Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns
by Dr. Cora Angier Sowa
Chapter 1: Introduction
The Homeric Hymns have long stood in the shadow of Homer and Hesiod's much grander epic. Called "sub-epic" and "sub-Homeric," they are usually studied as an afterthought to theories developed for the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Hesiodic poems. They deserve better than this. The Hymns are our source for several of the most famous Greek myths: the search of the goddess Demeter for her daughter Persephone, kidnapped by the King of the Underworld; the invention of the lyre by the clever infant god Hermes, and his theft of his brother Apollo's cattle; the birth of Apollo on Delos and his victory over the dragon at Delphi; the love affair of the goddess Aphrodite with a mortal, Anchises, by whom she bore the hero Aineias (a myth that Vergil turned to Roman profit in his Aeneid). The Hymns are pleasant poems with a style of their own, depending more on basic plot and formal structure than on subtlety of character or graceful detail.
The Iliad and Odyssey represent one side of the early Greek epic tradition; the Hesiodic poems represent another. The Hymns come from a third stream of that tradition; in their present form, they probably were composed later than our Iliad and Odyssey, despite the name "Homeric" and the generally Homeric vocabulary. Yet whatever their actual date of composition, they seem more archaic in conception than the Iliad and Odyssey, representing a state of the story material that undoubtedly predates Homer. In their plot development, they present us with simplified versions of many of the
narrative themes that we know in more ornate versions from Homer's poems.
Themes such as the Marriage of the Fertility Goddess, the Journey, and the Hero's Birth are story patterns related to the deepest strata of mythic archetypes, and they are particularly characteristic of forms of literature that are traditional, improvisational, or oral. The presence in the Hymns of these themes, found also in Homer and Hesiod, adds to the evidence that the Hymns, too, belong to the oral tradition of composition. Certainly their presence adds another element to the ongoing debate on the nature of oral and non-oral composition. These themes are the same ones that are found in other mythic literatures, including the ancient Egyptian, Semitic, Indic, and Sumerian, which probably also go back to oral originals.1 Even today, these themes demonstrate their continuing power to give shape to our perception of the universe. They are even found in our modern successor to the oral epic, the motion picture, whose use of both improvisational and traditional elements (of plot, character, and type scenes), together with its audio-visual nature, place this art form in the current of "oral" narrative.2 Small wonder that the Hymns, not to mention Homer and Hesiod, continue to have such appeal for us today. [See my "Ancient Myths in Modern Movies" on this Web site.]
The external facts about the Hymns are few. There are thirty-three Hymns, all in hexameters, ranging from three to 580 verses in length. The shorter poems are no more than invocations; the longer ones recount incidents in the lives of the gods to whom they are dedicated. Their authorship is unknown, as is the date and place of composition, though they all seem generally to be from a period between 700-500 B.C.3 The manuscripts have preserved the Hymns in two connections: they have either been included with the major Homeric poems or in a collection of such poets as Kallimachos, Orpheus, Proklos, Hesiod, Pindar, and Theokritos.4 Hymns, or songs of praise, sometimes referred to as humnoi, sometimes known by other names, such as prooimion or epainos, were among the products of the earliest known Greek poets, including Pamphos, Olen, Musaios, Orpheus, and Hesiod.5 Homer was believed in classical times to have composed hymns, and the song of Ares and Aphrodite sung by Demodokos in Od. 8. 266-366 shows that this type of narrative hymn was known at the time the Odyssey was composed. It is doubtful, however, that our Hymns were composed by Homer. Their ascription to him was not unanimous even in antiquity; they were seldom appealed to, as the
Iliad and Odyssey were, as evidence for historical claims, and they had little influence on subsequent Greek literature. Pausanias tells us that the hymns of Homer were considered artistically superior to those ascribed to Orpheus, but that the "Orphic" poems, which were shorter and pertained more directly to cult, were the ones used in the rites at Eleusis. The hymns of Orpheus, as well as those of Pamphos and Musaios, were also used in the worship of the hereditary guild of the Lykomidai.6
The earliest apparent citation from our Hymns is in Thukydides (3. 104), who quotes some lines "from Homer's prooimion to Apollo" that correspond to part of the Festival on Delos from our Hymn to Apollo. It is not an exact quotation, however, but a perfectly acceptable oral variant, apparently from a different context. The Festival on Delos seems, moreover, for reasons I shall detail later, perhaps itself intrusive into the rest of the H. Ap. A more likely candidate for the author of our H. Ap. is Kynaithos, whose name is provided by the scholiast to Pindar's Nemean II who also gives us the probable date of our version, 504 B.C.7 For the date of the Hymn to Demeter, there once seemed many solid clues, because of its mention of many topographical and architectural particulars; but the erection of the temple of Demeter at Eleusis is of no use as a terminus post quem if the Mycenaean building discovered beneath the later telesterion, or hall of initiation, is a temple, for that date would fall too early to be relevant. Nor can the construction of the telesterion be used as a terminus ante quem, since temple and telesterion were undoubtedly the same at all periods.8 It was long thought that the H. Dem. must have been composed before the incorporation of Eleusis into the Athenian sphere of influence, which probably took place at the end of the seventh century, and before Athens' reorganization of the Mysteries, because Athens is not mentioned in the Hymn; but Walton suggests that the Hymn is a deliberate piece of Eleusinian propaganda, composed after the union with Athens.9 Composition at Eleusis seems likely, not only because of the detailed knowledge of the site that the Hymn shows, but because the form of the myth seems to be an Eleusinian local version, as opposed, for instance, to the Argive version of Pamphos.10
For the Hymn to Hermes, the apparent allusion to the cult of the Twelve Gods suggests a date in the sixth century, and perhaps Athens as the place of composition. For at Athens the cult of Hermes and the cult of the Twelve Gods were
connected; the altar of the Twelve Gods in the agora and the first Hermes herms (giving the distance to the altar of the Twelve Gods) were both erected in about 520-511 B.C., under the tyrant Hipparchos.11
Studies in the formulaic language of the Hymns have been made to try to place the Hymns in relation to Homer and Hesiod. Notopoulos and Preziosi demonstrated that the standardized verbal formulae found by Parry, Lord, and Notopoulos in Homer and Hesiod were also present in the Hymns.12 Their findings placed the Hymns within the context of oral epic, the only form of literary composition practiced before the introduction of writing, and still the chief form of composition in an age before writing became the dominant form of record and communication -- though their evidence did not settle, but only began, the debate over whether the Hymns themselves were composed orally or not.
In pure oral composition, the poem is recomposed each time it is sung. The bard does not memorize a song verbatim, but reconstructs it on the spot before each audience, using traditional stories whose exact expression is improvised each time from traditional building blocks of words, the epic formulae, which he puts together to fit a traditional melody. Larger building blocks are supplied by the type scenes, ready-made descriptions of common activities, like mounting a chariot, preparing a meal, or calling an assembly, that can be inserted wherever they were needed. Overall plot structure is supplied by the mythic themes. In general, only one way exists for expressing a given idea in a given part of the verse or melody, but when a ready-made formula does not exist for expressing a particular idea, the bard can create a new phrase "by analogy" with one that already exists in his repertoire. Since the poem is recomposed each time it is performed, the same song is never sung the same way twice, even by the same bard; it may be shorter or longer, depending on the interest of the audience. Parry, Lord, and later, Notopoulos, found illiterate singers still composing in this way in remote parts of Greece and Yugoslavia, and such poetic composition is known from other parts of the world as well.
Parry and Lord discovered the same type of formulae in the Iliad and Odyssey that they had found in the Yugoslav songs -- Achilles, for instance, is always "godlike Achilles" (dios Achilleus) when he is the subject of the sentence and must occupy the last two feet of the hexameter; they deduced that both the Iliad and Odyssey were also orally composed.13 This view fits well with the traditional date of Homer
just before or just after the introduction of writing into Greece, and coincides with portrayals by Homer himself of such singers as Phemios and Demodokos. They thus provided an answer to the centuries-old Homeric Question, of whether the Iliad and Odyssey were the work of one poet or many (or at least whether each poem was the work of a single poet); both songs had undoubtedly been sung by many poets, but our versions of the Iliad and Odyssey were simply the written records of two particular performances, whose performer may well have been a man named Homer.
But no sooner had the old Homeric Question been answered to the satisfaction of many, than it was replaced by a new Homeric Question, which asks, "what is meant by formulaic?" or "what is meant by oral?" For there is no agreement on how closely the groups of words must resemble each other to be considered "formulaic." It is obvious that a group of words like dios Achilleus or a line like Êmos d'êrigeneia phanê rhododaktulos Êos "then when rosy-fingered Dawn appeared" are formulaic; but there is disagreement over whether recurring metrical and syntactic patterns are to be considered formulae. Nor has the question been satisfactorily answered whether oral and written composition are mutually exclusive, or whether "oral" composition can contain some material memorized from a fixed text, either previously written down or not. Parry, Lord, and Notopoulos held, on the basis of their experience with modern oral poets, that once an oral poet acquired the idea of a fixed text, he became incapable of creating oral poetry. The original insights of Parry and Lord have been refined and modified by a number of subsequent studies on the nature of formulaic composition, which have, nevertheless, not overturned their original conception.14 A. Hoekstra, for example, who holds to a stricter definition of "formula" than Lord or Notopoulos, points out that localization of metrical word-types is not a test of "orality," being found both in formulaic poets and in written poets who do not use formulae, like Apollonios and Kallimachos.15 He also comments that there is verbatim memorizing in Homer, for example, when Odysseus repeats the same lie about his "Egyptian" adventures with no change from Od. 14. 258-272 to Od. 17. 427-441, showing that Homer was capable of memorizing passages verbatim at least from his own compositions.
