A Commentary on the "Homeric Hymn to Hermes": Introduction, Text and Commentary [Bilingual ed.] 3110259699, 9783110259698

This volume offers a detailed philological commentary on the longest of the Homeric Hymns. The commentary is preceded by

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A Commentary on the "Homeric Hymn to Hermes": Introduction, Text and Commentary [Bilingual ed.]
 3110259699, 9783110259698

Table of contents :
1. Summary of the poem
2. Music, poetry, and language
2.1 Hermes’ two songs
2.2 Hermes’ songs as mise en abyme
2.3 Semata, poetry, and prophecy
2.4 Hermes’ deceptive language
3. Humour in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes
4. Relation to archaic literature
4.1 Language
4.1.1 Vocabulary:
4.1.2 Formulaic Phrases:
4.2 Metre and prosody
4.3 Thematic correspondences between h.Herm. and other archaic hexameter poems:
Appendix: oral or literate composition?
5. Relation to other literature
5.1 References to the story of h.Herm. in other authors
5.2 Allusions to h.Herm
6. Structure and arrangement
7. Date and place of composition
7.1 Date of composition
7.2 Place of composition
8. The transmission of the text
Ὓμνος εἰς Ἑρμη̃ν

Citation preview

I Athanassios Vergados The Homeric Hymn to Hermes


TEXTE UND KOMMENTARE Eine altertumswissenschaftliche Reihe

Herausgegeben von

Siegmar Döpp, Adolf Köhnken, Ruth Scodel

Band 41

De Gruyter


The Homeric Hymn to Hermes Introduction, Text and Commentary


Athanassios Vergados

De Gruyter


ISBN 978-3-11-025969-8 e-ISBN 978-3-11-025970-4 ISSN 0563-3087

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A CIP catalog record for this book has been applied for at the Library of Congress

Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data are available in the Internet at http://dnb.d-nb.de.

© 2013 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston Typesetting: Dörlemann Satz GmbH & Co. KG, Lemförde Printing: Hubert & Co. GmbH & Co. KG, Göttingen o Printed on acid-free paper Printed in Germany www.degruyter.com

Table of Contents


Table of Contents Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . VII Abbreviations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . IX Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1. Summary of the poem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. Music, poetry, and language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.1 Hermes’ two songs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.2 Hermes’ songs as mise en abyme . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.3 Semata, poetry, and prophecy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.4 Hermes’ deceptive language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. Humour in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Relation to archaic literature . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.1 Language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.1.1 Vocabulary: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Words attested thus far only in h.Herm. (42) – Words which h.Herm. shares with Hesiod but not with Homer (42) – Words and phrases used in h.Herm. differently than in Homer and/or Hesiod (42) – Words not attested in Homer and Hesiod (43) – Miscellaneous: atticisms, use of special vocabulary, further peculiarities (45) 4.1.2 Formulaic Phrases: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Doublets within h.Herm. (48) – Meaningful substitutions (49) – Verbal echoes of other archaic hexameter poems in h.Herm. (52) – Formulaic phrases confined to h.Herm. (56) 4.2 Metre and prosody . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dactyls and spondees (57) – Caesurae, bridges, word-ends and enjambment (59) – Other prosodic features (62) 4.3 Thematic correspondences between h.Herm. and other archaic hexameter poems: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

1 2 4 4 9 15 22 26 40 40 40






6. 7.


Table of Contents

H.Herm. and the Odyssean tradition (65) – H.Herm. and Hesiod (67) – H. Herm. and h.Apol. (70) Appendix: oral or literate composition?. . . . . . . . . . . . Relation to other literature . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.1 References to the story of h.Herm. in other authors . . . Alcaeus (76) – Hellanicus (78) – Sophocles (79) – Aratus (86) – Nicander (87) – [Eratosthenes] (88) – Eratosthenes (89) – Hyginus (92) – [Apollodorus] (93) – Lucian (97) – Philostratus (100) – Antoninus Liberalis (101) – Metiochus and Parthenope (103) – D on Il. 15.256 (104) – Pausanias (105) – IG XIV 2557= Epigr.Gr. 1032 Kaibel (105) – P.Oxy. VII 1015 (105) – Nonnus (107) – Summary and Conclusions (108) 5.2 Allusions to h.Herm. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . h.Hom.Pan (110) – Antimachus (111) – Sotades (112) – Antigonus Carystius (113) – Apollonius Rhodius (113) – Callimachus (117) – [Theocritus] (119) – Marcus Argentarius (124) Structure and arrangement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Date and place of composition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.1 Date of composition. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Voss, Mythologische Briefe (131) – The seven-stringed lyre (133) – Delphi (135) – Allusions to social or political issues (136) – Rhetoric and music (138) – The glottochronologic approach (142) – Other considerations (145) 7.2 Place of composition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The transmission of the text . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

