H y m n s G a l l e
Athena and Hermes lead the Hero
to the Temple of Virtue,
by Rubens, 1625
O V E R V I E W
The Homeric Hymns
The Orphic Hymns
The Homeric Hymns are a collection of thirty-three
Hymns, ascribed to Homer, and is the last considerable work of the Epic
School. On the whole, they seem to be later than the Iliad and the
Odyssey. It cannot be definitely assigned either to the Ionian or
Continental schools, for while the romantic element is very strong, there
is a distinct genealogical interest; and in matters of diction and style
the influences of both Hesiod and Homer are well-marked.
The date of the formation of the collection
as such is unknown. Diodorus (temp. Augustus) is the first to mention such
a body of poetry, and it is likely enough that this is, at least substantially,
the one which has come down to us. Thucydides quotes the Delian Hymn
to Apollo, and it is possible that the Homeric corpus of his day also
contained other of the more important hymns. Conceivable the collection
was arranged in the Alexandrine period.
Thucydides,in quoting the Hymn to Apollo,
calls it prooimion, wich ordinarily means a prelude chanted
by a rhapsode before recitation of a lay from Homer, and such hymns as
#6, #31, #32, are clearly preludes in the strict sense; in #31, for exemple,
after celebrating Helios, the poet declares he will next sing of the race
of mortal men, the demi-Gods. But it may fairly be doubted whether
such Hymns as those to Demeter (#2), Apollo (#3), Hermes
(#4), Aphrodite (#5), can have been real preludes, in spite of the
closing formula and now I will pass on to another hymn. The view
taken by Allen and Sikes, amongst other scholars, is doubtless right, that
these longer hymns are only technically preludes.
There are two Homeric Hymns to the Goddess
Athena, one extolling her virtues and the other recounting her birth.
The Orphic Hymns are a collection
of eighty-seven ritual invocations which were used by initiates of the
Orphic mystery cult. They were probably composed between 100 BCE and 150
Orphism is a mystic cult in Greco-Roman
(Hellenic) religion, drawn from the writings of the legendary poet and
musician Orpheus. Fragmentary poetic passages, including inscriptions on
gold tablets found in the graves of Orphic followers from the 6th century
BCE, indicate that Orphism is based on a cosmogony that centers on the
God Dionysus Zagreus, the son of the deities Zeus and Persephone.
Furious because Zeus wished to make his
son ruler of the universe, the jealous Titans dismembered and devoured
the young God. The Goddess Athena, Goddess of wisdom, was able to rescue
his heart, which she brought to Zeus, who swallowed it and gave birth to
a new Dionysus. Zeus then punished the Titans by destroying them with his
lightning and from their ashes created the human race. As a result, humans
had a dual nature: the earthly body was the heritage of the earth-born
Titans; the soul came from the divinity of Dionysus, whose remains had
been mingled with that of the Titans.
According to the tenets of Orphism, people
should endeavour to rid themselves of the Titanic, or evil, element in
their nature and should seek to preserve the Dionysiac, or divine, nature
of their being. The triumph of the Dionysiac element would be assured by
following the Orphic rites of purification and asceticism. Through a long
series of reincarnations, people would prepare for the afterlife. If they
had lived in evil, they would be punished, but if they had lived in holiness,
after death their souls would be completely liberated from Titanic elements
and reunited with the divinity.
The Orphic Hymn to Athena celebrates the
Goddess who was able to rescue the heart of Dionysus, or the divine nature
of the human being.
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©1998-1999 Roy George