The Homeric hymns

by Charles Boer

Book, 1970

Status

Available

Call number

PL

Call number

PL

Publication

Chicago, Swallow Press [1970]

Original publication date

1976 (English: Athanassakis)
ca. 700-500 BC

Physical description

184 p.; 24 cm

User reviews

LibraryThing member meandmybooks
These were surprisingly enjoyable. Well, I guess it is silly to be surprised – anything that is still in print well over a thousand years after its composition has probably got some fine qualities. But many of these poems/songs tell really compelling stories in beautiful, intense language. (I realize that part of the credit for the loveliness of the poetry goes to the translator, and, while admitting that I have no basis whatsoever for comparison, I think Thelma Sargent did a first class job here!)

I've seen The Homeric Hymns and Hesiod's Theogony mentioned regularly over the years in books about ancient literature, and I've tended to confuse the two. Hesiod's Works and Days & Theogony is now near the top of my TBR stack, but just flipping through it I can now see how the two differ. For starters, The Homeric Hymns are supposed, traditionally, to have been written by -- Homer. Sargent tells us in the short introduction that they are now believed to have been written a bit (maybe a hundred years or so?), later. Anyway, both tell stories about the Greek gods and goddesses in poetic form. Both invoke the aid of the Muses to tell their stories. Theogony tells the story of the birth of the cosmos and also of the gods, starting with Gaia and following through the coming to power of Zeus and the other Oympian gods. The Homeric Hymns sticks to the Olympians, and, rather than telling one “long” story (both books are actually quite short), it is a collection of individual poems to various gods, in no particular order that I could see. Of the thirty-three poems, eight are long-ish (I think the longest is “To Hermes,” at sixteen pages) and tell engaging, action- packed stories, and the remaining twenty-five are short and feel more like invocations or addresses – Sargent suggests that the short ones might have preceded longer recitations.

Some of the stories were familiar, such as that of Demeter and Persephone, though even that was an especially lovely telling. Others were less familiar, such as that of Aphrodite and Anchises, the father of Aeneas. I knew the basics of that one, from the Aeneid, I think, but here I got the intimate details (nothing graphic!) of Aphrodite's seduction of Anchises, and of her deeply conflicted feelings about her feelings of lust for a mortal. And the story of Apollo's founding of the oracle at Delphi was new to me, at least in the form told here. “To Hermes” and “To Demeter” were both particularly good – vivid and exciting – but all the eight story-length poems are good. Despite the current opinion that these were not written by Homer, they would go nicely with a study of the Iliad and the Odyssey. The shorter pieces seem fairly negligible, but the longer ones are lovely and memorable.
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LibraryThing member dchaikin
29. The Homeric Hymns translated by Jules Cashford
with an introduction and notes by Nicholas Richardson
composition: Guesses are 600’s and 500’s bce, with the Hymn to Ares dating c400 ce
format: 208 page Paperback
acquired: December 2013 (influenced by review by StevenTX)
read: May 25-30
rating: 4.5 stars

I'm a little a loss to explain why I liked these so much or explain what I liked about them. Maybe I'm just fond of Greek mythology and any riff on them that made it through the vagaries of time will catch my interest. But there does seem to be something extra here. There is a reason Percy Bysshe Shelley translated so many of these, as did Chapman. Maybe it's just how the opening fragment to Dionysos says something to the affect: some people say you come of this place or that place, but, "I say they lie." Maybe is was the second poem on Demeter mourning lost Persephone, or just the brief description of Persephone grabbing the fated narcissus, "the flower shown so wondrously." Maybe it was the very ancient feel to the opening to Apollo's hymn describing him entering Olympus for the first time, arrow in bow, stretching the bow:

I shall remember,
may I not forget,
Apollo the archer.

The gods tremble at him
when he enters the house of Zeus,
they spring up when he comes near them,

they all spring up from their seats
when he stretches back his bow.
Only Leto waits beside Zeus who loves the thunder

She unstrings the bow, she closes the quiver,
taking it off his hands
off his strong shoulders,

...