73 76 76


125 130 131

148 154

6Y« « E   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Commentary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Illustrations. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Indices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Table of Contents


Acknowledgments This book, like the god who forms its subject matter, has travelled considerably. It began life in the United States as a doctoral dissertation submitted to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia. It acquired its penultimate form in Lancaster, PA, where I was working as a visiting assistant professor of Classics at Franklin & Marshall College. And it assumed its final incarnation at the Seminar für Klassische Philologie in Heidelberg. My deep thanks go to my dissertation advisor Jenny Strauss Clay for her constructive criticism and encouragement that made the writing of the dissertation an intellectually enjoyable experience and confirmed my choice of a commentary as my topic. I am also grateful to the members of my doctoral committee, David Kovacs, Edward Courtney, and Gordon Braden, for their comments on my dissertation. Nicholas Richardson generously made his material on the Hymn to Hermes available to me in advance of the publication of his Green and Yellow commentary on three of the Homeric Hymns. He also read and commented extensively on the dissertation as well as the revised manuscript. William Furley read the final version of the entire manuscript and made observations on all kinds of matters, from English style to textual criticism. James Diggle, Douglas Olson, and David Sider also commented on large sections of the book, for which I am grateful. Parts of the introduction were presented at professional meetings: at the 2006 Convention of the American Philological Association in Montréal, where Nancy Felson and Ann Suter contributed constructive comments, and at the 2006 CAMWS convention in Gainesville, Florida. A draft of the commentary on lines 212–77 was discussed at the Commentary Writing Workshop organized by Douglas Olson and Alexander Sens at the University of Minnesota. My thanks go to both the organizers and the participants (Marco Fantuzzi, John Gibert, Kathryn Gutzwiller, Hayden Pelliccia) for the lively discussion and helpful comments. Various sections of the introduction were also pre-



sented in Lyon, at the conference “Les Hymnes de la Grèce antique: Entre littérature et histoire” organized by Pascale Brillet-Dubois, Nadine Le Meur-Weissman, and Richard Bouchon, and at the symposium “Fiction, Truth, and Reality” in Katowice, Poland. My research was partly funded by a faculty research/professional development fund at Franklin & Marshall College. I am also grateful to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for granting me a two year long research fellowship. Nikoletta Kanavou, József Krupp, Cecilia Nobili, and Andreas Schwab read shorter portions of the work. Zsolt Adorjáni, Cecilia Nobili, Polyxeni Strolonga, and Oliver Thomas kindly shared their doctoral dissertations or their work on the Hymn to Hermes in advance of publication; and Menelaos Christopoulos discussed the Hymn with me and shared some of his material on the poem. I would also like to thank Piero Boitani and the Fondazione Lorenzo Valla for allowing me to use a modified version of F. Càssola’s critical text and apparatus. For the images included in this book, I am grateful for the help of Tyler Jo Smith (Virginia); Charles Arnold, Allexander Villing, and Alice Moschetti (British Museum); Anne Coulié and Céline Rebière-Plé (Louvre); Anne Schulte (bpk/Metropolitan Museum of Art New York); and Daniel Dalet for the map of Greece that I have used to illustrate Hermes and Apollo’s journeys in the Hymn. Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to the Senior Editor for Classics at Walter de Gruyter, Sabine Vogt, to Katharina Legutke and Katja Brockmann, and to the Editors of De Gruyter’s Texte und Kommentare for including my book in their series, and especially Ruth Scodel for her remarks on the manuscript. Heidelberg, August 2011



Abbreviations For Greek authors and works I use the abbreviations in LSJ9, with the exception of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes which I abbreviate as h.Herm. instead of h.Merc. to avoid the awkward combination of Hermes and Mercurius in the same line; accordingly, for the sake of uniformity, I abbreviate the major Homeric Hymns as follows: h.Dem., h.Apol., h.Aphr. Roman authors and works are abbreviated according to the OLD. For journals I use the abbreviations of L’Année Philologique. For papyrological sources I follow the Checklist of Editions of Greek, Latin, Demotic, and Coptic Papyri, Ostraca and Tablets (http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/papyrus/texts/clist.html). The following abbreviated references are also used: An. Ox.

AS AHS Bechtel, GD Beekes Bouché-Leclercq Buck GD CA

Cramer, J. A. 1835–37. Anecdota Graeca e codd. manuscriptis Bibliothecarum Oxoniensium, 4 vols. (Oxford). Allen, T. W. and Sikes, E. E. 1904. The Homeric Hymns (London). Allen, T. W., Halliday, R., and Sikes, E. E. 21936. The Homeric Hymns. (Oxford). Bechtel, F. 1921–24. Die griechischen Dialekte, 3 vols. (Berlin). Beekes, R. S. P. 2010. Etymological Dictionary of Greek, 2 vols. (Leiden). Bouché-Leclercq, A. 1963 (repr.) Histoire de la divination dans l’antiquité, 3 vols. (Paris). Buck, C. D. 1955. The Greek Dialects. Grammar, Selected Inscriptions, Glossary. (Chicago). Powell, J. A. 1924. Collectanea Alexandrina. Reliquiae minores Poetarum Graecorum Aetatis Ptolemaicae 323–146 A.C. Epicorum, Elegiacorum, Lyricorum, Ethicorum (Oxford).



