Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns 086516018X, 9780865160187

174 75 9MB

English Pages 390 [203] Year 1984

Report DMCA / Copyright


Polecaj historie

Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns
 086516018X, 9780865160187

Citation preview





Cover by


This book was composed on a Wang/OSI CAT 8 typesetter from text supplied in computer-readable form by the author to an Ibycus computing system at Logoi Systems, Hanover, New Hampshire.

Produced and Printed by

U.S. GRAPHICS Division of Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers

© Copyright 1984 BOLCHAZY-CARDUCCI PUBLISHERS 8 S. Michigan Ave. Chicago, Illinois 60603 Printed in the United States of America International Standard Book Number: Hardbound 0-86516-018-X Softbound 0-86516-037-6 Library of Congress Catalog Number: 81-71842

To The Bards Who Sang These Songs

PREFACE The present book is an expansion of my doctoral dissertation, presented for the degree in Classical Philology at Harvard University in 1967. From a small manuscript concentrating on the Hymns to Demeter and Aphrodite and confined mainly to four themes-the Marriage of the Fertility Goddess, Seduction, Withdrawal, and Epiphany-the project has grown to include all the major Hymns and some minor ones, embodying an ever-growing repertory of themes, as it became apparent that the thing I investigated was not just a set of isolated comparisons, but an entire mythic system. My study of the Homeric Hymns began in a seminar on Hesiod and the Hymns, given at Harvard in 1962 by the late James A. Notopoulos. The thesis was completed under the direction of John H. Finley and the late Cedric H. Whitman. Like the Wanderings of Demeter, my research has taken many twists and turns; I welcome the chance to thank some of the friendly people who have helped me on my way. To Professor Notopoulos, I owe a view of the ancient Greek singers and their audiences as real living people, whose spiritual as well as actual descendants live on in Greece today. It is a view to which I often return in my own interpretation of the Hymns. To my two thesis advisors, I also owe a great debt of inspiration. Professor Finley's ability to make the insights of Classical literature apply to modern situations continues to influence my appreciation of Greek civilization; and Professor Whitman's own civilized literary criticism is a constant reminder that in dealing with a work of literature we are, after all, dealing with a work of art. I gratefully thank my friends and colleagues who read my book in preliminary versions and offered helpful suggesV

PREFACE tions, especially Mark Edwards of Stanford University, who not only made many valuable comments, but let me read some of his own unpublished work, and Michael Nagler of the University of California, Berkeley, who read and commented on my manuscript, and generously lent me the typescript of his own book, which was then in preparation. I also thank Winifred Asprey, chairman of the Computer Science Department at Vassar College, for allowing me the use of the Vassar computing facilities, as well as the American Council of Learned Societies, whose grant helped finance the computer-aided work. A special contribution to this book was made by my husband, John, whose background as a mathematician and computer scientist at IBM were a valuable aid to me during that part of my research that used a computer, for which he helped me write programs to analyze the poems' vocabulary. Throughout the development of this book, he has stood by with encouragement, a sympathetic sounding-board for my ideas as they came along. Cora Angier Sowa New York City June, 1983


CONTENTS Preface........................................ Contents. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Plates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Figures........................................ Abbreviations. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1. Introduction a) Towards a Thematic Aesthetic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . b) Mechanical Aspects of Style in the Hymns . . . . . c) Themes, Myths, Characters, and Historical Fact . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. The Marriage of the Fertility Goddess: Demeter and Aphrodite a) The Theme of the Goddess and Her Lover . . . . b) Multiplication of Themes and Characters in the Hymns to Aphrodite and Demeter . . . . . . . . . . . c) The Influence of the Poet's Vocabulary on the Theme . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . d) Further Divergence of the Stories of Aphrodite and Demeter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. Seduction: Aphrodite and Hera, Odysseus and Paris ............. _,..................... 4. The Withdrawal and Return of the Hero: Demeter and Achilles; Meleager, Hera, and Amphitryon a) Elements of a Typical Withdrawal . . . . . . . . . . . b) Analysis of Various Withdrawals . . . . . . . . . . . . c) Verbal Connections in the Withdrawals of Achilles and Demeter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . d) Withdrawal in Relation to Other Themes vii

v vii ix x1 xiii 1 14 23

39 44 52 63 67

95 100

108 116


5. Rape: Persephone and Ganymede, Helen and Demeter, and the Cattle of Apollo a) The Theme of Abduction and its Place in Greek Mythology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121 b) The Maiden Abducted While Dancing and Picking Flowers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135