The Hymns, too, exhibit the features of formulaic composition, although their language differs somewhat from both Homer and Hesiod. Notopoulos' studies showed that, according
to his rather free definition of "formula," the percentage of formulaic lines was somewhat smaller than in the Iliad and Odyssey, but larger than in the Hesiodic corpus.16 In both vocabulary and meter, the Hymns to Apollo and Aphrodite are much closer to Homer than are the Hymns to Demeter and Hermes; this has been interpreted to mean that the Hymns to Apollo and Aphrodite are of earlier date.17 Notopoulos, whose formulaic studies of the Hymns led him to divide them into the same two groups, concluded that these differences were the product not of the time but of the place of composition, Ionia for Homer, the Hymns to Aphrodite and Apollo, the mainland for Hesiod, the Hymns to Demeter and Hermes.18 But even the H. Aphr., which is generally considered the oldest of the Hymns, has some words that are not in the Iliad or Odyssey, but are found in Hesiod.l9 Hoekstra, who does not believe in a "mainland" school, finds a degeneration or decomposition of the formulaic structure at work even in Homer, a process which had advanced still further in Hesiod and the Hymns. Heitsch thinks that the H. Dem. was influenced by the H. Aphr., arguing that certain phrases that are found only in those two poems are used more awkwardly in the H. Dem. But while the syntax of melathrou / kure karê "her head touched the ceiling" is harsher in the H. Dem. than in the H. Aphr., I disagree that the miraculous appearance of Demeter so early in the story is "situationsfremd, ohne Funktion für den Fortschritt der Handlung."20 Its presence can be explained in terms of the theme of divine Epiphany, where a "first set of divine tokens" is exhibited by the god, but not correctly interpreted by the mortals. The Hymns as a whole share certain similarities with each other, particularly in their formulae of beginning and ending, that are not shared with other poems, indicating that in their present form they may be the work of one guild or group of singers.21
It is, I think, healthy that recent studies are softening the rigid line between "oral" and "non-oral" composition. There is nothing obviously impossible about a bard who can both memorize and improvise, though there may be societies where this does not happen. While the use of formulae is an aid to quick composition, this method of composition is but an exaggeration of the way we speak in everyday life, where we fit our ideas into an inherited framework of syntax and ready-made vocabulary; we do not normally invent new words to express our ideas, and much of our speech is, in fact, formed of cliches and formulaic expressions. The formulae of the oral
poet differ from the idioms of ordinary speech in that they must conform not only to syntactic and semantic but also to metrical constraints. While we are not familiar today with mixed forms of poetic composition, there have always been both musicians and actors who could both improvise and memorize; we have in our own day two art forms that are also semi-improvised, semi-traditional, and semi-formulaic: jazz and the popular motion picture. Both give unique form to a more or less traditional subject by adding fairly traditional embellishments, according to audience interest and the creativity of the artist. While either can be fixed in a written score or screenplay, there is generally a large amount of improvisation, usually from a stock of more or less traditional elements. In oral song itself, recent evidence from African traditional song shows an amalgamation of composition-in-performance, writing, exact memorization, and partial memorization.22
Whether our Hymns were actually composed in performance or written beforehand, they were probably meant for live performance. The long Hymns are each approximately the length of one oral performance .23 The short Hymns may have been a collection of stock beginnings and endings that could be attached to different hymns as occasion demanded. The detachability of such beginnings and endings is indicated by the fact that Homer did not include the opening or closing invocations when he used the hymn of Demodokos as part of his own Odyssey. The Hymns certainly share with Homer and Hesiod an outlook that can be called "oral," contrasting with the emphasis on exact duplication of words and observations made possible by the widespread use of writing. In this fluctuating system, images do not have a fixed meaning, but like dream symbols can signify more than one thing. Is the Journey of an Odysseus or a Demeter a representation of historical fact, a symbol of Death and Resurrection, or a study of the maturing of the individual? Perhaps it is all three. Yet these ambiguous images convey as true a picture in their own way as any modern "scientific" description.
The mythic themes that supply the plot structure of oral poetry are not the same as specific stories, like the kidnap of Persephone or the Trojan War; they are plot types, like the Birth of the Hero, the Journey, the Marriage of the Fertility Goddess, Creation, or Epiphany, basic patterns for organizing the perception of events, which belong in their fundamental outlines to a universal mythology, whether inborn or learned, that is local to no place or time. As narrative patterns, the
themes are composed of series of elements that usually follow each other in a fixed order. For the oral poet, they are an aid to quick composition; for the audience, they provide an interpretation of events and a model for acting in real situations; hence the role of the poet as educator.
Alone among the elements of oral poetry, the themes are not culture-bound. The formulae depend on the vocabulary of a particular language, and even the type scenes describe ritualized activities of a particular society. The themes appear to be universal. Yet even the themes take on the expression of a particular language, while retaining their basic elements, and a particular theme may assume special meaning for a culture. The Journey, for example, seems to owe its popularity in Greek epic to the Greeks' mobility and seafaring economy, just as their frequent depiction of the Hero's angry withdrawal mirrors their obsession with seeing honor satisfied. The themes also appear different in different poems and in the work of different poets, because of the way the themes are combined and because of the incorporation of the poet's distinctive vocabulary. Elements overlap from one theme to another. Differences of surface structure can hide basic identities of meaning. The Journey, Withdrawal, Rape, and Combat With the Monster, for example, all represent on one level the idea of Death and Resurrection. We try to define and analyze the structure of the themes, but the very nature of the mythic material defies the kind of scientific accuracy that we would like to impose on our definition of the themes.
The thematic analysis that I present here takes as its point of departure the methods developed by Lord, Lévi-Strauss, and Vladimir Propp, though I do not totally adopt any of their systems. I use the word "theme" to mean more or less what Lord means by "complexes of themes," since he uses the word "theme" to refer to what I call a "type scene"; the categories overlap. In my interpretation of the themes' meanings, I have taken account of the psychoanalytic speculations of Jung, Rank, and Kerényi, and of the comparative methods of J.G. Frazer; here, too, I have not adopted any entire system of interpretation, but have tried to evolve a scheme that fits the present evidence. Certain major configurations can be validly identified, and outlines of these groupings appear in Appendix 1. [Appendix I is included on this Web site.] Only those themes that occur in the Homeric Hymns are included in this study, but, as a matter of fact, many of them do occur here, for the themes of ancient epic are not sporadic images, scattered at random
throughout the poems, but pervade the poems entirely. Just as there is little of the language of oral poetry that is not formulaic, so there seems to be little of its arrangement that is not thematic.
The purpose of this study, however, is not just to identify the themes that are used in the Hymns, but to show how each theme is used in the individual Hymns, thereby extending our knowledge and appreciation of these poems. How did the Journey of Demeter in search of her daughter come to be cast in the form of another theme, the Hero's Withdrawal and Return? Both are incorporated, in the H. Dem., into a larger plot provided by the theme of the Marriage of the Fertility Goddess, which is scarcely recognizable here as the same theme that provides the plot for the Hymn to Aphrodite. So completely appropriate does each theme seem in its context, that it seems to have been constructed for that story alone, yet thematic analysis shows it to be the familiar theme.
The choice of theme for a particular story depends first on the story itself, secondly on its appropriateness to the character of the mythic personage involved. The Marriage of the Fertility Goddess becomes an angry Withdrawal in the H. Dem. because Demeter had developed as an angry character, but it becomes a Seduction in the H. Aphr. Apollo's Heroic Exploit is a Combat With the Monster because of his character as a young Hero; Zeus, a universal king, leads an entire army of gods against an entire army of monsters; but Hermes' Heroic Exploit is a theft. Depending on the ingenuity of the poet, the themes are combined and modulated in different ways, through development, ornamentation, or subplot, as illustrated in Appendix II, which gives a thematic analysis of each of the four longest Hymns. Finally, each theme is integrated into a particular poem by the presence of key words that belong to the individual poem or poet rather than to the theme. Key words and verbal associations for each of the four long Hymns appear in Appendix III.24 Not only does the identification of theme patterns in the Hymns add to our general appreciation of the Hymns, but it helps explain certain apparent anomalies in their structure. I have already mentioned the seemingly contradictory melathrou / kure karê in the H. Dem., which, thematically speaking, represents her first set of divine tokens. An analysis in terms of the theme of the Hero's Life also demonstrates the fundamental unity of plot of both the Hymn to Hermes and the much-disputed Hymn to Apollo.
Beyond mere mechanical concerns, I have tried to give some appreciation of the aesthetic effects attained by the poets of the Hymns in their use of the themes, which often differs from the way they were used by Homer and Hesiod. Two directions are commonly pursued in Homeric studies; some critics confine themselves to the mechanisms of the poetry -- vocabulary, metrics, formulae, type scenes, and themes -- without regard for the results achieved by these mechanisms. Others, in a more "literary" tradition, are concerned with the subjective effect of the poem upon the reader or listener, and with the poem's meaning and aesthetic value. The distinction, which is not confined to Homeric scholarship, could be called the difference between the scientific and the romantic approach to criticism. In Homeric studies the dichotomy seems but a new manifestation of the old split between the separatists, who analyzed Homeric poetry into its constituent parts, which they ascribed to different authors, and the unitarians, who demonstrated the fundamental unity of the poems, which they therefore attributed to a single poet. A synthesis of the two methods seems preferable, and this study attempts not only to show what themes are common to the Hymns and to other early Greek epic, but to demonstrate how each theme contributes to the total effect of its poem, or, to put it another way, how the individual singers used the traditional elements to construct a particular poem.
On a technical level, we find that the themes are used and combined in the Hymns in much the same way that they are used in the Iliad and Odyssey, as described in Lord's Singer of Tales. But while the Iliad and Odyssey are striking for their interest in characterization and the portrayal of relationships between characters, the poets of the Hymns were interested almost exclusively in plot and in the formal verbal structure of the poem. On the basis of this difference alone, if on no other, I would reject Homeric authorship for the Hymns as a whole. The difference can be seen most vividly where the same traditional element -- for instance the Hero's refusal to return to battle -- was used by Homer to develop character as well as to create the structure of the poem, whereas in the Hymns -- for instance in Demeter's refusal to return to normal life -- it serves a mainly structural purpose and creates an abstract pattern.
The Iliad and Odyssey stand alone among all early Greek epics, alone, in fact, among all early Mediterranean epics, in the remarkable "three-dimensional" quality of the narrative.
The Hymns share their interest in plot at the expense of character with the Sumerian and other ancient eastern Mediterranean epic, as well as the other Greek epics not by Homer; this seems to be a sign of archaism in the Hymns, since it is in contrast with with course of Greek literature after Homer. Even in matters of plot, Homer shows a greater sophistication, making the motivation for plot elements grow directly out of his characters, though the elements themselves were traditional. Patroklos' helpful nature and his willingness to fight in Achilles' armor lead not only to the Return of the Hero but to the obligatory Death of the Substitute; Odysseus, like Demeter, is discovered by the roadside by maidens, but Nausikaa's reason for being at the seashore is motivated by her desire to get married soon, which also influences her helpful attitude to Odysseus. On the mechanical level, these differences can be explained simply by Homer's greater skill in ornamentation of the traditional oral themes. Yet some inevitable trend of sensibility seems also to be working here. It manifests itself in the living, breathing qualities of Homer's characters and in the depths of psychological insight that he shows in his portrayal of them. No part of the Hesiodic poems, no part of the Hymns, with the possible exception of the Festival on Delos in the Hymn to Apollo, shows the same kind of imaginative power. On the other hand, Homer's poems do not show this quality evenly, and it is precisely those portions which deal with the life of the gods, rather than mortals, that seem more "flat" and schematic. Perhaps those parts are among the oldest strata, conceptually, in the Homeric poems, even if the version we have is by Homer. In subject-matter and structure, the Hymns are older than the Homeric poems. The Iliad and Odyssey, with their "three-dimensional" portrayal of the old stories, are the innovation. The Hymns, no matter what the actual date of composition of the versions we have, are a throwback to an earlier type.
The Hymns do not lack moments of strength; they have the power of a well-told story, an impact due in large part to the themes: the pathos of Demeter's search for her daughter; the humor of Hermes' creative acts of trickery; the horror and beauty of a mortal's sudden, unexpected encounter with Aphrodite, Demeter, Apollo, or Dionysos. We derive satisfaction from the balance of matching catalogs in the H. Aphr., and from the well-handled repetitions in all the poems. Sometimes the effect is subtle, as in the constant references
to the vocabulary of the Mysteries in the H. Dem., sometimes hypnotic, like the refrain
enthen de proterô ekies ekatêbol' Apollonin the H. Ap.
The Hymns also have some striking individual descriptions. An unforgettable scene is the birth of Apollo in the H. Ap. (vv. 117-119):
amphi de phoiniki bale pêchee, gouna d'ereise
The Festival on Delos in the H. Ap. and the description of the Blind Old Man of Chios (is he really Homer?) are likewise memorable.
Affecting in their simplicity and precision are the death of the tree and its nymph in the H. Aphr. (vv. 269-272):
all' hote ken dê moira parestêkêi thanatoio
Also affecting is the description of the Rarian plain standing "all leafless and still" after Demeter blasted it (alla hekêlon / estêkei panaphullon, H. Dem. 451-452). Hermes pretending (not too successfully) to be a helpless infant in the H. Herm. just after he has invented the lyre and stolen the cattle of Apollo likewise cuts a memorable figure. But in general these passages are descriptions of things or events, and add
little to our picture of the characters as persons. The genius of the Hymns is quite other than that.