But this excerpt is unique here. There is really nothing else in this collection that feels quote so ancient and bare as these first several lines to Apollo.

The Homeric Hymns don't have any clear origin. They follow the same poetic structure as the Iliad and the Odyssey, and there are apparent links to something like a school of Homer in the unreliable historical hints. But they have the feel of a collection of scraps leftover from something much more vast and mostly lost. Some of the poems are just a few lines, where as only five of them extend past 200 lines. The opening hymns to Dionysos and Demeter come from one text found in the 18th century and would otherwise be lost too - and most of that hymn to Dionysos is lost. They are a curious thing, a curious remnant. And they are also surprising resonant and often bring more color to these gods then Homer or Hesiod. There is a section on Hermes introducing Apollo to the lyre, in order to save his own skin, and Apollos first impression of this musical wonder. In another hymn Dionysos turns a boat in to a grape vine full of grapes...and the sailors into dolphins (hence to cover.) Ares's hymn appears to date from another era altogether, maybe 400 ad. But then he was no Greek favorite. Maybe they forgot him.

As I mentioned above, there are famous translations of these hymns and I suspect they put any modern, scholarly accurate translator to shame. Jules Cashford keeps it simple and, apparently, as accurate as she can. In doing so, she provided a nice intro and she preserves some aspects the texture of the texts. I think she did a very nice job. But then I also can't help thinking what a shame she didn't go farther. These poems really beg to be inspirations to poetry, not something merely to get translated right.
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LibraryThing member TiffanyAK
Required reading for Greek and Roman Mythology, but I'm happy about it. It seems to be an excellent and enjoyable translation, with good notes to clarify meanings and identities. If you're into Greek Mythology, the hymns here definitely add a bit of depth to the experience. The stories aren't new, but they're told with a different flow to them, and so are just as fun to read again as they were the first time.… (more)
LibraryThing member heidilove
Classic. I loved these as a little girl, and wrote in the Homeric style for fun.
LibraryThing member prosfilaes
It's an ancient collection of poetry, with pieces for just about every Olympian god, that's only a little less questionably hymns then Homeric. Rather than springing from one poet's quill, they date from nigh as old as the Iliad to as young as the Roman Empire. Quite a variety of styles, ranging from a long (and currently fragmented) hymn to Demeter, telling the story of Persephone and how Demeter reacted, to short hymns to Asclepius and Ares, the later offering an unusual request that Ares protected the poet or singer from their own rage and battle. It's a bit of a mess, but you get the ancient texts that are handed down to you.

As for the translation, I own Boer's and Sargent's, and have read parts of Evelyn-White's "Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica". Evelyn-White's prose translations make work as cribs, but they hardly carry the original. Boer's free verse doesn't inspire in me the feeling of ancient religion, nor do they reflect the original dactylic hexameter well. (Yes, yes, carrying the original meter is difficult and may cause sacrifices, but free verse goes far further then needed.) Sargent is somewhat closer to the original, stylistically. (I will note her insistence that Demeter set the child down, not threw the child down, and find it a moderately more plausible reading.)
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LibraryThing member aoibhealfae


There are two well-known Hymns in Homeric Hymns collection which are Hymns for Demeter and Apollo which are two very different story from one another. There are also incoherent pieces of poems which are included in my copy of Homeric Hymns but I would rather prefer reading it accompanied with notes.

As for Hymn to Demeter, I do admit, it took me a long while to realize it was the story of Persephone's mother and how Hades's abduction (dirty uncle) made Demeter angry and moody and bitchy the whole time in the world. She's the goddess of grain, fertility and harvest so... if she's pissed off, the world will die in starvation. Luckily Zeus found a way to lure Persephone out from Hades but Hades have some trick under his sleeves.

The Hymns of Apollo is a double story that set in different places. One is for Apollo's birth while another about his oracle when he was called Phytian Apollo. Unfortunately, due to my Paranormal Romance aka Sherrilyn Kenyon's Acheron reading, I do have some problem with trying to see Apollo as a likeable character. He did killed Acheron you know.

