The Homeric Hymns by Andrew Lang


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Page 1

Mr. A. S. Murray, the Head of the Classical Department in the British
Museum, has also been good enough to read, and suggest corrections in the
preliminary Essays; while Mr. Cecil Smith, of the British Museum, has
obligingly aided in selecting the works of art here reproduced.

The text of the Hymns is well known to be corrupt, in places impossible,
and much mended by conjecture. I have usually followed Gemoll (_Die
Homerischen Hymnen_, Leipzig, 1886), but have sometimes preferred a MS.
reading, or emendations by Mr. Tyrrell, by Mr. Verral, or the admirable
suggestions of Mr. Allen. My chief object has been to find, in cases of
doubt, the phrases least unworthy of the poets. Too often it is
impossible to be certain as to what they really wrote.

I have had beside me the excellent prose translation by Mr. John Edgar
(Thin, Edinburgh, 1891). As is inevitable, we do not always agree in the
sense of certain phrases, but I am far from claiming superiority for my
own attempts.

The method employed in the Essays, the anthropological method of
interpreting beliefs and rites, is still, of course, on its trial. What
can best be said as to its infirmities, and the dangers of its abuse, and
of system-making in the present state of the evidence, will be found in
Sir Alfred Lyall's "Asiatic Studies," vol. ii. chaps. iii. and iv.
Readers inclined to pursue the subject should read Mr. L. R. Farnell's
"Cults of the Greek States" (Clarendon Press, 1896), Mr. J. G. Frazer's
"Golden Bough," his "Pausanias," and Mr. Hartland's work on "The Myth of
Perseus." These books, it must be observed, are by no means always in
agreement with my own provisional theories.



"The existing collection of the Hymns is of unknown editorship, unknown
date, and unknown purpose," says Baumeister. Why any man should have
collected the little preludes of five or six lines in length, and of
purely conventional character, while he did not copy out the longer poems
to which they probably served as preludes, is a mystery. The celebrated
Wolf, who opened the path which leads modern Homerologists to such an
extraordinary number of divergent theories, thought rightly that the
great Alexandrian critics before the Christian Era, did not recognise the
Hymns as "Homeric." They did not employ the Hymns as illustrations of
Homeric problems; though it is certain that they knew the Hymns, for one
collection did exist in the third century B.C. {4} Diodorus and
Pausanias, later, also cite "the poet in the Hymns," "Homer in the
Hymns"; and the pseudo-Herodotus ascribes the Hymns to Homer in his Life
of that author. Thucydides, in the Periclean age, regards Homer as the
blind Chian minstrel who composed the Hymn to the Delian Apollo: a good
proof of the relative antiquity of that piece, but not evidence, of
course, that our whole collection was then regarded as Homeric.
Baumeister agrees with Wolf that the brief Hymns were recited by
rhapsodists as preludes to the recitation of Homeric or other cantos.
Thus, in Hymn xxxi. 18, the poet says that he is going on to chant "the
renowns of men half divine." Other preludes end with a prayer to the God
for luck in the competition of reciters.

This, then, is the plausible explanation of most of the brief Hymns--they
were preludes to epic recitations--but the question as to the long
narrative Hymns with which the collection opens is different. These were
themselves rhapsodies recited at Delphi, at Delos, perhaps in Cyprus (the
long Hymn to Aphrodite), in Athens (as the Hymn to Pan, who was friendly
in the Persian invasion), and so forth. That the Pisistratidae organised
Homeric recitations at Athens is certain enough, and Baumeister suspects,
in xiv., xxiii., xxx., xxxi., xxxii., the hand of Onomacritus, the forger
of Oracles, that strange accomplice of the Pisistratidae. The Hymn to
Aphrodite is just such a lay as the Phaeacian minstrel sang at the feast
of Alcinous, in the hearing of Odysseus. Finally Baumeister supposes our
collection not to have been made by learned editors, like Aristarchus and
Zenodotus, but committed confusedly from memory to papyrus by some
amateur. The conventional attribution of the Hymns to Homer, in spite of
linguistic objections, and of many allusions to things unknown or
unfamiliar in the Epics, is merely the result of the tendency to set down
"masterless" compositions to a well-known name. Anything of epic
characteristics was allotted to the master of Epic. In the same way an
unfathered joke of Lockhart's was attributed to Sydney Smith, and the
process is constantly illustrated in daily conversation. The word [Greek
text], hymn, had not originally a religious sense: it merely meant a lay.
Nobody calls the Theocritean idylls on Heracles and the Dioscuri "hymns,"
but they are quite as much "hymns" (in our sense) as the "hymn" on
Aphrodite, or on Hermes.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Thu 21st Feb 2019, 1:57