Hansen, P. A. 1983, 1989. Carmina epigraphica graeca, 2 vols. (Berlin). Chantraine, GH Chantraine, P. 1958, 1963. Grammaire homérique, 2 vols. (Paris). Chantraine, DELG Chantraine, P. 2009. Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque. Histoire des mots, 4 vols. (Paris) CGlL Goetz G. and Gundermann, G. 1888. Corpus Glossariorum Latinorum, vol. 2, Glossae Latinograecae et Graecolatinae (Lipsia). Clay Politics Clay, J. S. 1989. The Politics of Olympus. Form and Meaning in the Major Homeric Hymns (Princeton). Daremberg-Saglio Daremberg Ch. and E. Saglio. 1877–1919. Dictionaire des antiquités grecques et romaines, d’après les textes et les monuments (Paris). Denniston GP Denniston, J. D. 21975. The Greek Particles (Oxford). D.-K. Diels, H. and W. Kranz. 161972. Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, 3 vols. (Berlin). D.Mic. Jorro, F. A. 1985. Diccionario Micénico (Madrid). Ebeling Ebeling, H. 1963 (repr.) Lexicon Homericum (Hildesheim). Epigr.Gr. Kaibel, G. 2001 (repr.) Epigrammata Graeca ex lapidibus conlecta (Hildesheim). Farnell, Cults Farnell, L. R. 1896–1907. The Cults of the Greek States, 5 vols. (Oxford). FD III Fouilles de Delphes, III. Épigraphie. Fasc. 1, Inscriptions de l’entrée du sanctuaire au trésor des Athéniens, ed. É. Bourguet, Paris 1929; Fasc. 2, Inscriptions du trésor des Athéniens, ed. G. Colin, Paris 1909–13. FGrE Page, D. L. 1981. Further Greek Epigrams: Epigrams before A.D. 50 from the Greek Anthology and Other Sources, not Included in Hellenistic Epigrams or the Garland of Philip (Cambridge). FGrH Jacoby, F. 1926–57. Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker (Berlin).


Frisk Goodwin GMT GDRK



ILS I.Cret. I.Orop. IosPE

I.Prien. I.Sestos IvO Kühner

Leumann, HW LfgrE LGPN LIMC


Frisk, H. 1960. Griechisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (Heidelberg). Goodwin, W. W. 1900. Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb (Boston). Heitsch, E. 1961, 1964. Die griechischen Dichterfragmente der römischen Kaiserzeit, 2 vols. (Göttingen). Gow, A. S. F. and D. L. Page. 1968. The Greek Anthology: The Garland of Philip and Some Contemporary Epigrams, 2 vols. (Cambridge). Gow, A. S. F. and D. L. Page. 1965. The Greek Anthology: Hellenistic Epigrams, 2 vols. (Cambridge). Dessau, H. 1892–1916. Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae, 3 vols. (Berlin). Halbherr, F. 1935–1950. Inscriptiones Creticae, 4 vols. (Rome). P , B. X. 1997. O¹  φξ«  #  (#A ). Latyshev, V. 1885–1901. Inscriptiones Antique Orae Septentrionalis Ponti Euxini Graecae et Latinae, 3 vols. (St. Petersburg). Hiller von Gaertringen, F. Frhr. 1906. Inschriften von Priene (Berlin). Kraus, J. 1980. Die Inschriften von Sestos und der thrakischen Chersones (Bonn). Dittenberger, W. and K. Purgold. 1896. Die Inschriften von Olympia (Berlin). Kühner, R. F.Blass/B.Gerth. 1890–1904. Ausführliche Grammatik der griechischen Sprache, 2 vols. (Hannover). Leumann, M. 1950. Homerische Wörter (Basel). Snell, B. et al. (ed.) 1955–2010. Lexikon des frühgriechischen Epos (Göttingen). Fraser, P. M. (ed.) 1987–2010. A Lexicon of Greek Personal Names, 5 vols. (Oxford). Ackermann, H. Chr. (ed.) 1981–2009. Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (Düsseldorf).