The best known formal elements of style in the Hymns, as in Homer and Hesiod, are the formula, the type scene, and the theme. We often speak of these units as discrete entities that can unfailingly be isolated and identified; but in truth, the boundaries of these units will probably never be defined with scientific precision, they are parts of a continuum of repeated elements, that express recurring ideas and recurring relationships between them. Overlaid upon the patterns most strictly called formulae are other kinds of repetition, ranging in scope from single sounds, exemplified by alliteration and assonance, up through repeated syntactic patterns and key words that are special to a particular poem. These types of repetition are combined, causing changes in the final appearance of the poem; in the final product, differences between element types are blurred.
Those who favor a broader definition of the formula would include repeated metrical and syntactic patterns, and localization of metrical word types in certain positions of the line, among the types of formula. Critics who hold to a rigid definition would restrict the term "formula" to ready-made combinations of words of fixed metrical shape and syntax as well as fixed meaning, including noun-epithet combinations like dios Achilleus ["godlike Achilles"], or phrases like epi (para) rhêgmini thalassês ["by (beside) the shore of the sea"] or kat' ommata kala balousa ["casting down her beautiful eyes"]. They would not define a metrical template of the shape, say, - uu - -, or a sequence of lines all beginning êd' hôs ["and such as"] as formulae. A pattern of fixed metrical and morphological shape like enaisima muthêsasthai / enaisima ergazesthai ["to speak what is proper" / "to do what is proper"] falls somewhere in between. Even the narrowly defined formula can be declined or conjugated, sometimes to the detriment of strict metrical regularity. Meropes anthrôpoi ["men endowed with speech,"] for example, is another case of )Meropôn anthrôpôn ["of men endowed with speech"], but it introduces an anomalous short syllable.25
The fact remains, nevertheless, that whichever of these patterns we choose to call "oral formulae," the poet used all of these devices to create his poems. The accomplished poet had been absorbing since youth a variety of traditional sequences of words, along with the themes, types of sound pattern, and other elements, some of which he invented himself, but many of which he copied from his predecessors.
These he combined in different patterns, with suitable modifications to tell his story. It is the totality of these combinations, and the effect that the poet achieved with them, of which we must ultimately deliver an appreciation. To this end we attempt to identify, if not totally to define, some of the commoner patterns in the Hymns.
Type scenes lie somewhere between the formulae and the themes. Like the formulae, they usually depend on exact verbal correspondence at least of key parts from one example to another. Like the themes, however, they form part of the plot structure of the poems, and like the themes, they are made up of sequences of separate elements that describe a sequence of actions. Lord, in fact, calls "themes" a number of units that I would call "type scenes," for instance, Assembly. Type scenes are generally short (5-30 verses), and describe certain common actions which, in a traditional society, are themselves formulaic. Arend first demonstrated the existence of such scenes in the Homeric poems.26 The scenes which Arend discovered were Arrival and Visit, Sacrifice and Banquet, Journey by Ship or Chariot, Dressing and Arming, Sleep, Hesitation Before Decision (Mermêrizein), Assembly, Oath, and Bath.
A type scene has a fixed set of elements, expressed in a set of key words that always recur at the same points in the scene, often in identical metrical position. These scenes may be expanded or contracted according as the poet wants to emphasize a particular scene (or simply make his poem longer or shorter), and non-essential elements may be omitted. Such scenes may be reused without any change from one context to another except for expansions or contractions, like the two scenes of Hera and Athena yoking their chariot in Il. 5. 719-752 and Il. 8. 381-396. The version in Book 8 is shorter, but contains nothing that is not found in the longer version. Similarly, Nestor asks "Mentor" (really Athena) and Telemachos the traditional question about their identity and origin (Od. 3. 71-74) in the same words with which Apollo asks the identity of the Cretan sailors in the H. Ap. (vv. 452-455). Sometimes, however, only the key words are the same, and the rest of the material in the scene varies from poem to poem. For example, in a typical Arrival the key words are that the person goes (bê ...), arrives (hikane or similar term), finds the other person engaged in some pursuit (heure or kichane), stands beside him (agchou d' histamenê, ton parstas, etc.), and perhaps takes him by the hand as he begins to address him.
In addition to the type scenes that Arend identified, I have added some new ones. Among these are the scene that I call Nymphs Dancing and Picking Flowers (or perhaps more accurately, Young Women Disporting Themselves), Sexual Intercourse, Exchange of Gifts, and Modest Behavior of a Young Man in the Presence of His Elders.27 I call this last motif a type scene because of its small scope and because it seems to describe a formulaic aspect of a particular culture, though the examples I have found do not show exact verbal correspondence.
The theme is the largest feature of oral poetry. The formulae are, after all, simply the vocabulary and syntax of oral poetry, and the type scenes are isolated in certain parts of the poem. But the traditional nature of oral poetry is all-pervasive, from the smallest units to the largest; whole episodes and entire narratives are built around traditional themes that make their way into the singer's vocabulary in the same way that the formulae do.
The themes are characterized by their size, embracing large portions of narrative, and by the fact that they are made up of a number of separate episodes. They depend for their identification less on exact verbal identity from one example to another than on the fact that they contain a cluster of elements that regularly occur in the same sequence, albeit sometimes in vestigial or mutated form. The inner dynamic of these themes is so powerful that they may shape or change the course of the narrative; where more story material or a sequel is needed, new material is generated from the same or a related theme.28
It is, as I have indicated, sometimes hard to distinguish between type scenes and themes. A type scene is like a formula in that it normally uses the same words in the same metrical position to describe the same thing. But when it is connected to additional plot elements that move the story forward, it becomes a theme. Thus the motif of Nymphs Dancing and Picking Flowers is a type scene when it stands alone; but when a threatening male figure enters and interrupts the life of the principal maiden, that entrance moves the plot forward, giving us the theme of The Maiden Abducted While Dancing and Picking Flowers.
The order of thematic elements is generally constant, except where some other factor intervenes. The scene between Paris and Helen in Il. 3, for example, which takes place just after Aphrodite has rescued Paris from combat with
Menelaos, generally follows the theme of Seduction, but the order is disrupted by the presence of Aphrodite. Paris, nominally the seducer, is passive in the hands of Aphrodite, and Helen is frankly hostile, so that Aphrodite, in fact, must seduce them both.
The position of a particular thematic element may be so important that it appears even if it must be assigned to a different character from the rest of the episode. The With drawal of the Hero, for example, requires a prayer for vengeance; but in the story of Meleager in Il. 9 it is not Meleager but his mother Althaia who prays for vengeance. Similarly, in the theme of Seduction, the first two elements are Emotional Motivation and Preparation; but in Od. 8 it is not the preparations of the lovers, Ares and Aphrodite, that are described, but Hephaistos' preparations for revenge.
When an element is not emphasized and is represented by only a single verse or a single word, its order may be transposed, hysteron proteron, to a position after the element that should follow it, or even into the middle of it. Thus, in the Hymn to Demeter, we learn why the daughters of Keleos went to the well after they find Demeter sitting by it, and Ares' reason for visiting Aphrodite is shoved into the middle of his arrival.
In the opposite case, where one element of a theme is to be given extended treatment, a secondary theme or type scene may be brought in to give it structure. In the theme "The Young God Consolidates His Power," for example, the final element is the obtaining and bestowing of attributes. In the Hymn to Hermes, this element is given form by the motifs of the Feud Between Brothers and the Exchange of Gifts. In the Hymn to Apollo, the god's birth, the building of his temple, and his founding of cult rites to himself have all been cast in the form of Journeys.
A scene or secondary theme that is used to give structure to an element of a theme may represent a different element in another poem. In the theme of Seduction, for example, we see that the bathing and dressing scene which appears as "preparation" in the love episode of Hera and Zeus (Il. 14) and in the affair of Aphrodite and Anchises in the H. Aphr. appears in the song of Ares and Aphrodite in Od. 8 as "dressing after intercourse," a different element of the same theme. The resulting change of emphasis is quite striking. In the same theme, the animals mating as Aphrodite goes to meet Anchises is a response of nature to divinity,
that corresponds to the upsurge of grass and flowers beneath Zeus and Hera in Il. 14, where the scene represents the thematic element "they make love."
Since each theme consists of several elements, it is not uncommon for one element to be common to more than one theme. Thus the themes easily become "contaminated," and a song whose structure is built on one theme may "modulate" into another theme at the point of contact between them, just as a piece of music modulates from one key to another by way of a common chord. Lord has shown how this "modulation" and combination of themes was used in the Iliad and Odyssey to achieve length and complexity.29 As we shall see, it is responsible for the the complexity of the longer Hymns as well. The Hymn to Demeter, in particular, contains a rich mixture of thematic material.
The oral style is marked by a great amount of repetition, and certain smaller repetitive patterns, such as repetition of metrical and syntactic configurations (which often occur to gether), also interact with the themes to alter their aspect in the poem. According to some definitions, these patterns would also be considered kinds of formulae. The repetition of grammatical endings may lead to assonance as well, for example, in Aphrodite's catalog of abducted Trojans in H. Aphr. 202-203 and 218-219
ê toi men xanthon Ganumêdea mêtieta Zeus
Like the more strictly defined formulae, such patterns are not necessarily unique to a given poem. As we shall see in the chapter on the Marriage of the Fertility Goddess, this particular pattern also occurs in the Odyssey. In these examples, as often, the repetition is due to the catalog form, which itself is a traditional way of structuring a poem.
Anaphora, too, can act together with other types of repetition to give effects that are not directly produced by the use of the formulae, but are, so to speak, imposed on the formulae. It is combined with syntactic similarity in H. Dem. 308-309
polla de kampul' arotra matên boes (helkon arourais,)
Another type of repetition is the collocation of two different forms of the same word next to each other in the verse. In H. Ap. 354, we find such a pattern, conjoined with alliteration in the same verse and the one that follows:
dôken epeita pherousa kakôi kakon, hê d' hupedekto:
Pertaining more to the individual poem are the key words, that are repeated many times and with regularity throughout the entire poem or a substantial portion of it; these go far toward imparting the special "personality" that we associate with a particular poem. The frequent use of the word chrusos ["gold"] and its derivatives in the Delian Apollo, for example, contributes to that poem's special effect of radiance and grandeur. More often, however, the repeated words are semantically related rather than lexically identical. These key words may belong to the main theme of the poem, like the words pertaining to Odysseus' longing for home in the Odyssey, or they may indicate an attitude toward the theme, like the recurring words for "house" and "dwelling" in the H. Herm. In the H. Dem., words for sorrow, anger, and unwillingness give the poem a mood of somberness; more important to the H. Dem. is a system of related semantic groups denoting eating, secrecy, perception, and transgression, that convey the entire message of the Eleusinian Mysteries. [The use of computer-aided cluster analysis to identify these groups of words in the H. Dem. is described in the paper "Thought Clusters in Early Greek Poetry", which can be found on this Web site.]
While the tally of key words is easily augmented, on the one hand, by semantically related expressions, the repetition of identical expressions begins to merge, on the other hand, with repetitions of series of words, whole verses, and series of verses. At this point, the type begins to coalesce with formulaic repetition, for a formula is essentially a repeated series of words. Groups of formulae can be built up into complete verses and series of verses, which can also be repeated. Series of verses are sometimes repeated because of verbatim repetition of speeches; at other times they indicate the presence of type scenes. Sometimes, as in ring composition and catalogs, repeated verses seem only to serve an organizing function. A modified catalog form accounts for the repeated verse
enthen de proterô ekies, ekatêbol' Apollonwhich articulates the wandering of Apollo in the H. Ap. The phrase "gods and mortal men" and its variations in the first
hundred lines of the H. Dem. have a less definite role in the poem's structure, but nevertheless recur like a kind of refrain.