6. The Young God Consolidates His Power: Zeus, Apollo, Hermes, and Herakles a) The Succession Myth and the Hero's Life . . . . . b) Some Poems About Young Heroes . . . . . . . . . . c) On the Unity of the Hymn to Apollo . . . . . . . . . . d) Key Words in the Hymn to Apollo ........... e) On the Unity of the Hymn to Hermes .........

145 150 172 184 194

2. Eos carrying the corpse of Memnon: cup by 3. Hera and Zeus on Mount Ida: metope from the i'.............• temple at Selinus ..........




4. Hero entertained by a musician: cup by Douris ...


Invention and Trickery: Hermes and Prometheus

1. Rhapsode: amphora by the Kleophrades Painter ...

8. The Journey: Demeter, Leto, Apollo; Odysseus, Telemachos, Menelaos, Nestor, Kadmos a) The Journey Theme ...................... 212 b) Verbal Patterns in Journey Stories . . . . . . . . . . . 226 9. Epiphany of a God and Institution of Rites a) How the Supernatural Enters the Human Plane .................................. b) Epiphany and Institution of Rites as a Thematic Cluster . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . c) The God Welcomed by Maidens: Demeter and Odysseus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . d) Some Other Types of Epiphany . . . . . . . . . . . . . e) Mortals Who Take on Divine Characteristics . .

Douris .................................


5. Theseus abducting Korone: amphora by Euthymides ............................. 6.

Perseus defeating Gorgo: Lakonian cup



241 250 261 267


7. Hermes stealing Apollo's cattle: Caeretan hydria .. 199



9. Dionysos in a boat with vines: cup by Exekias ....


8. Odysseus meets Nausikaa: Aison Painter 236


10. Helen pops out of the egg: Phlyax farce




10. Conclusion: The Place of the Hymns in the Ancient Greek Oral Tradition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 273 Appendix I: Outlines of Themes Identified in the Hymns ................................


Appendix II: Thematic Analyses of the Longer Hymns . 285 Appendix III: Key Words and Significant Repetitions in the Longer Hymns . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 303 Notes .........................................


Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 369 Index .........................................



The author and the publishers are most grateful to the museums for the use of the works from their collections listed below by their plate numbers. British Museum, London, plate I; Louvre, Paris, plates 2 and 7,· National Archaeological Museum, Palermo, plate 3; Antikensammlung, Munich, plates 4, 5 and 9; Villa Giulia, Rome, plate 6; Museum of the Fine Arts, Boston, plate 8; Archaeological Museum, Bari, plate.--.,,-JO;;' ix


1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.

Characteristic Functions of the Gods . . . . . . . . . . . . 34 Chains of Motifs in the Hymn to Aphrodite . . . . . . . . 56 Elements of Seduction, Various Examples . . . . . . 71-72 Seduction in Odyssey 8 and the Hymn to Aphrodite . . 92 Repeated Motifs in the First and Last Parts of the Hymn to Demeter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 117 Repeated Motifs in the Last Part of the Hymn to Demeter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118 Parallel Elements in the Delian and Pythian Parts of the Hymn to Apollo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 181 Prometheus and Pandora in the Theogony and Works and Days . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 203 The Epiphanies of Demeter and Odysseus . . . . . . . . 251



The following abbreviations have been used in the text and in the notes. AJA: American Journal of Archaeology. AJP: American Journal of Philology. Allen: For fragments of Homer. Homer, Opera (Oxford Classical Texts), vol. 5, ed. by T.W. Allen, corrected ed., Oxford, 1946. Allen and Halliday: The Homeric Hymns, ed. by T.W. Allen, W.R. Halliday, and E.E. Sikes, 2nd ed., Oxford, 1936. , ANET: Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, ed. by J.B. Pritchard, 3rd ed. with supplement, Princeton, 1969. Bowra: For fragments of Pindar. Pindar, Carmina, ed. by C.M. Bowra (Oxford Classical Texts), 2nd ed., Oxford, 1947. Collitz-Bechtel: Sammlung der GriechischenDialekt-lnschrifien, ed. H. Collitz and F. Bechtel, Gottingen, 1884-1915. Diehl: Anthologia Lyrica Graeca, ed. E. Diehl, Leipzig, 1925. FHG: Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum, ed. C. Millier, Paris, 1841-1870. Frazer, GB: J.G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, London, 19171919. H. : Hymn (as in H. Dern., H. XIX Pan, etc.) Heidel, BG: A. Heidel, Babylonian Genesis, 2nd ed., Chicago, 1963 (1951). Heidel, GE: A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels, 2nd ed., Chicago, 1963 (1949). HSCP: Harvard Studies in Classical Philology. It.: Iliad. xiii