LSS Matthiae

Monro M-P3



PMG Pokorny Ruijgh,  épique Schulze, QE Schwyzer


Sokolowski, F. 1952. Lois sacrées de l’Asie Mineure (Paris). Sokolowski, F. 1969. Lois sacrées des cités grecques (Paris). Liddell, H. G. and R. Scott. 91996. A Greek-English Lexicon, Revised and Augmented Throughout by H. S. Jones. Edited with Revised Supplement (Oxford). Sokolowski, F. 1962. Lois sacrées des cités grecques, supplément (Paris). Matthiae, A. 1800. Animadversiones in hymnos Homericos cum prolegomenis de cuiusque consilio, partibus, aetate (Lipsia). Monro, D. B. 1882. A Grammar of the Homeric Dialect (Oxford). Mertens-Pack 3, Catalogue des papyrus littéraires grecs et latins (Liège), accessible online (promethee. philo.ulg.ac.be/cedopal/index.htm). Cancik, H. (ed.) 1999–2003. Der neue Pauly. Enzyklopädie der Antike (Stuttgart/Weimar). Lupu, E. 22009. Greek Sacred Law. A Collection of New Documents. Second Edition with a Postscript (Leiden/Boston). Glare, P. G. W. (ed.) 2007. Oxford Latin Dictionary (Oxford). Preisendanz, K. 21974. Papyri Graecae Magicae, durchgesehen und herausgegeben von A. Henrichs (Stuttgart). Page, D. L. 1962. Poetae Melici Graeci (Oxford). Pokorny, J. 52005. Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, 2 vols. (Bern/Tübingen). Ruijgh, C. J. 1971. Autour de “TE épique”; études sur syntaxe grecque (Amsterdam). Schulze, W. 1967 (repr.) Quaestiones epicae (Hildesheim). Schwyzer, E. 1934–71. Griechische Grammatik, auf der Grundlage von Karl Brugmanns griechischer Grammatik, 4 vols. (Munich).



SH S. Ichn. SLG

Thompson, Motif-Index

Tit.Cam. TrGrFS Zumbach


Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum (1924/5 –) Collitz, H. and F. Bechtel. 1898–1911. Sammlung der griechischen Dialekt-Inschriften, 4 vols. (Göttingen). Lloyd-Jones, H. and P. Parsons. 1983. Supplementum Hellenisticum (Berlin/New York). Sophocles, Ichneutae (= fr. 314); quoted from TrGrFS. Page, D. L. 1974. Supplementum Lyricis Graecis. Poetarum lyricorum Graecorum fragmenta quae recens innotuerunt (Oxford). Thompson, S. 1955. Motif-Index of Folk-Literature; a Classification of Narrative Elements in Folk-Tales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Mediaeval Romances, Exempla, Fabliaux, Jest-Books, and Local Legends (Bloomington). Segre, M. and G. Pugliese Carratelli. (1949–51). “Tituli Camirenses.” ASAtene 27–29: 141–318. Diggle, J. 1998. Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta Selecta (Oxford). Zumbach, O. 1955. Neuerungen in der Sprache der homerischen Hymnen (Winterthur).

Note, finally, the following: (i) An asterisk preceding a word in the commentary indicates that the word in question is attested only in the Hymn. An asterisk following a citation (or more rarely a word) means that the phrase in question occurs in the same sedes as in h.Herm. (ii) Authors whose work is preserved only fragmentarily are cited without the indication fr. (iii) I often use underlining to illustrate similarities between passages. In case of multiple similarities, I mark each group of corresponding phrases with the same type of underlining.







1. Summary of the poem The Homeric Hymn to Hermes narrates Hermes’ adventures during the first three days of his life. The son of Zeus and Maia, Hermes was born on the fourth day of the month on Mt. Cyllene. Unlike ordinary babies, he does not remain in his crib, but immediately leaves his mother’s cave to search for Apollo’s cattle. In front of the cave he encounters a tortoise, which he kills to construct a lyre. He tests the instrument by improvising a hymn to himself, in which he sings of his parents’ loveaffair. Thereafter, the divine child leaves the lyre in the cave and runs to Pieria, where the gods’ cattle graze. He steals fifty of Apollo’s cows, drives them backwards, and makes for himself a set of wondrous sandals by combining branches of myrtle and tamarisk. As he leads the cows through Boeotia, he encounters an Old Man working in his vineyard, whom he addresses in riddling terms. He fodders and stables the animals in a cave at Pylos and invents the method of kindling fire through fire-sticks. Thereafter, he drags two of the cows out of the cave, kills them, roasts their meat, and divides it into twelve equal portions. Though the savour torments him, he cannot partake of his own portion; he then burns all the meat along with the cows’ heads and feet and departs quietly for his cave in Cyllene. There, his mother Maia chastises him for returning late at night and attempts to frighten him, reminding him of the punishment he will suffer at the hands of Apollo. To these words Hermes reacts by claiming that he is not an infant; he will look after himself and his mother using the art that is the best: if Zeus does not give him what he deserves, he will steal it. On the following day, Apollo realizes that his cows are missing and looks for them. He encounters the same Old Man that Hermes had met on the previous day and asks him for information. The anonymous Old Man replies that he had seen a child leading some backwards walking cows, whereupon Apollo observes a bird-omen and realizes the thief’s