Delian Apollo is about the birth of Apollo and how the other gods fear him and how Leto had to find a place for her birthing where she undergo long labor for nine days and night and the how the people of Delos overjoyed by the birth while the Phytian Apollo is the story that was specific to Delphi where he killed a snake called Phyto (root word "to rot"), then he settle a place for his temple and went to find his worshipers who ended up being oracles. The rest of the poem is praising Apollo or Zeus or Leto (tch.. Dune!) and as much as I tried to read this book. The poems do seems to be overbearing if you have a deary translator.

Although the author tried to be Homer in term of the hexameters but there's a huge differences between the writings and the stories. Most of the poems is more in tone of giving descriptive on rituals and the story behind it. Homer is more attuned to the epic and heroism and there are less concentrations on the deathless gods in his rhapsodies. So if anyone trying to say Homeric Hymns is Homer, they're more likely never read the texts.
… (more)
LibraryThing member aoibhealfae


There are two well-known Hymns in Homeric Hymns collection which are Hymns for Demeter and Apollo which are two very different story from one another. There are also incoherent pieces of poems which are included in my copy of Homeric Hymns but I would rather prefer reading it accompanied with notes.

As for Hymn to Demeter, I do admit, it took me a long while to realize it was the story of Persephone's mother and how Hades's abduction (dirty uncle) made Demeter angry and moody and bitchy the whole time in the world. She's the goddess of grain, fertility and harvest so... if she's pissed off, the world will die in starvation. Luckily Zeus found a way to lure Persephone out from Hades but Hades have some trick under his sleeves.

The Hymns of Apollo is a double story that set in different places. One is for Apollo's birth while another about his oracle when he was called Phytian Apollo. Unfortunately, due to my Paranormal Romance aka Sherrilyn Kenyon's Acheron reading, I do have some problem with trying to see Apollo as a likeable character. He did killed Acheron you know.

Delian Apollo is about the birth of Apollo and how the other gods fear him and how Leto had to find a place for her birthing where she undergo long labor for nine days and night and the how the people of Delos overjoyed by the birth while the Phytian Apollo is the story that was specific to Delphi where he killed a snake called Phyto (root word "to rot"), then he settle a place for his temple and went to find his worshipers who ended up being oracles. The rest of the poem is praising Apollo or Zeus or Leto (tch.. Dune!) and as much as I tried to read this book. The poems do seems to be overbearing if you have a deary translator.

Although the author tried to be Homer in term of the hexameters but there's a huge differences between the writings and the stories. Most of the poems is more in tone of giving descriptive on rituals and the story behind it. Homer is more attuned to the epic and heroism and there are less concentrations on the deathless gods in his rhapsodies. So if anyone trying to say Homeric Hymns is Homer, they're more likely never read the texts.
… (more)
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
These are 33 hymns to the various Greek Gods: the twelve Olympians, Rhea, Heracles, Asclepios, the Dioscuri, Pan, the Muses, Mother Earth, Helios and Selene. About half of them are very short--just a few lines. Others are far more substantial, one to Hermes and another to Demeter running over ten pages and consisting of extended mythological stories, such as Demeter's wandering in search of her abducted daughter--my favorite among the Hymns. In fact the Foreword tells us the Hymns are frequently cited as the sources of myth and describes them as "pleasant, light entertainment." These poems once were ascribed to Homer, thus the title. The Forward tells us the "ancients had no difficulty in attributing them to Homer" and "the meter is the dactylic hexameter" of his epics. Even in recent modern times, that of Percy Shelley, people were still calling these works of Homer, but modern scholarship believes they were by various anonymous poets--some such as the Delian Apollo (3a) and Aphrodite (5) dating to the 8th Century of Homer, but others scattered over centuries. Most are thought to date from the 7th Century but the Hymn to Ares is thought to be quite recent, maybe even from the 5th Century A.D. It certainly sticks out as rather unusual, calling upon the God of War to cool his temper and give him the courage to live in peace. I think anyone who finds the ancient Greeks and their myths fascinating and enjoys poetry at all will enjoy these.… (more)
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