Kaibel: EpigrammataGraecaex {apidibusconlecta ed G Kaibel, Berlin, 1878. ' · · · Kern: Orphicorum Fragmenta ed. 0. Kern Berlin 1963 (1922).




Kink~l: EpicorumGraecorumFragmenta,ed. G. Kinkel, Leipzig, 1877. Langdon, BEC: S. Langdon, The Babylonian Epic of Creation, Oxford: Clarendon, 1923. · LSJ9 : H.G. Liddell and R. Scott A Greek Lexicon 9th ed Oxford, 1940. ' ' ., M & W: For fragments of Hesiod. FragmentaHesiodea ed by R. Merkelbach and M.L. West, Oxford, 1967. ' . OCT: Oxford Classical Texts. Od.: Odyssey. R-E: A. _Pauly, G. Wissowa, et al., Real-Encyclopadieder K/ass1schenAltertumswissenschq/r,Stuttgart, 1894-. Theog.: Theogony. W&D: Works aY1dDays.




a) Towards a Thematic Aesthetic 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. The external facts about the Hymns are few. There are thirty-three Hymns, iul 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 vµ,voi, sometimes known by other names, such as 'TTpoolµ,wv or E'TTmvor;, 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 2


Plate J. A rhapsode, reciter of Homeric poetry, on an_~mphora by the Kleophrades Painter. Early fifth century B.C. British Museum. Photo: R. Schoder, S.J. 3



Iliad and Odysseywere, 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 7rpoolµ,wv 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 terminuspost quern 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 telesterionbe used as a terminusante quern, since temple and telesterionwere undoubtedly the same at all periods.8 It was long thought that the H. Dern. 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 berms (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 Home~ and Hesiod were also. P!esent in the Hymns.12Their findmgs placed t~e Hymns with!~ the con~ext of oral epic, the only form of literary compos1t10npract1ced 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 _isrecomposed e~ch time it is sung. The bard does not memonze 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, readymade descriptions of common activities, like mounting a chariot, preparing a meal, or calling an assembly, that can ~e inserted wherever they were needed. Overall plot structure 1s 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 ca1;1 cre_ate~ new phr~se "by analogy" with one that already exists m his repertmre. 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" (8to'i 'Ax_tA.Aev,r;) 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 Odysseywere also orally composed.13This view fits well with the traditional date of Ho-





mer 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 Odysseywere 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 S'i:o,;; 'AxiAAev,;;or a line like ,;,Hµo,;;8' T)pl.:yE.VH..A.'ebcv'ia "I shall not be an un&etKeA.L'f/ seemly_daughter-in-law, but seemly" (H. Aphr. 136); likewise, Helios comforts the bereaved Demeter, saying, ovToi CXEl,K'J/S' I -yaµ,f3pos-. . . 'Ai:&.ivevs-"A'idoneus will not be an unseemly son-in-law" (H. Dem. 83-84, cf. v. 363).77 More significantly, the plot of the two poems is essentially the same. Both tell of a fertility goddess who wants to make a man immortal, is balked in the attempt, and brings him increase instead. In both Hymns, Zeus causes an event 38