Summary of the poem


identity. He immediately darts to Pylos, but unable to discover the precise location of his cattle due to the confusing tracks left by Hermes’ sandals and the backwards marching cows, Apollo goes to Maia’s cave at Cyllene and threatens Hermes with violence unless he reveals the cattle’s whereabouts. The divine child denies any involvement, claiming that as a newborn infant he is unable to steal cattle, and even offers an oath to this effect, albeit a tricky one. The two gods’ altercation continues with Apollo attempting to seize Hermes, and the two divine brothers finally take the matter to Zeus. The new day begins as the gods assemble on Olympus. Apollo and Hermes each give their own account of the events. On this occasion too Hermes expertly denies his involvement and uses clever language to avoid perjury. Seeing through Hermes’ tricks, Zeus bursts into laughter and orders him to reveal where he had hidden the cattle. The two divine brothers dart to Pylos, and Hermes leads the cattle out of the cave where they were hidden. Thereupon, Apollo attempts to bind Hermes, but the bonds of osiers fall onto the ground, take root, grow, and cover the cows. Immediately after this miracle Hermes takes his lyre and sings a theogony for Apollo, who is enchanted by his younger brother’s abilities in music and wishes to learn more about his art. Hermes explains the way in which one should “question” the lyre and exchanges the instrument for the stolen animals. Apollo receives the lyre and begins to sing to its accompaniment, while Hermes invents the syrinx (panpipes). The two divine brothers depart then for Olympus. There Apollo expresses his fear that Hermes might steal his bow and lyre; an exchange of oaths ensues, in which Hermes promises not to steal any of Apollo’s belongings, while Apollo grants Hermes the caduceus and the oracle of the ‘Bee-maidens,’ whose operation he explains. Hermes assumes the patronage over several kinds of animals and is appointed as messenger to Hades. The Hymn comes to its end after a reminder of Hermes’ deceitful nature.



2. Music, Poetry, and Language Music and song are central to the development of the poem’s story. The high degree of self-reflexivity that h.Herm. exhibits presupposes the poet’s serious engagement with the nature of his art. Hermes is presented as the inventor of a new musical instrument, the tortoise-lyre, on which he performs two songs. The god appears as the archetypal bard and the inventor of the hymnic genre with whom the poet later identifies himself. However, Hermes’ two musical performances differ from each other in content, style, genre, and function, and reveal a development in the god’s character.

2.1 Hermes’ Two Songs1 Hermes’ first performance occurs at lines 54–62. The young god has encountered the tortoise outside his cave, has taken the animal inside, and fashioned the chelys, whose construction the poet narrates in some detail (41–51). Thereafter Hermes tests the instrument, first by plucking the strings one-by-one (    «), and then by improvising a hymn to himself. This hymn-within-the-Hymn is clearly marked off as a new beginning. It is introduced in a manner typical of the Homeric Hymns, viz. with the opening formula $ accompanied by $φ with the accusative of the god’s name.2 The question that immediately arises is why Hermes performs such a song at this point. As Jenny Strauss Clay has shown, at the beginning of the poem Hermes is uncertain of his own divine status.3 This “identity crisis” is only resolved when the young god

1 2 3

On music in h.Herm. in general, see Kaimio (1974), Christopoulos (1985, 115–30), and Hübner (1986). For the various hymnic/proemic openings, see A. Lenz (1980, 21–26) and Race (1992, 19–22), and below 1n. and 57n. See Clay Politics 122 and below 116–41n.

Music, Poetry, and Language


fails to partake of the meat of the two cows he kills at the Alpheios river. Since gods do not eat meat, Hermes’ inability to consume his portion is an indication of his divine nature, and it is significant that the poet calls Hermes a  only after the events at the Alpheios (138). Hermes’ hymn to himself would fit very well with this “identity crisis”: gods are supposed to be praised by mortals, but no one yet recognizes the newborn god. Thus he undertakes the task of his own praise. At the same time, precisely because he has not yet completed even a day’s life, Hermes has not acquired the honours that would mark his position in the divine cosmos and would form the basis of his praise. His only achievement so far has been the fabrication of the lyre; consequently he can praise himself only obliquely. By relating the love-affair of his parents, Hermes attempts to legitimize his own status: he presents the relationship of Zeus and Maia as a lasting one, suggesting that it is different from Zeus’s usual flings.4 Furthermore, Maia – elsewhere little known – appears in Hermes’ hymn to be Zeus’s equal.5 To be sure, a god’s parentage is one of the most important elements at a birth hymn’s beginning. But at the same time its presence here can also be explained on the grounds that until this point Hermes has not yet acquired any divine honours for which to praise himself. Hermes’ second performance (423–33) belongs to a different genre, not hymnic but theogonic. At this point, Hermes’ divine status is beyond doubt. This song too constitutes a new beginning as ( )    (428, 429) indicates.6 This performance begins in a manner reminiscent of Hesiod’s Theogony, from the Muses and their mother Mnemosyne. Such an introduction is somewhat odd since as a god Hermes should not need divine validation of his account like a mortal bard.7 His song praises Gaia, a cosmic element, and the gods; likewise Hesiod’s Theogony is essentially both a cosmogony and a theogony. Hermes narrates each god’s birth and how they were allotted their respective  , their sphere of influence,    !", i.e. ‘in order of

