Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Andrew Faulkner (ed.), The Homeric Hymns: Interpretative Essays. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xv, 400. ISBN 9780199589036. $160.00.

Reviewed by Alberto Bernabé, Universidad Complutense de Madrid (

Version at BMCR home site

For many centuries, scholarship was scarcely interested in the Homeric Hymns, both because of the heterogeneity of the collection and the perception that they were minor works in the corpus of Greek literature. Modern editions include Allen-Halliday-Sikes,1 Humbert,2 and Càssola (the latter is the best).3 As for studies of individual hymns, Nicholas Richardson's excellent edition and commentary deserves mention.4 However, after works like those of Clay5 and Rudhardt,6 the assessment of the Hymns changed dramatically and today there are many varied and interesting studies. As a result, this collection of interpretative essays (the first one on this topic) is especially welcome. The book is edited by Andrew Faulkner, author of a fine and learned commentary of the Hymn to Aphrodite, with contributions by some of the best specialists in the field.

The book is preceded by an Introduction and divided into two parts: the first consists of studies about the major Hymns and the second deals with some concrete questions about the collection.

First part

1. "Modern Scholarship on the Homeric Hymns" (pp. 1-25). Andrew Faulkner after reviewing briefly the history of the collection, from the noteworthy 1488 edition by Chalcondyles, deals with the chief problems of the collection as a whole: the hymns as examples of oral poetics, the complicated dating (the importance of linguistic features as a criterion to date the poems being especially problematic), the difficulties of reconstructing the performance contexts and functions of the poems, the definition of the genre, and the balance between panhellenism and local connections that is found in them. The synthesis is clear, and the proposals for the dates of the hymns in some cases are logically inconclusive. This is a judicious position, more useful to readers than the unwavering conviction held by other scholars (for example, Davies in the very similar problems of dating Cyclic poems.7

2. "The First Homeric Hymn to Dionysus" (29-43). Martin L. West, after his reconstruction of the Hymn in a paper of 2001,8 reviews here apparent Homeric parallels that, according to him, allow us to put the Hymn back at least to 650 BCE, and analyzes its influence on other poems.

3. "The Homeric Hymn to Demeter. Some Central Questions Revisited" (44-58). Nicholas Richardson more than thirty years after the publication of his commentary on the Hymn, deals with five recent perspectives about it: its place in the tradition of early hexameter poetry, its aetiology and ritual, how it redefines the order of the world, the questions of marriage and death, and its coherence and significance. The chapter is an excellent updating of his commentary.

4. "The Homeric Hymn to Apollo. The question of Unity" (59-81). Mike Chappell reviews the vexata quaestio of the Hymn's unity. After examining carefully the different proposals, he concludes that the attempts to demonstrate the Hymn to Apollo's internal coherence and thematic unity are unconvincing, whereas the other arguments in favor of its division are stronger.

5. "The Homeric Hymn to Hermes. Humour and Epiphany" (82-104). Athanassios Vergados focuses on only two aspects of the Hymn: the humor of the poem, appropriate for a trickster figure, and the motifs that are associated with divine presence, despite the absence of a full divine epiphany in the text.

6. "An Erotic Aristeia. The Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite and its Relation to the Iliadic Tradition" (105-32). Pascale Brillet-Dubois attempts to supplement Clay's work (quoted in note 5) and reflects on the relationship between the Hymn to Aphrodite and the Iliad. She undertakes a refined analysis of the combination of traditional scenes in the pars epica of the poem and concludes that the Hymn was composed or written down later than the Iliad.9

7. "The Seventh Homeric Hymn to Dionysus" (133-50). Dominique Jaillard points out that the very simple framework of the story is eclipsed by the powerful epiphanic image of the god. The epiphany is the true raison d'être of the Hymn and actualizes the old statement ut pictura poesis.

8. "The Homeric Hymn to Pan" (151-72). Oliver Thomas begins by pointing out that the personal name of the divinity is not in the first verse of this Hymn (ἀμφί μοι Ἑρμείαο φίλον γόνον ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα). This is a mark of the concern of the poet to emphasize the importance of Hermes' genealogical relationship. He analyzes how the god is categorized and how at the end of verse 26 the Hymn develops in an unusual way, describing the god's typical activities without reference to a specific mythical past episode, and considers that the poem reflects how educated Greeks imagined the conceptual world of life in the ἐσχατιαί.

Second part

9. "The Collection of Homeric Hymns from the Seventh to the Third Centuries BC" (175-205). Andrew Faulkner's chapter traces the history of the collection until Hellenistic times. First, he examines the ancient quotations of Homer's' words which are not in the Iliad nor in the Odyssey, as testimonies of an old state of the collection and points out that there is no certain evidence for activity of Alexandrian scholars concerning these particular Hymns. On the other hand, he demonstrates that a collection of Homeric Hymns existed in the time of Callimachus and influenced him and also Apollonius and Theocritus. Finally, he examines the scanty evidence prior to the Hellenistic period. The chapter is a fine piece of philology.