Word plays are another type of repetition that belongs to the individual poem rather than to the theme. Isolated groups of lines, varying in number from about five to twenty, are involved. The poet may use words from a particular lexical stem many times in the short passage, in identical or different positions in the line, playing with it, unable to get it out of his thoughts. Sometimes two or three stems are handled thus in one passage. Sometimes the repeated element is actually a formula, which the poet, in repeating it, turns now backwards, now inside out, or splits it up, putting part in one verse, part in another. H. Ap. 95-99
allai t' athanatai, nosphin leukôlenou Hêrês:gives an idea of some of these kinds of transformations. The words used in such word plays may reappear in other parts of the poem, or they may not. The poet of the H. Aphr., for example, uses the word ergon ["work"] or erga ["works"] seven times in the first twenty-one lines, punning on its various meanings; but he uses it only once thereafter, in v. 122. Word plays are most striking when the poet uses them to suggest an etymology for a proper name. Hesiod's Theogony and the "Pythian" part of the H. Ap. are particularly rich in this type of word play."30 These passages are like raisins floating in a pudding; they occur sporadically and disappear, with no connection to the overall structure of the poem.
One other repeated element also contributed to the singer's finished composition: the melody to which he sang or declaimed the words. The modern oral poet uses a recurring melody one verse long, to which he fits every line he composes. Its fixed number of syllables helps him keep his rhythm and to compose lines of uniform length.31 We have no idea what the ancient bard's melody was like; Homer has left us descriptions of the bard, Phemios or Demodokos, taking up his lyre and singing to his own accompaniment, but none of the music has survived, since it was never written down. Was the melody peculiar to the story, belonging to it no matter what singer sang it? Or did each poet or group of
poets have its own melodies, to which they sang the ancient stories? We do not know whether the number of notes in the line was fixed; the hexameter does not have a fixed number of syllables, but they could have been fit to a standard sequence of pitches, with more than one syllable to a note, when necessary. Or was the melody somehow related to the pitch accent of the words themselves? We may never know, but the melody, too, must have interacted with the words, formulae, and themes in ways we can only imagine, giving them a different aspect from one poem to another; the printed words on the page give but a pale representation of what a real performance must have been like.
Repetitions of formulae and themes, of sound and of metrical, syntactic, and lexical elements, relieve the oral poet of the need for instant originality, though the better the poet, the more nuance and imagination go into the way he combines these elements in the finished song. For both poet and audience, the repetitions define the structure of the poem and serve as punctuation. Repetition, like ornamentation, indicates important points in the narrative. As in ring composition, where a passage begins and ends with the same line, repetition serves to remind both singer and audience where they are in the narrative. This is important in an art which, like music, must be perceived aurally, over a period of time.32 Repeated sounds and motifs can also, at times, impose a structure on the poem independent of both theme and story. [The phenomenon of repetition as punctuation, as found in Hesiod's Theogony, is discussed in my "Verbal Patterns in Hesiod's Theogony", available on this Web site.]
The elements of the formulaic epic are not discrete and separate from each other. They are, rather, parts of a continuum. Michael Nagler, in his important study of the formulaic style in Homer, has shown how formulae and larger units can all be generated out of the same underlying concept. He shows, for example, how the motif he calls "attendance" can be represented by one formulaic verse,
ouk oiê, hama têi ge kai amphipoloi du' hepontoor by the entrance of a hero into the assembly (Arend's type scene of convening an assembly), and is even manifested in the mythic pattern of the Hero's Return (which Nagler analyzes as the hero's return to the authoritative position of "convenership").33 The same principle applies to formal expansions of motifs of all types. We shall see, for example, in the chapter on Epiphanies in the present book, how the idea
of being "godlike," as expressed in a single epithet like isotheos "equal to a god" or a formula like theois enaligkios "resembling the gods," can be expanded into a scene where a mortal is actually mistaken for a god, and can even be expanded into a theme in which a mortal is described in terms usually reserved for a god, as in the "epiphanies" of Odysseus to Nausikaa and Telemachos. Any thematic idea in fact -- withdrawal, seduction, immortality, or any other -- can be suggested by one word, a group of words, a scene, or can be expanded into full thematic treatment.
In general, the smaller the traditional element, the more culture-bound it tends to be; the larger elements are more likely to be universal. A formulaic expression or a syntactic feature must be expressed in a particular language. The type scenes, too, are more tied to a particular civilization; they usually are, at least partially, couched in a standard verbal expression, and they describe activities that are themselves formulaic or ritualistic for that particular people. The elements of the themes, on the other hand, may not even be expressed in the same words from one example to another; the important factor is the sequence of elements; and this same essential form may be found in many literatures, though expressed in the formulae, type scenes, or other vocabulary of a particular people. Parry and Lord, for example, found many of the themes of ancient epic persisting in modern Yugoslavian oral poetry (Yugoslav stories of the Hero's Return, in particular, parallel in a surprising number of details the same theme as it appears in the Odyssey); and many ancient themes also reappear in modern Greek heroic poetry. We shall often have occasion to appeal to the ancient Sumerian, Semitic, Egyptian, or Indic traditions for aid in interpretation, where the non-Greek examples retain important features that have dropped out of the Greek versions.
Another chapter could be written on the survival of the themes in non-oral and non-epic literature, in Greek literature (as in Athenian Tragedy), and even in our own day. Christian mythology revolves around the themes of the Birth of the Hero, Death and Resurrection, and the Succession Myth. The founders of America, too, looked to the mythic themes for inspiration, as they tried to recreate the Golden Age. In the modern motion picture, the themes of the Marriage of the Fertility Goddess, the Succession, the Combat With the Monster, and the Journey, with its Two Helpers and its Death of the Substitute, are very much alive. Where at one end of the continuum of oral style we found the
formulae, which are an exaggeration of ordinary language, at the other end we find the themes, which are stylized versions of universal experience, as embodied in universal myth.
Are the themes, then, the same as myth? Not quite. The themes are formal patterns, whereas myth is more inclusive. A mythology is a system of concepts for making sense out of the world; it is more or less self-consistent, but by nature incomplete, for it tends to omit or distort whatever does not fit the system. All mythologies perform the same functions and try to answer essentially the same questions. Joseph Campbell, in The Masks of God, defines the functions of a mythology thus: to awaken in man the awesome experience of the truly numinous; to explain the nature and origins of the universe; to establish the legitimacy of the existing social order; and to fix the place of man as an individual in the world.34 Mythologies generally revolve around the great life crises: birth, maturation, sexual union, childbirth, life support, sickness, death, and those encounters with unknown things that we are often moved to attribute to supernatural forces. Each mythology in its own way tries to bring order to the human experience of these crises.
A mythology is not necessarily expressed in narrative form; it may be expressed in some other coherent set of symbols. This is true of modern scientific systems, which serve many of the functions of a mythology. A great many mythologies, however, are expressed in narrative form; no better example of a narrative mythology can be found than that ancient mythology which we find first among the Sumerians, later among the Babylonians and Greeks, and which lives on today in Christian dogma and secular fiction. The traditional themes of ancient oral poetry are a vehicle of expression for this narrative mythology; the exact form that the elements of the themes took depended on the particular culture. In this, the themes resemble ritual, for the sacraments of every people likewise revolve around the same basic concerns as myth, but they differ in their expression from culture to culture.
The myths as we find them in the Homeric Hymns belong to two competing sequences. One is the Succession sequence which is linear in conception and is associated with male gods. The Succession Myth tells how successive generations
of gods or men supplant each other, and how the Young Hero God is born and attains heroic status. It is found in the Hymns to Apollo and Hermes. The other sequence is the myth of Death and Resurrection, particularly associated with Mother Goddesses and their dying consorts, which is cyclic and is found in the Hymns to Demeter and Aphrodite. These two sequences represent two attitudes toward the question of immortality, and provide two answers to the question of how, when the individual dies, the human race and the rest of nature keep on surviving. One sequence treats the continued presence of life as the rebirth of the individual. The other sees a succession of different individuals; in a sense, it, too, is cyclical. Each brings the protagonist into contact with death, the mother goddess or her consort by actual death, from which she or he is reborn, the young hero god through his fight with the chaos demon or a Journey to the Land of the Dead. Each sequence ends with some kind of security or stability being vouchsafed the universe, fertility in the case of the goddess and her consort, the hierarchy of the cosmos in the case of the hero god. It has been suggested that the Succession sequence is the conception of a pastoral culture; the cyclic pattern of Death and Resurrection is perhaps an agrarian myth, which takes its imagery from the periodic growth and dying of the vegetation.35 But another explanation of the difference suggests itself in the fact that a woman's fertility is literally cyclic, proceeding on a monthly cycle, whereas a man is uniformly potent at all times of the year.
The two sequences of myth are not really separate, and by historical times they were certainly confused with each other, with the same character appearing now as the protagonist of one cycle, now of the other. Zeus, for example, appears as the young king of the Succession Myth in Hesiod's Theogony, but he was a dying god on Crete.36 The Babylonian Marduk (the Assyrian Bel) also appears both as the young divine hero and as a dying and resurrected god.37 The Sumerian King List places Gilgamesh among the succession of kings, but he was occasionally identified with the dying god Tammuz; all Sumerian kings, in fact, may have eventually become identified with Tammuz as the husband of Inanna.38 On the other hand, a divinity who would more normally be a dying god could apparently take on aspects of the hero god, for Dionysos, a god of fertility, seems to have been made the hero of the theme of the Young Hero God who performs an exploit in the now fragmentary Homeric Hymn 1. The story of
the vegetation goddesses Demeter and Persephone may be seen as a female version of the Succession Myth; Jung found in this myth the never-ending and immortal chain of mother, daughter, and daughter ever becoming mother to a new daughter.39 The Hero myth could also be told of women -- it was told of Semiramis -- and the interchangeability of sex between the cycles of myth is further illustrated by the Egyptian myth in which Atet, a female counterpart of Ra, slays the monster of darkness.40
The relationship between the two cycles can perhaps best be seen if we arrange the themes in an order that follows the life crises of the individual from birth to death. The themes are easily strung together in such a chain with one protagonist; in fact, the stringing together of related themes was a principal method used by the poet to achieve length. In this order we can also examine some possible psychological meanings of the themes.41
Otto Rank, in The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, saw the elements of the Hero myth as modeled on the development of the child.42 The Hero's birth from a virgin goddess or princess, his fathering by a god, and his subsequent nurturing by shepherds or other lowly persons, he saw as references to the child's rejection of the parenthood of his own parents and his adoption in fantasy of "real" parents of high status.43 The birth of the hero in a cave and his exposure upon the water (as in the story of Perseus or Moses) symbolizes the womb.44 Jung related the myth of the divine child or child hero to the unconscious elements which must be assimilated by the conscious parts of the mind in the individual's progress toward wholeness. The miraculous birth of the child represents the fact that the events are psychic and not to be explained in an empirical way. The portrayal of the child as endangered or abandoned represents the difficulties attendant upon the process of psychic integration. The Wunderkind motif, in which the small, insignificant child nevertheless performs amazing feats of strength, attests to the vitality of the unconscious forces within us, which seem so insignificant from the point of view of our conscious mind. The crowning feat of the triumph over the monster of darkness stands for the triumph of the newly integrated self.45
Monsters in general represent our hostile and antisocial feelings, which we exteriorize in order to avoid admitting that they are part of ourselves. Monsters that ravage entire communities function as scapegoats onto which the darker impulses of a whole society may be loaded, so that the projected
evil of the population may be exorcized by killing it.46 The monster may also be a projection of an individual's fears and anxieties. When the monster menaces a young virgin, as it often does, it probably represents her fear of her own growing sexual powers; when the Hero "rescues" her from the monster, the victory is a milestone in the Hero's life, but from the point of view of the girl herself, it means that she has accepted the "monster" as human, and now perceives both her instincts and his as human and healthy. In the "Frog-Prince" or "Beauty and the Beast" motif, the monster actually turns into the Hero. These variations do not appear in the Hymns.