4 5 6 7

Notice the iterative % &!  at 58. Notice '  9 ( φ)* (  also at 58 (with n. ad loc.). On Maia’s role in myth, see 1n. and Vergados (2011a, 17–19). For forms of   « as an introductory device in Greek poems, see Race (1992, 23) and below, 428n. For a bard’s inspiration from the Muses, see Murray (1981, esp. 89–90).



seniority.’ This suggests that since Hermes is the last born of the Olympians his theogony must end with his own birth and acquisition of divine honours.8 At first glance, both songs appear to be similar in their intention: Hermes’ hymn to himself is a clear instance of self-praise, while his theogony seems to culminate in (hymnic) self-praise. We can, however, detect a development in Hermes’ view of himself and his place within the Olympian world. Taking into account the hierarchy of seniority among the gods in his second song, Hermes inserts himself into the cosmic and divine order as a full member with equal status, which suggests that by now his position and honours are secured.9 While his first song was delivered for the purpose of his self-aggrandizement, his theogony functions as a  «, a gift of honour, to the gods whose stories he is singing. Hermes’ first song was a  « to himself, but his theogony is offered as a  « to all the deities praised.10 The two performances also differ in the young god’s ability to focus on his theme. The first song reveals that Hermes has not yet completely mastered the art of singing. He intends to deliver his own birth hymn, yet he soon sings of Maia’s cave, her maids, and various objects located in it (60–61). There is thus a shift in the subject-matter of his hymn: beginning by praising divine figures (Zeus and Maia), he ends up celebrating subordinate characters (the maids) or even inanimate objects. One might justify their inclusion in Hermes’ hymn as a reference to the god’s dwelling. However, we are explicitly told that Hermes’ thought wanders while he is singing (62 λ  ξ σ -,  ξ φ !λ Ν)) , presumably thinking of Apollo’s cattle). We may take a step further and suggest that this may be part of the poet’s strategy to re8



See Shelmerdine (1984, 205) and Clay Politics 139–40 who points out that “as hymn poetry is coterminous with, and a continuation of, theogonic poetry, Hermes’ performance inevitably ends with a Hymn to Hermes.” Notice how Hermes’ characterization changes over the course of the poem: from a solitary deity (168–72; 314 *)«), he becomes a member of the divine community (460–61, 551). Hermes’ offering a geras of song to all the gods may be paralleled by the way he divides the meat at the Alpheios. To each of the twelve portions he adds a )  «. This parallel becomes even stronger if one takes the events of the Alpheios as a λ« !(, in which the equal portions point to the participants’ equal status, rather than a (pseudo-) sacrifice. For the idea of song as nourishment, cf. Pi. fr. 52f.127–28 = Pae. 6.127–28 ((* Ν ). For the notion of a hymn as an offering to establish / «, see 579n.

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mind us that his hero is an infant: consequently Hermes’ attention is drawn to whatever happens to impress him at the moment. The same strategy may be at play when Hermes meets the tortoise. Although he had set out firmly in pursuit of Apollo’s cattle, when he saw the tortoise, struck by amazement, he realized the benefit he could derive from it. He thus postponed his quest and focused on his new Ν , as the animal is aptly called.11 The theogony, on the other hand, is delivered in a completely different manner. The poet stresses more than once the idea of order and sequence in this song.12 Hermes performs a song that is clearly organized, and his recitation receives the poet’s compliment   *! at 433.13 The difference between the two songs (the first characterized by lack of focus, while the second is delivered ‘in proper order’) suggests that by this point Hermes has become a more skilled and knowledgeable performer of poetry.14 The issue of Hermes’ audience raises some interesting questions as well. The first song is directed to no one else but Hermes himself. The solitariness of this performance is particularly emphasized by the simile that introduces it: the song is likened to the provocative jibes that youths address to each other at banquets.15 Unlike this scene of playful repartee, Hermes’ song does not have an addressee. The absence of an audience precludes the possibility of a reward or simply praise of Hermes as a bardic performer.16 One may compare Hermes’ first song to Achilles’ lyre playing at Il. 9.186–91: both Hermes and Achilles sing without an audience (Patroclus is simply waiting for Achilles to finish his song),17 while their respective songs are problematic. Achilles

