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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Homeric Hymns
Critical Introduction
 
JUST as “Æsop” was credited with almost any popular fable which ascribed human reasoning to animals, even so nearly every archaic or mock-archaic hexameter poem floating about unclaimed was assigned by the Greeks of historical times to “Homer.” As to the ignoble riddles and bits of autobiographical invention, they may be at once relegated to a late date, and to an obscure corner of the anthology. The fragmentary ‘Strife of Frogs and Mice’ (Batrachomyomachia) is a rather spirited Homeric parody. The names of the chief combatants, in particular, with their sires’, are comically appropriate on the one hand, and on the other amusingly like Homer’s “Achilles, offspring of Peleus,” or “the son of knightly Tydeus, Diomedes.” That the origin of the skit is relatively late, need hardly be added. Farther back than the fifth century B.C. its defenders rarely attempt to set it.  1
  The didactic epic of Hesiod’s school may be regarded as also Homeric; that is, as an offshoot inspired by the great Ionic epics. In metre, in dialect, and even by open mention of Homer’s name, the early philosophers who use the dactylic metre betray the same filial relation. Empedocles here offers the best illustration. Aside from the learned revival of the Homeric dialect and style in Alexandrian epic by Apollonius Rhodius and his school, there are still two important masses of verse best discussed as “Homeric.”  2
  Of the Cyclic epics, indeed, very little remains. These were, in part at least, written expressly to piece out the story which the Iliad and Odyssey left half told. They were probably not based upon any well-settled folk legend current among the Greeks. Rather we get the impression that each poet draws some hints from Homer, and more from his own ingenious fancy.  3
  Perhaps the most famous of all the lost epics is the ‘Cypria,’ or lay of Aphrodite, planned to give a statelier approach and adequate explanation leading up to the Trojan tragedy. To this poet, rather than to the author of the Iliad, we probably owe the tale of the strife over the prize of beauty, the judgment of Paris, etc. The opening lines of this epic are preserved:—
  “Once on a time was Earth by the races of men made weary,
Who were wandering numberless over the breadth of her bosom.
Zeus with pity beheld it, and took in his wise heart counsel
How to relieve of her burden the Earth, life-giver to all things,
Fanning to flame that terrible struggle, the war upon Troia.
So should the burden by death be removed;—and they in the Troad
Perished: the heroes: the counsel of Zeus was brought to fulfillment.”
  4
  Many famous legends—for instance, Iphigenia’s sacrifice, Philoctetes’s desertion in Lemnos, etc.—seem to have been first told in the ‘Cypria,’ and thence borrowed by later dramatist, lyric poet, and chronicler. It is perhaps from the same source that the Catalogue of Ships was transferred to our Iliad. The poem was said to have been Homer’s wedding gift to his son-in-law Stasinus of Cyprus, who was evidently to sing it as his own; a tale which looks like an awkward compromise between two theories of authorship.  5
  Again, there were continuations of the Iliad, one of which was so widely accepted that the quiet closing verse of the elder poem was mutilated to prepare the way for it. Instead of
  “So they made ready the grave for Hector the tamer of horses,”
some read
  “So they made ready the grave for Hector: the Amazon straightway
Came, who was daughter to Ares, the haughty destroyer of heroes.”
  6
  Similarly in works of art, the mourning Andromache, Hector’s widow, with her funeral urn, stands in the group which welcomes the arrival of the Amazon queen. To this feeling that the Iliad is incomplete we also owe the finest book, the second, of Virgil’s Æneid, Goethe’s fragmentary ‘Achilleis,’ and perhaps many an Attic tragedy, as well as more recent poems like Lang’s ‘Helen of Troy.’ It is remarkable how much more near and familiar this old Greek myth has become to ourselves, than any legend of Northern heroism or of Teutonic divinities. These Cyclic epics probably took shape in the ninth and eighth centuries B.C. A prose summary of their contents, and a few score of verses in brief extracts, alone survive.  7
  The Homeric Hymns are really akin in dialect and metre to the Ionic epic. Some are of venerable age. Thucydides (400 B.C.) quotes the hymn to Delian Apollo unquestioningly as Homeric. Some are as late as the Attic period, if not far more recent. They have little relation to the tale of Iliad or Odyssey. Nearly all have the form of preludes, in which the rhapsode greets the divinity at whose shrine or festival he is about to recite from the heroic epics. In some cases the invocation may have been composed to suit the character of the following recitation. Most of these poems are extremely brief, and formal in tone. Others contain a single mythical allusion, or short tale, perhaps sufficient to justify the independent existence of the poem. The most notable in this group is the Hymn to Dionysus, given in full below. As the whole development of drama in Athens sprang up about the Dionysus cult, such tales as this about the wine god probably formed the earliest plots for the mimic scene. Moreover, the transformation of the pirates into dolphins is represented on the frieze of the only surviving monument which was set up as the memorial of a victory gained in the Dionysiac theatre,—“the choragic monument of Lysicrates.”  8
  There are five or six of these Hymns, finally, each several hundred lines in length, which can hardly have been used as mere preludes at all. The hymns to Apollo and to Hermes are composite in character; and in their present (perhaps interpolated) form, each looks like a corpus of the chief early myths concerning the divinity in question. The Aphrodite hymn, like that to Demeter, details with epic breadth one notable adventure of the goddess. These poems borrow lines and half-lines very freely from “Homer” and from each other. The text has many gaps and corruptions. Still, these hymns are the earliest source for many, if not most, of the notable legends concerning the Greek gods. It is most surprising, therefore, that they are passed over in the two best brief popular treatises on Greek poetry, those by Professor Jebb and the late J. A. Symonds. Professor Mahaffy gives them moderate space in his larger history of Hellenic literature. There is a tolerable prose version in the Bohn Library, by Buckley, bound with the Odyssey; and a far better one, little known, published by Thynne in Edinburgh. Some of Shelley’s delightful paraphrases in rhymed verse are given below. George Chapman rendered all save the hymn to Demeter. Upon the whole, however, these hymns have not received adequate attention. The latest discussion is in W. C. Lawton’s ‘Successors of Homer’ (Innes, London, 1897).  9
 
 
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