The Hero often goes on a Journey, and here the Succession myth overlaps the Death and Resurrection cycle, for the Journey is also a myth of Death and Resurrection. Several related themes describe the withdrawal of a central character from normal society. These are Withdrawal and Return, the Journey (often to the Land of the Dead), some aspects of Rape, and the Marriage of the Fertility Goddess. These themes share so many common elements that they could be considered variants of one basic theme.47 But they differ in the type of character to which the theme applies, and in the emphasis that is brought to each separate theme.
The Hero who makes the Great Journey is severed from the ordinary world for a long period of time; he is considered dead by his friends, and often specifically makes a journey to the Land of the Dead. The basic purpose of the quest seems to be for immortality. This interpretation is confirmed by the story of the Sumerian Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh' goal was to become immortal; but he wasted his chance, and remained mortal like everyone else. The Journey (like other myths of death and rebirth) may have less to do, on the psychological level, with literal death and literal rebirth, than with the coming to maturity of the individual, who must give up his infantile belief in his own immortality and omnipotence. He does indeed learn the Secret of Life, but the Secret of Life is that we are mortal. We attain maturity of outlook only at great cost, and at the loss of some part of our former selves. This is the meaning of the Death of the Substitute, which always occurs in Journey stories.
The theme of Withdrawal and Return, in which the protagonist withdraws out of anger, either because of the loss of some beloved person or because of some imagined slight to his honor, is an attenuated version of the idea of death and rebirth. It shares basic elements with the Journey (and with
the Dying God theme), such as the destruction and desolation attendant upon the person's absence, and the Death of the Substitute that accompanies the person's return. But the hero does not wander far in the Withdrawal; he remains nearby in temple or tent, and everyone knows where he is. The temporal focus of the theme differs too. Whereas a story of Withdrawal regards the beginning and the end of the action, the Journey emphasizes the middle.
If the central character is a woman, a young person, or a dying god, the Death and Resurrection motif (or the motif of coming to maturity) can be symbolized by Rape. Rape and recovery can symbolize the triumph over death either actively or passively. The passive form belongs to the dying god cycle. The dying god or goddess is abducted by the sovereign of the Underworld; someone else comes looking for him or her and brings him back. The active version tends to be a form of Journey; the Hero goes to the Underworld of his own will and tries to abduct the sovereign of the Underworld. Since a Withdrawal story can be motivated by the loss or abduction of someone dear to the hero of the Withdrawal, a Rape can be the other side of a Withdrawal, Rape being told from the point of view of the one abducted, Withdrawal from the point of view of the bereaved one left behind. In the Hymn to Demeter, both versions exist side by side -- the Rape of Persephone and Demeter's Search.
When the Hero goes on a Journey, one of his adventures often takes him to the Goddess Across the Water. The Goddess offers the Hero immortality, but he rejects it and returns to his human wife. This myth is given fullest expression from the goddess' point of view in the Marriage of the Fertility Goddess, which partakes of both major thematic cycles. In the hero's life, the encounter with the Goddess is a vehicle for his gaining of maturity, as he gives up the fantasy world of the goddess, with her promise of immortality, and embraces his real human life. But for the goddess herself, the theme portrays a different kind of Death and Resurrection; for through her contact with a mortality which she does not share, the goddess herself "dies" in a symbolic way. Tragic for her, the goddess' epiphany to a mortal brings him fertility, increase, and glory.
Epiphany itself is an ambivalent theme, dealing with still another life crisis, in which the inexplicable or supernatural enters the life of human beings. This is the experience of the numinous, the mysterium tremendum, as described by Rudolf Otto.48 There are many types of Epiphany, one of which is
the Marriage of the Fertility Goddess. The entrance of the supernatural into human life is the origin of many beautiful things -- fertility, poetic inspiration, personal charisma, mysteriously beautiful city walls, civilization, emotions, and even life itself. But contact with the supernatural also inspires fear, which is rationalized by another theme, describing the Wrath of God and the punishments visited by a god upon human beings.49
The last life crisis is death, and the final episode in the Hero's life is his death, sometimes upon a mountaintop, followed by his apotheosis, like that of Christ, of Oidipous, or Herakles. This motif does not appear in the Homeric Hymns.
The long Hymns are all aetiological; they explain the origin of something -- the Eleusinian Mysteries, music, the cult of the Twelve Gods, and so forth. One of the functions of a mythology is to explain how the present order of things came into existence. Theogonies are the most obvious type of poem that explains the origins of things; but the category of themes that have to do with origins includes the Succession theme, and the gifts of fertility and increase made by gods and goddesses in their Epiphanies. The theme of the Trickster Inventor offers an explanation for the origins of culture and the beginnings of civilization. These themes have an important place in the Homeric Hymns.
The cyclic nature of the great themes mirrors the constant regeneration of the human race, but it manifests itself structurally in the tendency of the elements to split and proliferate. Sometimes the incidents of the story are repeated in a succession or other cyclic narrative; sometimes it is the characters that split and multiply. The Myth of the Five Ages in Hesiod's Works and Days is a series that has been extended; once he started with a bronze age and an iron age (which really existed), it was easy for Hesiod (or whoever originated the story) to add mythic ages featuring the still more precious metals, gold and silver. The Age of Heroes is worked into the series, but still does not disturb the basic shape of the catalog. It is implied that further continuation is possible. Hesiod says that he wishes he had not lived in the Iron Age, but had "either died earlier or been born later," implying that he expects the cycle to begin over again.
Repetition of incidents or characters within a family is characteristic of Successions. In Hesiod's Theogony, the Succession of the Gods is halted when Zeus prevents the birth of the son who would depose thim. But his method of prevention actually continues the series, for just as Kronos swallowed
his children and Ouranos hid his in the earth (another kind of swallowing), so Zeus swallows Metis, pregnant with Athena. Among other famous families celebrated in saga, the same bizarre incidents and motifs crop up in generation after generation. Cannibalism, and the murders of parents and children by each other, recur in the house of Tantalos and his descendants, including Atreus, Thyestes, and Agamemnon. Unnatural familial relations are endemic in the house of Laios, father of Oidipous. In the myths of Thebes and Argos, cows and bulls play a recurring part; Kadmos began his wanderings in search of Europa, who had been abducted by Zeus in the form of a bull, and was led to the future site of Boiotia by a cow. Io, supposed to be an ancestress of Kadmos, was turned into a cow and bore Epaphos, who was identified with the Egyptian Apis-bull. In another story, Peleus and Telamon had a bastard brother Phokos, whom they killed; Telamon's son Aias had a bastard brother Teukros, but in other respects the relationship was different, for Aias and Teukros were the best of friends. The family of Helen sustained multiple rapes: In the Cypria, Nemesis (in this version the mother of Helen) was said to have been raped by Zeus. Helen herself was carried off twice, once by Theseus and once by Paris.
Repetition of incidents may occur within one character's life. The Labors of Herakles and Theseus are examples of open-ended series where the number of original adventures was probably much smaller, but the list was made longer by the introduction of doublets. More adventures can be added without changing the shape of the theme. When adventures of this sort are doubled, the characters the hero meets (monsters, goddesses, etc.) also tend to be doubles of each other.
Multiplication of characters is evident in the Hymn to Demeter, where the characters of Mother Goddess, Father God, the Consort Who Dies, and the human lover of the Mother Goddess have all been doubled. We can compare the multiplication of roles in the Odyssey, which is full of such doubling.50 There are Kirke and Kalypso, Eurykleia, Eurynome, and Eurymedousa, Melanthios and Melantho. The multiplication of Odysseus' adventures on his Journey is matched by the large number of Substitutes Who Die. In the important Epiphany scenes of both the H. Dem. and the Odyssey (where Odysseus himself plays the role of the god), the role of the mortal to whom the divinity appears has been divided among several characters.
It is sometimes uncertain whether the doubling of characters comes as a result of a real splitting of one original
character, or through syncretism of two originally separate characters. For the poet, the multiplication of incidents and characters is an obvious way to give length and variety to a poem. Otto Rank, however, gave this splitting and doubling, both of events and of characters, a psychological explanation. He saw the repetition of events in succeeding generations as related to the fantasy of being one's own son.51 In the splitting of characters, he saw a fundamental process in the creation of myth: According to him, the separate characters represent different stages in the development of the child's acceptance of relationships within the family.52
All of the themes can have either human or divine protagonists, though some themes perhaps gravitate to one or the other. Withdrawal and Return stories are told of Achilles, Aineias, Herakles, Hera, and Demeter. Rape stories have either mortals or gods as victims, although many of the most famous Rape stories are told of female characters who are either goddesses or suspected goddesses (like Helen, Ariadne, and Europa). Gods and mortals alike go on Journeys. A recognition scene is the human equivalent of a divine Epiphany, and human revenge is the counterpart of the Wrath of God. The human equivalent of the violent Succession Myth, in which successive generations of gods overthrow each other, lies in the history of "accursed" families like those of Tantalos and Laios.
It is difficult but necessary to try to arrive at a definition of the characters about whom these stories are told. The character of Aphrodite, Zeus, or Apollo is not just the sum total of all the themes of which he or she is the subject, but has as its nucleus a basic concept that determines which themes will gravitate to it. G. Kirk makes the distinction between static fantasy (objects or persons that are symbolic) and dynamic fantasy (actions which have symbolic content).53 I make a similar distinction here; if the themes represent the dynamic element of mythology, the characters, though more static, yet influence the course that the myth will take. The problem is less for a human character like Agamemnon, for whom we can usually posit an actual historical figure to whom the stories must conform, though the reality even of such persons is sometimes questioned. With gods, the problem seems greater; one would think at first that the imagination could have free rein to invent anything it wanted to about characters that don't really exist. The differences, however, may be less than they seem. For both gods and men, the problem is to discover the underlying unifying concept; it
is this concept that would provide both poet and listener with a feeling for what themes would or would not be fitting for that character.