11 12 13 14 15

16 17

See p. 254–55 and Shelmerdine (1984, 207). Cf. 428 and 429 ( )   , and 431    !" λ ³«  !. For the formula   *! in praising a bardic performance, cf. Od. 8.489. On the progressive refinement of Hermes’ song, cf. Ford (1992, 28 n. 37). Cf. 54–56  1    | π"( λ )9 (!  "*)  !. The simile can be taken to refer to the risqué topic of Hermes’ hymn. But such a topic would not be unheard-of, judging by the ‘Lay of Ares and Aphrodite’ in Odyssey 8. Compton (2006, 43 n. 7) suggests that Hermes’ first song is satirical. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to call it “tongue-in-cheek,” like the entire poem. See Christopoulos (2007, 154). Pace Nagy (1996, 72) for whom Patroclus is waiting for Achilles to leave off his song so that he may start singing.



should be performing, not singing of, ) $ ; likewise, it is not Hermes’ job to praise himelf. His theogony, however, has a targeted audience of one and a firm purpose: to soothe Apollo’s anger and simultaneously advance Hermes’ claims to divine honours. In fact, after Hermes’ performance, he and Apollo exchange the lyre for the cattle since Hermes has acquired from Zeus the so-called " 3  (516) as one of his divine honours. One might even suggest that Hermes overstated in his song the divine honours he anticipated. From Apollo’s words at 533–35 one may infer that Hermes included in his song prophecy as one of his fields of activity, to which Apollo replies that no one else besides himself is allowed to reveal Zeus’s unerring will. In suggesting a specific course of action to the listener, Hermes’ second song would then resemble Odysseus’ false tale to Eumaeus at Odyssey 14, an ρ« as Homer calls it, whereby the disguised hero obliquely asks the swineherd for a cloak by relating the story of a nocturnal ambush in which he had left his cloak behind. If this is the case, Hermes’ theogony runs contrary to an important characteristic of Homeric bardic performances. Bardic narratives are normally disinterested, in the sense that they do not (at least overtly) aim at manipulating their audience, while other narratives within Homeric epic serve a specific purpose.18 They may answer a specific question (as for instance Odysseus’ apologoi); genealogies aim at intimidating an opponent in battle; or, like Odysseus’ ρ«, they may reveal the speaker’s not-so-veiled request. Similarly, Hermes specifically aims with his song at enhancing his own status by prompting Apollo to strike a deal with him (" 3 ). Hermes’ performances then show the young god’s maturation and his admission into the Olympian community.19 Whereas in his hymn to 18


For this distinction, see Scodel (1998) who observes that “narrative outside the frame of epic performance normally either answers a request for information or serves an explicit paradigmatic function. It is occasional and specifically motivated, serving a specific communicative need within the social relationship of speaker and hearer(s). Bardic narrative, by contrast, ordinarily does not seek to manipulate its audience; it is essentially disinterested.” (p. 172) Johnston (2002, 124) notes Hermes’ maturation over the course of the poem and places great emphasis on the cattle theft as a means of Hermes’ initiation into the divine world which affects the contents of his songs: the first song, performed before the raid, praises Maia and the cave; the second song, performed after the raid, has as its subject the entire pantheon. Croci (1977–78, 183–84) considers the difference between Hermes’ two songs to be one of 5« vs. $)7.

Music, Poetry, and Language


himself he is exclusively preoccupied with his own identity, his second song shows a marked difference in the way he views himself: instead of delivering a purely self-centred song, he performs one that indicates a more general awareness of the cosmic and divine order. The issue at stake is not to assert his divine status any more, but to show that he belongs to the Olympian establishment and that his position therein is firm. For Hermes music and song are a means to an end, and appropriately by the end of the poem he hands over to Apollo the lyre that had been instrumental in allowing him to obtain his rightful honours.

2.2 Hermes’ Songs as Mise en Abyme Mise en abyme (also referred to as récit speculaire or ‘mirror text’) is a literary term inspired from heraldry. Its precise definition has been an object of controversy among literary critics, and sometimes scholars disagree on whether a given text should be considered as mise en abyme or not.20 L. Dällenbach (1989) offers a typology and its application on the French Nouveau Roman. He defines mise en abyme as “any internal mirror that reflects the whole of the narrative in simple, repeated, or ‘specious’ (or paradoxical) duplication.”21 Simple duplication – by far the most frequent type – occurs when the internal narrative resembles the enclosing one. The repeated or infinite duplication can be best exemplified by a visual example, i.e. the old Quaker Oats box or the socalled Droste effect.22 Finally, paradoxical duplication occurs when the mirror narrative encloses the work that encloses it. This mirroring, which disrupts the linear progression of the narrative, might be called “prospective,” “retrospective,” or “retro-prospective,” depending on its 20 21


