lineage in Book 20. Much scholarship has focused on this link, with some arguing that both the Hymn and the prophecy in Iliad Book 20 were composed to honor a family of Aeneadae living in the Troad. For a survey of recent views on this topic and the literary interpretation of the Hymn, see Faulkner 2008, pp. 3–18, which also offers detailed commentary on the poem. In favor of the patronage hypothesis, see the dense but indispensable Lenz 1975. Smith 1981a, however, shows that reports of Aeneadae by later historians are unreliable, as does van der Ben 1986. Smith 1981b otherwise demonstrates the unity that the theme of mortality and immortality brings to the narrative; along the same lines, see the structuralist study of Segal 1974. Porter 1949 remains a useful study of the function of repetition in the Hymn. De Jong 1989 is an insightful interpretation of the narrative using the tools of narratology.

Seventh Hymn to Dionysus

The myth of Dionysus’s abduction by pirates recounted in the seventh Homeric Hymn and known in other literary and artistic sources is treated by James 1975 and more recently De’Spagnolis 2004. The latter, which focuses on the attestation of the myth in a tomb in Nuceria, also surveys the identification of the Tyrsenian pirates with Etruscans or Pelasgians. Nobili 2009 links the pirates to the Etruscans and argues for performance of the Hymn in Corinth. Most recently, Jaillard 2011 focuses upon the epiphanic nature of the narrative in the Homeric Hymn. For artistic representations of the myth, see also Isler-Kerényi 2007.

Eighth Hymn to Ares

This Hymn is a late edition to the collection and is Neoplatonic in its style and use of planetary allegory. West 1970 suggests that it is the work of Proclus and was included in the collection through a mishap of transmission. Others refute this and see the poem as the work of an unknown philosopher working in the tradition of Plotinus: see Gelzer 1987, which also argues that the poem was intentionally included by the compiler of the collection, and van den Berg 2001, pp. 6–7.

Nineteenth Hymn to Pan

The narrative of this Hymn is stylistically different than others in the collection. Pan roams throughout the countryside, but there is no direct speech. A sensitive and informative reading of the poem’s narrative progression is found in Thomas 2011. On Pan’s relationship to Echo in the poem see Germany 2005. Also useful is Villarrubia 1997, which gives attention to the Hymn’s stylistic qualities.

The Shorter Homeric Hymns

Studies dedicated to individual shorter Hymns are rare. Readers should always consult the commentaries on the whole collection. An exception is the very helpful study of Fröhder 1994, which examines in detail Hymns 20, 27, 28, 6, and 19, and treats other shorter Hymns as part of its larger study of the structure and nature of the poems in the collection. Olson 2012 (cited under Individual Homeric Hymns) now also provides a useful recent commentary on ten of the shorter Hymns. Comments on the smaller Hymns may also be found passim in the general overviews listed previously.

  • Fröhder, Dorothea. 1994. Die dichterische Form der homerischen Hymnen: Untersucht am Typus der mittelgrossen Preislieder. Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms.

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    Detailed study of the structure, nature, and function of the short and middle-length Hymns. In the second part, individual attention is given to Hymns 20, 27, 28, 6, and 19.

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Structure

A number of sources examine the structure of the Homeric Hymns. Janko 1981 and Fröhder 1994 are frequently cited. See also Calame 2011 and the many useful observations in Devlin 1994. On the structure and genre of Greek hymns more generally, see Depew 2001, and Furley and Bremer 2001, Volume 1, pp. 1–64, with further bibliography.

  • Calame, Claude. 2011. The Homeric Hymns as Poetic Offerings: Musical and Ritual Relationships with the Gods. In The Homeric Hymns: Interpretative Essays. Edited by Andrew Faulkner, 334-357. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

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    Examines the structure of the Homeric Hymns and the musical/ritual relationships established between the aoidos-rhapsode and the god hymned.

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  • Depew, Mary. 2001. Enacted and represented dedications: Genre and Greek hymn. In Matrices of genre: Authors, canons, and society. Edited by Mary Depew and Dirk Obbink, 59–79. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    An insightful analysis of archaic Greek hymns as dedications to gods, which explores the significance of deictic language for performance context and genre.