10. "Homeric and Un-Homeric Hexameter Hymns: A Question of Type" (206-31). William D. Furley contrasts the Homeric Hymns with other hexameter hymns in circulation in the archaic and early classical periods. After reviewing the characteristics of the Homeric ones he analyzes other pieces, mainly the Hymn included in Hesiod's Theogony and the poem explained by the commentator of the so called Derveni Papyrus (I agree with the author that it is a Hymn), the verse quoted in the same papyrus as a statement of Orpheus ἐν τοῖς Ὕμνοις, and the comic "Ornithogony" told in Aristophanes' Birds 685-703. He presents a convincing balance of the differences in nature between these literary materials and the Homeric Hymns.

11. "The Homeric Hymns as Genre" (232-252). Jenny S. Clay, author of an epoch-making work about the Homeric Hymns (repeatedly quoted in this review), wonders if the heterogeneous poems that form it constitute a genre. After making basic observations concerning criteria according to which poetic genre may be defined (formal, performance mode, occasion, content), she states that the collection of Hymns shows signs of an evolution. She attempts to offer a possible outline for the development of the Homeric Hymns: originally the major Hymns were independent compositions, consciously Panhellenic and focused on one Olympian god, in which the divinity's role within the pantheon and in relation to mortals are defined. Probably public festivals were their first context; the later ones could be composed for competitions and private events. After the development of the monumental Iliad and Odyssey, these originally independent compositions could become the first in series of song, that is, pro-oimia, although longer Hymns maintained their independent existence and may have continued to be performed as autonomous compositions. It is a proposal as brilliant as it is speculative, but it is very convincing. 10

12. "Children of Zeus in the Homeric Hymns: Generational Succession" (254-279). Nancy Felson traces a typology of conflictual relations between gods and their children 11 and offers examples of the different situations, paying particular attention to Hymn 28 to Athena and to Hymn 3 to Apollo.

13. "The Earliest Phases in the Reception of the Homeric Hymns" (280-333). Gregory Nagy begins with an examination of the contexts of the reception of the Hymns, taking as example the Hymn to Apollo; then he points out the existence of an ancient Athenocentric view of Homer and other ancient views of the Poet, and studies some data about performance and rhapsodic competition; between them he studies the Contest between Homer and Hesiod; finally he marks distinctions between rhapsodic and choral performance and wonders whether the Hymn is a genre in its earlier attested phases.

14. "The Homeric Hymns as Poetic Offerings. Musical and Ritual Relationships with the Gods" (334-357). Claude Calame distinguishes three parts in every Hymn, even in the shortest of them (Hymn 13 to Demeter): evocations (aedic or rhapsodic designation of divinity), epicae laudes (musical relationships between men and gods), and preces (poetic contracts between gods and mortals).

Although every chapter focuses on particular questions, the authors pay attention to the status quaestionis of principal problems (date, performance, genre, function), in such a rigorous way that the book is very coherent and extremely rich in information. It is, therefore, a clear presentation of the overall panorama, and an indispensable tool for the study of these interesting compositions.


1.   First T. W. Allen and E. E. Sikes, The Homeric Hymns, Oxford 1904, after, T. W. Allen, W. R. Halliday, and E. E. Sikes, The Homeric Hymns, Oxford 1936.
2.   J. Humbert, Homère: Hymnes, Paris 1936.
3.   F. Càssola, Inni omerici, Milan 1975.
4.   N. J. Richardson, The Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Oxford 1974.
5.   J. S. Clay, The Politics of Olympus, Princeton 1989 (2nd edition, 2006 BCP).
6.   J. Rudhardt, "À propos de l'hymne homérique à Déméter", Museum Helveticum 35, 1978, 1-17, trans. by L. Lorch and H. P. Foley "Concerning the Homeric Hymn to Demeter", in H. P. Foley, The Homeric Hymn to Demeter: Translation, Commentary, and Interpretative Essays, Princeton 1994, 198-211, id., "L' hymne homérique à Aphrodite. Essai d'interprétation', Museum Helveticum 48, 1991, 8-20.
7.   M. Davies, "The date of the Epic Cycle", Glotta 67, 1989, 89-100.
8.   M. L. West, "The Fragmentary Homeric Hymn to Dionysos, ZPE 134, 2001, 1-11. West reedited the hymn in The Homeric Hymns, Homeric Apocrypha, Lives of Homer, Cambridge Mass. 2003, 26-31.
9.   In a paper of mine (A. Bernabé, "Los mitos de los Himnos Homéricos: El ejemplo del Himno a Afrodita", in J. A. López Férez (ed.), Mitos de la literatura griega, arcaica y clásica, Madrid, Ed. Clásicas, 2002, 93-110, republished without notes in Dioses, héroes y orígenes del mundo, Madrid, Abada, 2008, 123-150) I have pointed out the use of a sort of "tragic irony" in Anchises' speech.
10.   There are two small mistakes in pages 234 (n. 10) and 375: Paz de Hos (1998) can be read De Hoz (1998), the name being with z and María Paz being the first name. Also in n. 375 Emérita must be correctly written Emerita (it is the place name in Latin).
11.   On conflicts between generations of gods cf. also: A. Bernabé, "Generaciones de dioses y sucesión interrumpida. El mito hitita de Kumarbi, la Teogonía de Hesíodo y el Papiro de Derveni", Aula Orientalis 7, 1989, 159-179, republished without notes in Dioses, héroes y orígenes del mundo, quoted in n. 9, 259- 289.

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