The presence in ancient Mediterranean mythologies of a number of father gods and fertility goddesses with similar characteristics makes it very tempting to derive every such god or goddess from a single model. One is left with the problem of identifying the original. Farnell was led, for instance, to think that Demeter and Persephone both went back to a single Earth Goddess, possibly of Asiatic origin.54 It is true, as Frazer pointed out, that Demeter and Earth are clearly differentiated in the Hymn to Demeter; they are, in fact, represented as enemies, since it is Earth who manufactures the strange flower with which Persephone is lured to her abduction by Hades.55 This is not, however, an insurmountable difficulty. Once the character had been made into two or more figures with distinct personalities, the development of each secondary character could be relatively independent, and the myths that attached themselves to each might bring them into conflict.56 In the same way, the names of Hera and Herakles may show that they were originally linked, but they became enemies in myth. Kerényi sees not only Demeter and Persephone, but Hekate as well, as essentially aspects of one goddess.57
The character of Persephone, however, partakes of the characteristics of several other types. She also represents, as Jung says, the type of the "maiden" goddess (as opposed to "mother" goddess) that also included Artemis and Athena.58 In the H. Dem., Persephone appears not only as maiden and as a double of Demeter, but also as a dying god, a role usually played by the male consort of the Mother Goddess. It is also possible that Persephone was originally a Queen of the Dead, who later became associated with the cult and myth of Demeter. That is the role she plays in the Iliad. Nor is Greek mythology the only mythology to confuse us with its connections between fertility and death. A similar problem of ultimate origins exists in Egyptology concerning the god Osiris. As with Persephone, the question is whether he was originally a dying god or a sovereign of the dead (in the case of Osiris, of the royal dead). For Osiris, there is also a third interpretation, for he may also be a personification of the Nile.59
Were Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades, who share many common traits, originally the same patriarchal god? They are supposed to be brothers; each rules over one of the three
realms of the universe. In the Iliad, Persephone's consort is called Zeus katachthonios ["Underground Zeus"].60 In both the H. Dem. and in the Theog., it was by Zeus's decree that Hades abducted Persephone, suggesting again that their roles are sometimes interchangeable. In Orphic tradition, Persephone was the mother of Zagreus (Dionysos) by Zeus.61 Both Zeus and Poseidon were consorts of Demeter.62 "Underworld Zeus" is linked with Demeter by Hesiod.63
But similarity and interchangeability of role are not in themselves sufficient to prove identity. To look for a single source for these diverse gods is probably to misunderstand the free-floating genius of oral poetry and mythology. There is a danger that much of the impetus to find one single original god or goddess has been based not so much on the objective evidence as on a desire, born of our Judeo-Christian background, to posit an original monotheism, if not of an original Father God, then of an original Mother Goddess.
I would like to propose another way of looking at the characters who act out parts in the themes. Just as elements of oral themes are put together in different ways to form different themes, so the many roles that the characters play are distributed to them in various combinations. The individual characters are made up of combinations of functions, just as themes are composed of elements. These functions include such qualities as rulership, making war, ensuring fertility, care of children, deceitfulness, heroism, and wisdom, and protection over various things such as cities, cattle, and water.
The function of kourotrophos "rearer of children," for example, is one that is ascribed to a number of goddesses in Greek literature. Even Athena sometimes fulfils this duty; Erechtheus is represented as her foster-son in the Iliad (his real mother was the zeidôros aroura ["the wheat-giving field"])64 Athenian legend made her the foster-mother of Erichthonios (probably the same as Erechtheus), whom Poseidon begat upon the Earth when Athena repulsed him.65 In Elis, she was called Mêtêr ["Mother"].66
The functions could be put together to describe a particular character: Hera possesses the functions of motherhood, deceitfulness, rulership, protection of the city of Argos, and, in some localities, maidenhood and widowhood. Persephone has the functions of maidenhood, motherhood, vegetable fertility, and sovereignty over death. Athena, who shares the functions of maiden and mother with both Hera and Persephone, is a city-protector (over Athens and other cities), but she also presides over skill and craft (sometimes misrepresented as "wisdom"), war, and water, this last through
her epithet "Tritonis." Aphrodite, on the other hand, shares motherhood with the preceding goddesses, is deceitful like Hera, and is also responsible for sex and animal fertility. Hades, like Persephone, is a divinity of the dead, but is also ruler of one part of the universe, like his brothers Zeus and Poseidon. Poseidon, in addition to his rulership over part of the universe and his connection with water, also has power over horses and earthquakes. Apollo is a god with a totally different set of concerns: heroism in the battle with the monster, care over cattle, plagues, music, and some connection with the sun. He and his sister Artemis, who has care over wild animals, both cause death to men and women with their arrows. Hermes shares his deceitfulness with Hera and Aphrodite, his craft and technological skill with Athena, his role as hero god and his connection with cattle and music with Apollo. He has a connection with death in his role as psuchopompos ["conductor of souls"]. We can represent these combinations and those for other gods by a chart like the one in Figure 1.
The same sort of scheme could be used to represent the gods of other ancient civilizations, since gods with similar characteristics are found all over the ancient Mediterranean. These gods, too, differ from each other by the combination of functions with which they are endowed. The exact way the functions are combined depends to a large part on factors internal to the particular culture. Sex, war, and wisdom, for example, are three functions that were distributed in different combinations to the gods of different cultures. In Greek mythology, there are two divinities of war, Athena and Ares. Athena is the goddess of war and of wisdom (or rather, of craft, both in the sense of cleverness and in the sense of technology). She is nowhere associated with love or sex. Ares is a god of war and nothing else. He is, however, the lover of Aphrodite, a goddess of sex and animal fertility (who is, in turn, married to Hephaistos, another god of craft). In Sumerian mythology, we find a different combination. The Sumerian Inanna is a goddess of love, like Aphrodite, but she is also a goddess of war and is allied with Enki, god of wisdom and of water. Enki is similar to Poseidon; T. Jacobsen explains how, as a god of waters, he becomes a god of wisdom because of the tricky and cunning way that water avoids and goes around obstacles to get to its goals.67 In Egypt, it was Thoth, god of logic and of wisdom ("the heart of Ra") who gave Isis, a fertility goddess, both the words with which to revivify the dead Osiris and the formula to bring her son Horus back to life after he was stung by a scorpion. Thoth
shares another trait with Athena: according to one myth, he was born from the head of Horus, just as Athena was born from the head of Zeus.68
Perhaps it is precisely in this endless variety that we have an answer to our question, "Which character is the original?" For if the characters of oral poetry can be broken down into constituent functions, just as the themes can be broken down into elements, the analogy with the construction of the themes provides a solution. The thematic elements were constantly being put together in different ways, and no two performances were alike. Perhaps we must say of the characters as we do of the story transmitted by the traditional narrative, that no version is the original and every version is the original.
At this point one may ask whether it is not possible that, at least in some cases, a given story is told of a character because that is what really happened. For poems that purport to be historical, it does seem that we should reckon with the question of the historical fact that lies behind the story, independent of the literary form in which it is expressed. This is a question that worries the modern critic, though it would probably not have occurred to the composers of these songs, for whom every version that was sung was "the way it happened." Sometimes it is impossible to distinguish the basic story from the traditional theme. A character may have many stories told about him because many themes get attached to the character; these stories may even contradict each other. Yet it is useful to try to get at this fundamental situation, to find some clue to why this or that particular theme was used as the vessel of expression for this story.
In the case of a heroic saga like the Iliad, an appropriate question would be, "Was there a real historic siege of Troy, led by a real historic king of Mycenae, whose name was Agamemnon?" An answer can reasonably be sought by appealing to the literary and archaeological evidence. For stories about the gods, the problem is harder, since both the personages and the actions are only analogic ways of expressing some other kind of truth. For a poem like the Hymn to Demeter, it seems pointless to ask, "Was Persephone abducted at Nysa and did Demeter appear to the people of Eleusis?" The facts referred to by these stories are more likely to be, on the one hand, the planting of the seed in the ground and an actual historic famine, and on the other, the foundation of the mysteries at Eleusis.69 In other cases, it seems more realistic to assume that what is described is not a historical or even a physical event, but a psychological truth, which belongs
to the universal experiences of human personal development.
But is it not possible that the contrary may be true, and a theme that normally expresses a personal event of psychological significance may occasionally be used to describe an event in political history? For instance, the Canaanite myth of El and Ba'al, an example of the Succession Myth, reflects, according to U. Oldenburg, a historical struggle for supremacy between the El-worshipping Canaanites and the Ba'al-worshipping Amorites.70 Similarly, J.G. Griffiths sees in the Egyptian myths of Osiris, Seth, and Horus the recollection of an actual conflict between the dominions of Upper and Lower Egypt.71 In the Greek tradition, we wonder whether the rivalry between Hesiod and his brother Perses in the Works and Days was real or merely an example of a traditional theme, the Feud Between Brothers, like the fight between Eteokles and Polyneikes, the feud between Esau and Jacob, or the Contention Between Horus and Seth (a version of the Horus myth that is even older than the introduction of Osiris into Egyptian mythology).72 Is the story of Abel and Cain just a Hebrew version of the same theme, or does it reflect a historical struggle between the Canaanites, who were farmers, and the Hebrews, who were herdsmen?73 Perhaps Theseus' defeat of the Minotaur, an example of the theme of the Hero's killing of the Monster, represents an actual defeat of the Minoans by the Mycenaeans; and we would like to know whether the Trojan War has a basis in fact, or if it is simply a myth of the Journey and the Abduction of the Queen of the Dead.
The mythic themes could not have come into being in their present form if there were not actual situations in real life on which they could be modeled. The Feud Between Brothers could not be invented unless there were actual rivalries between siblings; it is, therefore, hard to say whether a given example of the situation took place. It is tempting to see a myth of the Abduction of the Queen of the Dead behind every story of rape, but no one would have invented such a story if he had no prior knowledge of kidnapping among real people. Even the Combat With the the Monster must go back to memories of primitive people's need to defend themselves and their domestic animals against the predations of lions and other enemies.
In all of these cases, however, one interpretation does not negate the other. We sometimes conclude on the basis of other evidence that such an event did take place in some
form, but it would probably not have been remembered if it had not lent itself to being cast in the form of an archetypal mythic theme. Horace acknowledged this in his lines
Vixere fortes ante Agamemnona
Many brave men lived before Agamemnon, but no one remembers them, for no poet sang of their deeds. Certain historical events still interest us, precisely because of their fitness to embody universal archetypes, a truth that was grasped intuitively by the poets.
Some have thought that the prevalence of mother goddesses in Mediterranean mythology pointed to an ancient situation of political matriarchy. Traces such as the favored position of the mother's brother, the myths of the Eumenides and of the Lemnian women, point, perhaps, only to a tradition of matrilineal succession, not at all to an aboriginal rule by women. Arete and Penelope in the Odyssey have great influence, but neither rules in her own name. Even in the non-Greek world, Artemisia of Halikarnassos, Semiramis of Babylon, Tomyris of the Massagetai, and Hatshepsut of Egypt acquired their kingdoms only on the death of their husbands. The position of Nefertiti as possibly co-equal with lkhnaton is uncertain, but there is nothing to show that female leadership was the usual state of affairs or that it applied to the rest of the population.75 The Greek traditions do seem to recall a time when Greek women had greater status and power than they had in archaic and classical times, but that is a quite obvious supposition in any case.
The great importance of the Mother Goddess myths is more likely to be found in the realm of psychology and personal history, and the Mother Goddess comes out of the same matrix as the myth of the Hero. The very nature of the Hero, what makes him such an appealing and beautiful creation, is his self-consistency and his sense of his own mission. He pursues his own destiny at the expense of both his enemies and his friends. This is an embodiment of the infantile fantasy of omnipotence. The Mother Goddess is also part of the infantile fantasy; her importance expresses the situation in early infancy, which is literally a matriarchy.76 We must remember that the family romance of the Oidipous Tyrannos ends not with Oidipous' marriage to his mother, but with
Iokaste's death. It is only when the hero frees himself from her that he attains real self-knowledge and maturity.
These, then, are the myths and themes of the Homeric Hymns. For clarity of presentation in the chapters that follow, the basic outline of each major theme is discussed at the beginning of its chapter, rather than being presented at the end as a conclusion. In each case, however, the schema was arrived at by an analysis of the Hymns and other sources. After the initial sketch, each theme is discussed in detail as it was used in the Hymns, and as it was integrated into the individual poems. As we see how the themes are worked out in the Hymns, we begin to see why the Hymns are still worth experiencing, why they still hold their own as creative productions. They are minor epic, without even a known author, yet they are major in their concerns. They are perhaps young as "Homeric" epic, yet they are old in their myths.