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  • Devlin, Nicola G. 1994. The hymn in Greek literature. PhD diss., Univ. of Oxford.

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    A study of the structure and nature of Greek hymns, with many useful observations on the Homeric Hymns.

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  • Fröhder, Dorothea. 1994. Die dichterische Form der homerischen Hymnen: Untersucht am Typus der mittelgrossen Preislieder. Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms.

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    A study of middle-length and short Hymns, with detailed comments on structure and function.

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  • Furley, William, and Jan M. Bremer. 2001. Greek hymns. 2 vols. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck.

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    Edition of numerous “cult” hymns, with an introduction, translation, and extensive commentary. The Homeric Hymns are not the object of the study, but are briefly discussed in the introduction. This is an essential and accessible source for other forms of Greek hymns.

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  • Janko, Richard. 1981. The structure of the Homeric Hymns: A study in genre. Hermes 109:9–24.

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    Examines the formal characteristics of the Hymns. Widely consulted.

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Genre and Motifs

Sowa 1984 provides a useful analysis of the themes and motifs in the Hymns and their relationship to Near Eastern mythology; on this, see also Penglase 1994. On the genre of the Hymns, readers should also consult Clay 2006 and Clay 2011, who traces generic themes of the “politics of Olympus” in the Homeric Hymns. Furley 2011 alternatively compares the Hymns to other early hexameter hymns and suggests a development from more basic theogonic hymns.

The Collection

Several studies have identified patterns in the organization of the collection, whose circumstances of formation are uncertain. For an overview of these issues, Richardson 2010, pp. 3–4, and Torres-Guerra 2003, with a previous bibliography; both note that length seems to be an organizational principle. Gelzer 1987 argues that the collection we have was compiled in the 5th or 6th century CE. However, a collection of some sort may well have existed by the early 3rd century BCE, on which see Faulkner 2011. Van der Valk 1976 proposes that the collection existed prior to the Hellenistic period.

Reception

The study of the reception of the Homeric Hymns has advanced significantly in recent years, with much attention given to their reception in Greek literature of the Hellenistic period. There is, however, still much work to be done on reception, particularly the reception of the Hymns in later Greek and Latin literature. Apart from the studies cited in this section, commentaries should also be consulted on the reception of individual Hymns.

Greek Reception

Essential studies of Fantuzzi and Hunter 2004, chapter 8 (pp. 350–371); Vamvouri-Ruffy 2004; Hunter and Fuhrer 2002; Hunter 1996, chapter 2 (pp. 46–76); Bing 1993; Bing 1995; and Bulloch 1977. On the early reception of the Hymns down to the early Hellenistic period, see also Faulkner 2011 (cited under The Collection) and Nagy 2011.

Latin Reception

On reception in Roman literature, Barchiesi 1999, Hinds 1987, and Syed 2004 consider the influence of the Hymns on Ovid.

  • Barchiesi, Alessandro. 1999. Venus’ masterplot: Ovid and the Homeric hymns. In Ovidian transformations: Essays on the Metamorphoses and its reception. Edited by Philip Hardie, Alessandro Barchiesi, and Stephen Hinds, 112–126. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Introductory foray into the study of the Homeric Hymns as intertexts for Ovid’s Metamorphoses, with consideration given also to the role of Callimachus’s hymns.

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  • Hinds, Stephen. 1987. The metamorphosis of Persephone: Ovid and the self-conscious muse. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Extensive comparison of Ovid’s account of the myth of Persephone with the narrative of the Hymn to Demeter.

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  • Syed, Yasmin. 2004. Ovid’s Use of the Hymnic Genre in the Metmorphoses. In Rituals in Ink: A Conference on Religion and Literary Production in Ancient Rome Held at Stanford University in February 2002. Edited by Alessandro Barchiesi, Jörg Rüpke, Susan Stephens, 99-113. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner.

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    Usefully explores Ovid’s engagement with the narratives and structures of Homeric Hymns in the Metamorphoses.

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LAST MODIFIED: 08/29/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195389661-0098

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