Cf. in this respect the treatment of the Lay of Ares and Aphrodite by Létoublon (1983) and Rinon (2006). Dällenbach (1989, 43). For a criticism of Dällenbach’s views, see Bal (1978), Létoublon (1983), and Ron (1987); for a semiotic approach to the term mise en abyme, see J. White (2001). For an application of this narratological device to Demodocus’ songs in Odyssey 8, see Rinon (2006); to Greek drama, see Dobrov (2001); to the Aeneid, see Fowler (2000); to Biblical narrative, see Bosworth (2003), who offers a review of the relevant scholarship on p. 36–90. On the “Droste effect,” see J. White (2001, 37). Droste, a Dutch cocoa manufacturer from Haarlem, use on their tins the image of a farm girl, holding on a tray a cup and a cocoa tin that represent an identical farm girl holding on a tray a cup and a cocoa tin … This duplication theoretically continues ad infinitum.



temporal orientation. Scholars have also attempted to identify textual markers that signal the presence of a mise en abyme. These markers include words suggesting a simile or analogy between the embedded and the framing narrative, homonymy between the character of the main and the embedded narrative, homonymy between the titles of the embedded and the enclosing narrative, or repetition of the setting and combination of characters. Finally, mise en abyme is not confined to repeating parts of the main narrative but may sometimes focus on the production of the literary work itself and on its composer or addressee. It may thus be a powerful metapoetic means for the composer to suggest possible ways of interpreting his own work. Hermes’ two embedded performances, besides describing the development of the god’s character, can give us insights concerning the poet’s views on his own art. Hermes’ first song is a “hymn to Hermes” within the actual Homeric Hymn to Hermes. The creator of the embedded song, Hermes, is the hero of the main narrative. This song belongs to the same genre as the enveloping text, i.e. hymnic. As mentioned above, Hermes’ hymn is introduced in a way that reminds us of other poems that belong to the genre of the Homeric (or rhapsodic) Hymns ($φ + accusative), but it differs from the way the enveloping narrative begins (E   8 M! ).). Although this may seem a trivial variation of epic formulae, it allows the poet to show that he knows alternative ways of beginning a poem, both of which he employs at different points in his Hymn. This indicates a poet who is aware of, and reflects on, the conventions of his traditional art. However, besides this initial difference one can detect certain important similarities between the two hymns. Hermes mentions his parentage from Zeus and Maia, as the poet does in verse 1. He emphasizes his parents’ ongoing love-affair: The iterative % &!  of 58 picks up the iterative forms of 7 and 8 (!!   and  … 3/). This set of repetitions emphasizes the duration of Zeus’ and Maia’s affair, as we have already seen. But it also accomplishes something more important: It enables the poet to validate his own account of the god’s story. By presenting Hermes as employing the same themes when praising himself as the poet did earlier at the beginning of the actual Hymn, the poet suggests that the god approves of his strategy in praising him: Hermes himself would sing his own hymn in a similar manner. In this way the poet creates a divine precedent for (part of) the main narrative which he

Music, Poetry, and Language


incorporates in the Homeric Hymn. We are led to believe that the poet provides us with the correct version of the god’s story, a version sanctioned, as it were, by the god himself. This is all the more important, since h.Herm. diverges from most other versions we possess and omits details that other accounts mention (e.g. Hermes’ theft of Apollo’s bow and quiver recounted by Alcaeus or the name of the informer, Battus, probably present in the Hesiodic version). It also tells a story about Apollo’s acquisition of the lyre and the gift of prophecy that differs substantially from what we hear in h.Apol.23 The poet’s pride in his version of Hermes’ story that I posit here is not unparalleled. One need only consider the beginning of the first Homeric Hymn to Dionysus (1–7).24 Having mentioned various versions of Dionysus’ birth story, which he considers incorrect and dismisses as outright lies, the rhapsode goes on to present his own version, which we are invited to consider as the only reliable one. We can also examine Hermes’ first song as a mirror text from the point of view of the audience as well. As we have seen, Hermes’ hymn to himself is likened to the provocative words that young men exchange at banquets (55–56). Not only does this simile link the activity of the youths (  !) with Hermes’ personality (he is a «

 «, as Apollo acknowledges at 336–38) but it also functions as yet another mirror in the text. If, as it has been suggested, the symposion (public or private) was one of the possible performative settings for a poem such as h.Herm.,25 then the simile preceding Hermes’ song acquires additional force: not only is the hero of the main narrative present in the reflective part, but the audience of the actual Hymn to Hermes (i.e. the external audience) can “see” themselves, as it were, in the mirror narrative as well. 23 24


See below, p. 70–73. ¹ ξ  :  )  !#, ¹ # #I )   !!9 ( | φ !#, ¹ #  N