Homeric hymns

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A collection of 33 ancient Greek poems is called Homeric Hymns . These are praises and invocations of the Greek gods . A 34th poem is addressed "to the hosts". Their length varies from very few (the second on Demeter only three) to 580 (Hermes) verses. As in Homer's epics, the meter is exclusively the dactylic hexameter , and the language is also heavily based on that of the Homeric epics.

Origin and tradition

The dating is controversial. The hymns are likely between the 7th and 5th centuries BC. BC in different places and thus belong to the oldest surviving texts of the Greek antiquity. Because of the astrological explanations it contains, the hymn VIII to Ares can be dated to late antiquity - after the 5th century.

Some of the deities were honored with several hymns, such as Demeter, Apollon, Aphrodite and Hermes, to each of which one of the so-called "four great hymns" is dedicated. The manuscripts from the Byzantine tradition each began with Hymnus III, but in 1777 a manuscript from the 15th century with fragments of Hymnos I and II was discovered in a Moscow horse stable.

Title and scope

I. To Dionysus 21 verses
II To Demeter 496 verses
III. To the Delian Apollo 547 verses
IV. To Hermes 580 verses
V. To Aphrodite 293 verses
VI. To Aphrodite 21 verses
VII. To Dionysus 59 verses
VIII. To Ares 17 verses
IX. To Artemis 9 verses
X. To Aphrodite 6 verses
XI. To Athena 5 verses
XII. To Hera 5 verses
XIII. To Demeter 3 verses
XIV. To the mother of the gods 6 verses
XV. To Heracles with the lion heart 9 verses
XVI. To Asclepius 5 verses
XVII. To the Dioscuri 5 verses
XVIII. To Hermes 12 verses
XIX. To Pan 49 verses
XX. To Hephaestus 8 verses
XXI. To Apollo 5 verses
XXII. To Poseidon 7 verses
XXIII. To the son of Cronus , the Most High  4 verses
XXIV. To Hestia 5 verses
XXV. To the Muses and Apollo 7 verses
XXVI. To Dionysus 13 verses
XXVII. To Artemis 22 verses
XXVIII. To Athena 18 verses
XXIX. To Hestia 13 verses
XXX. To All Mother Earth 19 verses
XXXI. To Helios 20 verses
XXXII. To Selene 20 verses
XXXIII. To the Dioscuri 19 verses

Example: The great hymn to Demeter

The great hymn to Demeter, with 495 verses, is almost the length of an ancient book and most likely dates from the second half of the 6th century BC. Chr. In him were probably linked to two myths together: one of the rape of Persephone by Hades and on the other the myth of Demeter in Eleusis house of the king Keleos. The hymn also shows traces of later post-processing.

The story is told how Kore (the name Persephones was before her kidnapping, otherwise Kore means “girl”, “virgin” or “daughter” in Greek ) is kidnapped into the underworld with the consent of Zeus of Hades. She inevitably becomes Hades' wife and a high goddess of the dead. This “marriage” cannot be divorced again, since it was decided by Zeus, the father of the gods. Kore screamed loudly during the kidnapping, but only Demeter and Hekate heard them. Demeter goes in vain for nine days in search of her daughter until she meets Hekate and the two question Helios , who was the only one who saw the kidnapping.

When Demeter learns that her daughter has been kidnapped by Hades (one of the three highest gods besides Zeus and Poseidon), she goes to Eleusis in Attica , disguised as an old woman . There she comes to the palace of King Keleos as a nurse to look after his only late-born son Demophon . In the nights she tries to make Demophon immortal by anointing him with ambrosia, breathing her divine breath on him and placing him in the fire. One night the Queen Metaneira sees this and breaks out into a loud lament, breaking the spell. In her anger against the father of gods and the people, Demeter orders the building of a temple in which she settles to mourn her daughter. The grieving Demeter causes a famine to break out all over the world, so that humanity is threatened with extinction and can no longer make sacrifices to the gods.

Zeus, the father of the gods, cannot accept this condition and offers Demeter whatever she wants. But she just wants to see her daughter again, so Zeus decrees that Kore should spend a third (the winter months) in the underworld and two thirds of the year on Mount Olympus with her mother.

A sign of the later reworking of the hymn are two contradicting verses in the demophon scene. In an older version, Demophon apparently died in the fire after his failed deification. This older version probably goes back to human fire sacrifice. When such sacrificial rites no longer existed among the Greeks, the cultic texts such as these hymns were apparently subsequently adjusted.

The fact that two different myths are connected with one another is supported by the fact that Persephone reports a different version of the kidnapping after her return from the underworld than at the beginning of the text. Allegedly Artemis and Athena were present; but it is unlikely that they would not have at least begun the pursuit of Hades. Furthermore, the primary purpose of the story of Demeter in the House of Keleos is to explain how people learned to farm. (In this other myth, Demeter sends out King Keleos to teach the people how to cultivate agriculture, and from then on he is revered as the hero of agriculture.)

Text editions and translations

Text output





  • Nicholas James Richardson (Ed.): The Homeric Hymn to Demeter . Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1974 (standard comment)
  • Thomas William Allen, Edward E. Sikes (Eds.): The Homeric Hymns . Macmillan, London 1904 (only scientific commentary that takes into account all hymns)

Web links


  1. ^ Martin L. West: The Eighth Homeric Hymn and Proclus. In: The Classical Quarterly 64, 1970, pp. 300-304.