1. The orality of the Sumerian and Egyptian material, at least in prototype, is suggested by the characteristics of the existing versions. "Sumerian narrative poetry -- the myths and epic tales, for example -- abounds in static epithets, lengthy repetitions, recurrent formulas, leisurely detailed descriptions, and long speeches." (S.N. Kramer, The Sumerians, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963, pp. 170-171). For the probable oral source for the Egyptian "Contendings of Horus and Seth," see Chester Beatty Papyrus No. I ed. Alan H. Gardiner, London, 1931, p. 10; Gardiner criticizes the story for its "monotony" and "meanness of diction," because it uses identical formulae to express the same thing, and because of its word-for-word repetitions of speeches.
2. The movies (like the ancient oral epic, an important vehicle for popular education) make frequent use of improvisation, both by directors and by actors. While some directors deviate little from the written screenplay, others improvise considerably, sometimes beginning to shoot a film with only a vague idea of how the plot is to proceed, then allowing either themselves or their actors to make up the rest as they go along. As in oral epic, the plots tend to be traditional; this can be seen especially in the case of remakes. "Type scenes" are represented in some cases by actual reuse of the same footage (the same wheel falls off a wagon in several Westerns, the same World War I aerial dogfights appear in more than one picture). I shall present more detailed comparisons in a forthcoming article. ["Ancient Myths in Modern Movies" appears on this Web site.]
3. All, perhaps, except Hymn VIII to Ares. By its level of abstraction, its general style, and the virtues it exalts, it is not earlier than the sixth century, and perhaps shows the influence of Orphism. Ares is represented in this Hymn as a god of civic or moral, rather than martial, courage. Although soldierly epithets are applied to him in the first three verses (hupermeneta, brisarmate, chruseopêlêx, obrimothume, pheraspi, chalkokorusta, etc. ["exceedingly mighty," "weighing heavily on the chariot," "of golden helmet," "of strong spirit," "shield-bearing," "bronze-armored"]), the Hymn becomes a prayer for peace and moral stamina. Even in the earlier verses, he is given unexpected attributes and duties -- polissoe ["guarding the city"] (v. 2), herkos Olumpou ["wall of defense of Olympus"] (v. 3), sunarôge Themistos ["helper of Law"] (v. 4), dikaiotatôn age phôtôn ["leader of righteous men"] (v. 5), dotêr euthaleos hêbês ["giver of flourishing youth"] (v. 9). There seems to be an apotropaic aspect in praying to the god of
disorderly war for peace and freedom from antisocial forces. The idea of courage has perhaps first been abstracted, then transferred from the military to the civil arena, from external to internal life. There is a parallel in Parmenides fr. 1, where the traditional Chariot Journey has become an interior journey (see E.A. Havelock, "Parmenides and Odysseus," HSCP 53 (1958) pp. 133-143, and "Preliteracy and the Presocratics" in the Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies of the University of London 13 (1966) pp. 44-67). This transference also resembles the deepening social consciousness of Aischylos, whose Eumenides, formerly goddesses of vengeance, become upholders of the Athenian state. The Hymn may, however, be much later. M.L. West has presented convincing evidence that the Hymn to Ares is a complete interloper in the collection, and is probably by the Neoplatonist Proklos ("The eighth Homeric Hymn and Proclus," Classical Quarterly XX (1970) pp. 300-304). For further discussion of Orphic epithet strings, also see below, note 165.
4. Of these, only one preserves the fragmentary Hymn I to Dionysos and the Hymn II to Demeter. For a detailed account of the manuscript tradition, see The Homeric Hymns, edited by T.W. Allen, W.R. Halliday, and E.E. Sikes, 2nd ed., Oxford, 1936, pp. xi-lviii.
5. Hesiod tells us, in W&D 657, of the humnos that he composed for the funeral games of Amphidamas. It has been suggested that this humnos was the Theogony. See West's introduction to his edition of the Theogony (Hesiod, Theogony ed. M.L. West, Oxford, 1966) pp. 44-45, anticipated by H.T. Wade-Gery in Phoenix 3 (1949) p. 87=Essays in Greek History (1958) p. 8. The names of the other early hymn composers are known to us from various sources, including Herodotos and Pausanias.
6. Pausanias 1. 37. 4; 10. 7. 2; 9. 27. 2; 9. 30. 12.
7. For this date, see J.A. Notopoulos, "The Homeric Hymns as Oral Poetry," AJP vol. 83 no. 4 (Oct. 1962) pp. 342-343.
8. G.E. Mylonas, The Hymn to Demeter and Her Sanctuary at Eleusis, Washington University Studies, New Series, Language and Literature, No. 13, 1942, and Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, Princeton, 1961.
9. F.R. Walton, "Athens, Eleusis, and the Homeric Hymn to Demeter," Harvard Theological Review vol. 45 (1952) pp. 105-114.
10. Pausanias l. 39. 1; Mylonas, The Hymn to Demeter and Her Sanctuary at Eleusis, pp. 65-72.
11. See Norman 0. Brown, Hermes the Thief, New York: Vintage, 1969 (1947), pp. 110-117.
12. J.A. Notopoulos, op. cit.; P.G. Preziosi, "The Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite. An oral analysis," HSCP 68 (1966), pp. 171-204.
13. The basic work on the oral formula in Homer is still that contained in Milman Parry's essays, now reprinted in The Making of Homeric Verse, ed. Adam Parry, Oxford, 1971. Albert B. Lord's study of the process of oral composition is described in his The Singer of Tales, Cambridge Mass.: Harvard, 1960.
14. Some important studies are J.B. Hainsworth, Flexibility of the Homeric Formula, Oxford: Clarendon, 1968; Ernst Heitsch, Aphroditehymnus, Aeneas, and Homer: Sprachliche Untersuchungen zum Homerproblem, Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1965 (Hypomnemata: Untersuchungen zur Antike and zu ihrem Nachleben, Heft 15); Ernst Heitsch, Epische Kunstsprache and homerische Chronologie, Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1968; A. Hoekstra, Homeric Modifications of formulaic prototypes, studies in the development of epic diction, Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1965 (Verhandelingen der Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, Afd.
Letterkunde, N.R., Deel LXXI No. 1); A. Hoekstra, The Sub-Epic Stage of the Formulaic Tradition: studies in the Homeric Hymns to Apollo, to Aphrodite, and to Demeter, Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1969 (Verhandelingen der Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, Afd. Letterkunde, N.R., Deel LXXV, No. 2); Michael N. Nagler, Tradition and Spontaneity: A Study in the Oral Art of Homer, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974; Berkley Peabody, The Winged Word, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1975.
15. Hoekstra, Homeric Modifications, pp. 15-23. The degree of localization is, in fact, higher in the Alexandrians than in Homer or Hesiod. (See E.G. O'Neill, Jr., "Localisation of Metrical Word Types in the Greek Hexameter: Homer, Hesiod, and the Alexandrians," Yale Classical Studies 8 (1942), p. 132.)
16. Notopoulos, op. cit. (note 7), pp. 358-360. See also P.G. Preziosi, op. cit. (note 12), pp. 171-204.
17. See H.N. Porter, "The Early Greek Hexameter," Yale Classical Studies 12 (1951) pp. 34-55.
18. Allen and Halliday also note supposed "Asianisms" in the H. Aphr. The word satinê ["chariot"] in v. 13 seems to be Asiatic. It is not found in the Il. or Od., but is found in Sappho, Anacreon, and Euripides. The poet seems to know a distinction between the Trojan and Phrygian languages; Aphrodite tells Anchises that she knows his language in addition to her own, which she says is Phrygian, because she had a Trojan nurse. Allen and Halliday, p. 351, say "The author may have been an Aeolian or a Lesbian, e.g. Lesches."
19. Heitsch, Aphroditehymnus; also see F. Solmsen, "Zur Theologie im grossen Aphrodite-Hymnus," Hermes 88, no. 1 (March, 1960) pp. 1-13.
20. Heitsch, Aphroditehymnus p. 39; see also The Homeric Hymn to Demeter, ed. N.J. Richardson, Oxford, 1974, Introduction, p. 43.
21. For some popular formulae of conclusion of other schools of Greek poets, see Allen and Halliday pp. xcii and xciii. The Hymn to Ares lacks the usual opening and closing formulae, another peculiarity that sets this poem off from the rest of the Hymns. H. XII to Hera also lacks the closing formula. H. XXIV to Hestia does not use the standard opening and closing formulae, and H. XXIX to Hestia does not use the standard opening formula.
22. Ruth Finnegan, "Literacy and literature," in Universals of Human Thought, Some African Evidence, ed. Barbara Lloyd and John Gay, Cambridge University Press, 1981.
23. 1 am presuming, with Notopoulos, that the normal length of an oral performance, not Alexandrian scholarship, is the origin of the division of the Iliad and Odyssey into books.
24. These lists were partly tabulated with the aid of a computer. A full description of the computer techniques used in this research can be found in Cora Angier Sowa and John F. Sowa, "Thought Clusters in Early Greek Oral Poetry," Computers and the Humanities 8 no. 3 (May, 1974) pp. 131-146. [It is reproduced on this Web site.] See also the discussion in Appendix III.
25. See Hoekstra Homeric Modifications on conjugation and declension of formulae. Also see Appendix III a on Rheiês êükomou thugatêr ["daughter of beautiful-haired Rheia"].
26. W. Arend, "Die Typischen Szenen bei Homer," Problemata 7, Berlin, 1933.
27. For these scenes, see below in the chapters on Rape, Seduction, and The Young God Consolidates His Power.
28. This cohesion of elements is discussed by A.B. Lord, op. cit. (note 13), pp. 97, 119-120.
29. A.B. Lord, op. cit. (note 13), chapters 8 and 9.
30. For an analysis of this phenomenon in the Theogony, see my article in HSCP 68 (1964) pp. 329-344 (Cora Angier (Sowa), "Verbal Patterns in Hesiod's Theogony"). [It is reproduced on this Web site.] For the H. Ap., see below "On the Unity of the Hymn to Apollo" in the chapter on the Young God.
31. Some of these melodies may be heard on the commercial recording Modern Greek Heroic Oral Poetry, collected by and with accompanying pamphlet by J.A. Notopoulos, Folkways Recording FE 4468 .
32. See my "Verbal Patterns in Hesiod's Theogony" for repetition as punctuation. [See Note 30.]
33. Nagler, op. cit. (note 14), pp. 45, 119, 124, 137, etc.
34. Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God, vol. 4 Creative Mythology, New York: Viking, 1968, pp. 609-624. His definition of the "numinous" rests on that of Otto, which can be found in Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy (Das Heilige), transl. by J.W. Harvey, Oxford, 1969 (1950).
35. Such an opposition between agrarian goddess and pastoral god is, for instance, upheld by Campbell, The Masks of God, vol. 3 Occidental Mythology, p. 7.
36. The earliest extant reference to the "Tomb of Zeus" is in Kallimachos Hymn I. 8-9, but the tradition (whether localized in Knossos or in the Idaian or Diktaian cave) is reported by many classical and mediaeval writers. Passages relating to the "Tomb of Zeus" are collected in Meursius, Creta, Cyprus, Rhodus, Amsterdam, 1675, pp. 23, 77-81. The name Mnêma tou Zia survived into modern times as a local appellation for the ruins on Mt. Juktas. See Sir Arthur Evans, Palace of Minos (vol. 1, London: Macmillan, 1921) pp. 153-154; cf. his Mycenaean Tree and Pillar Cult, London, 1901 (Journal of Hellenic Studies vol. 21) pp. 23-24.
37. See S. Langdon, "The Death and Resurrection of Bêl-Marduk" in The Babylonian Epic of Creation, Oxford: Clarendon, 1923.
