Commentary on the Form of the “Homeric Hymns”

The collection of hymns, commonly called the “Homeric Hymns” or “Homerica,” are a compilation of thirty-three prayers to the gods. They have erroneously been attributed to Homer by the moderns due to the dactylic hexameter formula -the same poetic form of the Homeric epics.

Recall the prayer to the god Osiris in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, The Homeric hymns follow a similar thread. The hymns are not only dedicated to, but also addressed directly to the gods, such as “To Demeter” or “To Apollo”. The belief is that humans can communicate with the divine producing songs of great beauty. Additionally, each song tells a story or paints a picture of each god: Zeus’s “long locks” or Pallas Athena’s “grey eyes.” Each hymn is a short ‘snapshot’ that is both informative to the Greeks, and also intended to be pleasing to the gods.

Narrative is the best form to communicate with the gods because the humans utilize flattery in order to gain favor from the gods, like the wolf and Chauntecleer in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. For the Greeks, the gods take many different forms, sometimes as humans, but they never fully embody a man. It would be too degrading to their nature. However the hymns, like prayers, are the bridges between the divine and the mortals. By singing, the Greeks believe they can reach the gods, along with animal sacrifices, and in so doing, garner favor among the gods.

For this reading I used the Oxford World Classics edition translated by Michael Crudden.

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