38. See T. Jacobsen, The Sumerian King List, Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Assyriological Studies No. 11, 1939; S. Langdon, Tammuz and Ishtar, Oxford: Clarendon, 1914, pp. 39-41; and S.N. Kramer, The Sumerians, pp. 140-141.
In the Weld-Blundell dynastic prism of the Ashmolean Museum (W-B 444), the father of Gilgamesh is called Lil-la, one of a number of names for Oriental dying gods meaning "the cripple," "the feeble one," or "the bound god." This name replaces the name of Dumuzi (Tammuz) who is Gilgamesh' father in the Sumerian King List. See Langdon, BEC pp. 215-217.
Among the rituals that connected the ancient king with the Dying God was the Babylonian festival called Sakaia, as reported by Athenaeus and Dion Chrysostomos. Athenaeus 639 c, quoting Berossus, says that at this festival masters were ordered about by slaves, one of whom governed the house and was clothed like a king. But Dion Chrysostomos De Regno IV. 67 says that at the Sakaia, which he calls a Persian institution, a condemned prisoner was made king for a day, at the end of which he was put to death. See Langdon, BEC pp. 57-59. Also see J.G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, London: Macmillan, 1917-1919, vol. 4, pp. 113 ff. and vol. 9 pp. 353 ff. for the Sakaia, the Babylonian New Year Festival, the Jewish Purim, the Roman Saturnalia, and the Olympian Kronia. Jesus Christ, too, combines the roles of Hero and Dying God.
39. C.G. Jung and C. Kerenyi, Essays on a Science of Mythology, Princeton, 1963 (Bollingen Series XXII) p. 144.
40. The mother of Semiramis was supposedly the goddess Derketo. Exposure myths (from the Hero's Birth) were told of Atalante, Kybele, and
Aerope. See Otto Rank, The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, transl. by F. Robbins and S.E. Jelliffe, New York, 1914 (reprinted in O. Rank, The Myth of the Birth of the Hero and Other Writings, New York: Random House (Vintage Books), 1964 p. 93 ftn. 7. For Atet see below, note 147.
Another connection between the two cycles is perhaps provided in the Sumerian myth of Enki and Kur. According to Kramer, the god Enki kills the monster Kur (a motif from the hero god cycle) who abducted Ereshkigal, who was originally a sky goddess (motif from the goddess cycle). See S.N. Kramer, History Begins at Sumer, Garden City, New York: Doubleday (Anchor Books), 1959 (1956) pp. 171-172, and Sumerian Mythology, rev. ed. New York: Harper Torchbooks 1961, p. 9. But Jacobsen (Toward the Image of Tammuz, Cambridge Mass.: Harvard, 1970, pp. 122-123) claims that Kramer's interpretation rests on a mistranslation. Ereshkigal was not "carried off into Kur as a prize" but had the earth "presented to her as a dowry," in her capacity as Queen of the Nether World.
41. See, however, the view of C. Lévi-Strauss (in Structural Anthropology, transl. by C. Jacobson and B.G. Schoepf, Garden City, New York: Doubleday (Anchor Books), 1967 (1963), chapter XI, The Structural Study of Myth), who warned against assigning a precise meaning to the individual elements of a myth. It is, according to Lévi-Strauss, only in the way they are combined that a meaning emerges, just as individual sounds (phonemes) of a word have no meaning in themselves.
42. Rank, op. cit. (note 40), took the position that the myth-maker was not so much describing the psychological development of the infant as falling back on that experience for his imagery in describing an actual hero.
43. O. Rank, op. cit., pp. 65 ff.
44. O. Rank, op. cit., p. 73 ftn. 8.
45. See, for example, Jung and Kerényi, Essays on a Science of Mythology, II "The Psychology of the Child Archetype."
46. See J. Bronowski, The Face of Violence: An Essay With a Play, new and enlarged ed. Cleveland: World, 1967; Rollo May, Power and Innocence, New York: Norton, 1972.
47. M.L. Lord, in "Withdrawal and Return, an Epic Story Pattern in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and in the Homeric Poems," Classical Journal 62 (1967) pp. 241-248, in fact treats the theme of Withdrawal and Return and the theme of the Journey as a single theme.
48. R. Otto, op. cit. (note 34).
49. R. Otto, op. cit., pp. 18-19.
50. For more on doubling in the Odyssey, see B. Fenik, Studies in the Odyssey, Wiesbaden: F. Steiner, 1974 (Hermes Einzelschriften, Heft 30).
51. Rank, op. cit., p. 85.
52. Rank, op. cit., pp. 83 ff.
53. G. Kirk, Myth, Its Meaning and Functions in Ancient and Other Cultures, Berkeley, 1970 (Sather Lectures 40) pp. 268-269, 278.
54. L.R. Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States, Oxford, Clarendon, 1907, vols. 2 and 3.
55. Frazer, GB vol. 7, pp. 40-41.
56. K. Goldammer ("Demeter and Gaia im sog. homerischen Demeter-Hymnus" in Wort and Religion. Stud. zur Afrikanistik, Missionswiss., Religionswiss. Ernst Dammann zum 65. Geburtstag, Stuttgart, 1969, pp. 354-369) thinks that Demeter is a variant of "Mother Earth" who displaced the original Earth Goddess from her functions in myth and cult. Gaia, the original Mother Earth, then developed into a sort of witch.
57. Jung and Kerényi, op. cit.
58. Jung and Kerényi, op. cit., pp. 106, 120.
59. See Eberhard Otto, Egyptian Art and the Cults of Osiris and Amon, transl. by Kate B. Griffiths, London: Thames and Hudson, 1968, pp. 24-30.
60. Il. 9. 457
Zeus te katachthonios kai epainê Persephoneia.
61. Kern, Orph. fragm. frr. 194, 195, 198, and 210 (p. 230); Nonnus Dionysiaca 6. 155-205; Diodorus Siculus 5. 75. 4. Cf. Ovid Metam. 6. 114.
62. The story was told in Arcadia that Poseidon, in the form of a horse, mated with Demeter, who had changed into a mare to escape him (Pausanias 8. 25 and 42).
63. Works and Days 465
euchesthai de Dii chthoniôi Dêmêteri th' hagnêi.
64. Il. 2. 547-549. Cf. Herodotos 8. 55.
65. Apollodorus 3. 14. 6, Schol. on Il. 2. 547. The story of Erechtheus/Erichthonios' birth was told by Euripides, according to Eratosthenes, Kataster. 13 and by Kallimachos in Hekale according to Schol. Il. 2.547. Cf. also Danais fr. 2 Kinkel p. 78 and Euripides Ion 60 and 269. For evidence from fifth century vase painting and a fifth century terra cotta, see. J.E. Harrison, Mythology and Monuments of Ancient Athens, London: Macmillan, 1890, pp. xxix-xxxi.
The origin of Erechtheus is a matter of debate. It was the opinion of Harrison and of Bury (in Classical Review vol. 13 (1899) pp. 307-308) that Erechtheus/Erichthonios was identical with Poseidon, and that his "adoption" by Athena was a way of reconciling the conflicting cults of those two divinities. Farnell, on the other hand, thought that he was a chthonic god who only later became conflated with Poseidon, a deity brought by a later-arriving migration of Ionians who settled among the Athena-worshipping Athenians (Farnell, Cults vol. 1 p. 294 and vol. 4 pp. 47-55).
As for Athena herself, there is a question whether she is an original mother goddess, whose later identity as a virgin goddess makes it necessary for her only to adopt Erechtheus/Erichthonios, or if she is so firmly a virgin that any attempt to cast her in a motherly role was diverted by her basic nature.
66. Strabo 495. See also E. Fehrle, Die Kultische Keuschheit im Altertum, Giessen: A. Topelmann, 1910, pp. 183 ff.
67. T. Jacobsen in H. Frankfort et al., Before Philosophy (The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man), Baltimore: Pelican, 1949 (1946), p. 159. As the god of the sweet waters, Enki is a god of fertility and creation, because of the life-giving power of water used in the irrigation of crops. He is also a patron of craftsmen because of the plasticity which water imparts to clay; see T. Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness, New Haven: Yale, 1976, p. 111.
68. J. Kaster, Wings of the Falcon, New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1968, p. 251.
69. That Persephone's journey underground describes the planting of the seed in the ground is perhaps more likely than that it represents the storing of the corn in underground bins, an action less fundamental to the growing process and less fraught with danger and uncertainty. See, however, M.P. Nilsson, "Die Eleusinischen Gottheiten," Archiv für
Religionswissenschaft 32 (1935) pp. 79-141 for the other point of view; and cf. Jacobsen Treasures of Darkness p. 63 (on Inanna's Descent) on the terrors of the empty storehouse in late winter.
70. U. Oldenburg, The Conflict Between El and Baal in Canaanite Religion, Leiden: Brill, 1969.
71. J.G. Griffiths, The Conflict of Horus and Seth, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1960, p. 146.
72. J.G. Griffiths, op. cit., and J.G. Griffiths, Origins of Osiris, Münchener Ägyptologische Studien 9, Berlin, 1966.
73. For a historical explanation see, for example, R.H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament, New York: Harper, 1941, pp. 162-163. Also see J. Campbell, Masks of God, vol. 3 Occidental Mythology p. 105.
74. Odes 4. 9. 25-28.
75. The idea that matriarchy universally preceded patriarchy was first developed by J.J. Bachofen in Das Mutterrecht; Eine Untersuchung über die Gynokratie der alten Welt nach ihrer religiösen and rechtlichen Natur, Stuttgart, 1861 (reprinted Basel, 1897. Selections are available in translation by R. Manheim in Myth, Religion, and Mother Right, Princeton, 1967, Bollingen Series LXXXIV.). The position was later taken up by others, e.g. Frazer and Harrison. Bachofen started from Herodotos' description of the Lykians (Bk. 1. 173), who, according to Herodotos, traced their lineage through the mother, and took their legal and social status from the wife, not the husband. Bachofen generalized his theory of matriarchy on the basis of mythological survivals. His view is now seen as too simplistic. Around the world, many combinations of matrilineal, matrilocal (and avunculocal), patrilineal, and patrilocal practices can be found. There seems to be less evidence of matriarchal economic and political rule. See E.S. Hartland, "Matrilineal kinship and the question of its priority," Memoirs of the American Anthropological Association vol. 4 (1917) and D.M. Schneider and K. Gough, Matrilineal Kinship, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961. While a civilization might modify its practices under the influence of a neighboring people, there is no evidence showing that one system universally preceded another historically, and there is no reason to think that the Greeks or Indo-Europeans or any other people would suddenly change from one system to the other diametrically opposed system. A.W. Aron, in Traces of Matriarchy in Germanic Hero-lore, University of Wisconsin Studies in Language and Literature No. 9, Madison, Wis., 1920, found no traces of matriarchy in the general Indo-European tradition.
For the position of Nefertiti, compare preliminary work carried out by the Akhenaten Temple Project of the University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, as described in Donald B. Redford, "Reconstruct ing the Temples of A Heretical Pharaoh," Archaeology vol. 28 no. 1 (January 1975) pp. 16-22. Also see C. Aldred, Akhenaten and Nefertiti, New York: Brooklyn Museum and Viking Press, 1973.
76. Cf. Rollo May, Love and Will, New York: Norton, 1969, p. 134: "In his comprehensive studies of world mythology, Joseph Campbell gives a lengthy list of the female deities and figures in mythology in all cultures who are seen as demonic. He believes these figures are earth goddesses and have to do with fertility; they represent `mother earth.' From a different viewpoint, I believe, the female is so often seen as daimonic because every individual, male or female, begins life with a tie to the mother." See also Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, an Analysis of the Archetype, transl. by R. Manheim, 2nd ed., New York, 1963 (Bollingen Series XLV11).
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