to happen, that involves the goddess with a mortality alien to her immortality. In the H. Aphr., Zeus makes Aphrodite fall in love with the mortal Anchises, to stop her boasting that she has mixed gods and goddesses in love, while keeping free from such entanglements herself. In the H. Dern., the goddess' contact with mortality is twofold, since the character of the goddess has been split in two, as mother and daughter. Zeus involves Persephone directly with death through her abduction by Hades, who is Death itself; Demeter confronts death through her loss of Persephone, but also by her conse · quent sojourn among mortals, who by their mortality represent death in comparison to her immortality. In the H. Aphr., Aphrodite would like to make Anchises immortal, but cannot. In the H. Dern., "one half" of the goddess-the daughter-actually marries Death; Demeter herself tries to give immortality to the infant Demophoon. In both Hymns, the goddess appears to human beings in the guise of a mortal woman. The mortals that she meets recognize her superior aspect, but fail to follow up on their suspicion, and treat her in an inappropriate way. In the H. Dern., the women notice Demeter's "godlike" appearance (H. Dern. 159, 188-189), but they think that she is a queen (H. Dem. 215). In the H. Aphr., Anchises is sure that Aphrodite is a goddess (H. Aphr. 92-106), but she convinces him that she is human. In both poems, the goddess finally reveals her true identity with miraculous tokens of beauty and radiance (H. Dern. 275-280 and H. Aphr. 173-175, where µeAd8pov I Kvpe Kapri "her head touched the ceiling" is the same as in Demeter's preliminary set of divine tokens). Instead of immortality, the goddess gives her protege and his family increase and fertility. The Eleusinians will have their flourishing crops and the Mysteries; Anchises will have the glorious Aineias for a son. There were many stories of the mating of a goddess and a mortal in early Greek poetry. A catalog of some of them appears in the last part of Hesiod's Theogony:Demeter and Iasion, Harmonia and Kadmos, Kallirhoe (an Oceanid) and Chrysaor, Eos and Tithonos, Eos and Kephalos, Medea and Jason, Thetis and Peleus, Aphrodite and Anchises, Kirke and Odysseus, Kalypso and Odysseus. Kirke and Kalypso also appear in the Odyssey, where Kalypso herself names Eos and Orion, Demeter and Iasion, when she complains to Hermes about the gods' jealousy of goddesses who fall in love with mortals. The genealogy of Theoklymenos in Od. 15. 250-251 names another lover of Eos, a man called Kleitos. The Kirke 40


Plate 2. Eos carrying the corpse of Memnon, on a cup by Douris. About 490 B.C. Louvre. Photo: R. Schoder, S.J.




and Kalypso episodes in the Odyssey are given extended treatment, and the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, the parents of Achilles, is mentioned prominently in the Iliad. The others are short references, containing little detail, and no extended treatment. The full stories that once existed are now lost, or are known in later versions. Such relationships supplied the origins of many heroes. The Marriage of the Fertility Goddess is a theme of ambiguous significance. For the Hero, it is an episode of his great Journey, a necessary step to his gaining of maturity. In psychological terms, the Goddess symbolizes the man's first sexual experience, part of his initiation into adulthood. But the Goddess is also a mother figure; the Hero must leave her, to take up his mortal adult life. The encounter with the Goddess is a numinous experience that cannot be carried into normal adult life, but its radiance lingers on into the life of the man who is "dear to the gods." For the Goddess herself, the theme has a different significance. The act, which brought light and glory to the life of man, subjects the goddess to shame and humiliation, and to mortal and human unhappiness. For her, too, it is a myth of Death and Resurrection, but one rooted in the different experience that marriage constitutes for man and for woman. For a woman, marriage does not mean the gaining of identity, but the loss of her original status. in many parts of the world, it is even held that a woman somehow "dies" and becomes a different person after she marries and gives birth to children. This concept rests partly on very real and dramatic physiological changes that a woman undergoes during pregnancy and childbirth, and on the fact that many women did literally die in childbirth. As a social attitude, it is reflected even in our own day by the titles "Miss" and "Mrs.," and by the general expectation that a woman will assume the name and status of her husband, causing the "death" or discontinuity of her old person. The goddess who mated with a mortal man took a cut in status.78 The situation was different for an immortal god who mated with a mortal woman. A god did not die, even symbolically, when he slept with a woman.79 Rather, it is still the woman who dies-like Semele, whom Zeus killed, even as he impregnated her with Dionysos. The encounter of a male divinity with death and mortality is described by other themes. These include other aspects of the Journey, the battle with the Chaos Demon, the God in Bondage to a Mortal, and the death of the Dying God, although the Dying God may actually be an aspect of the Mother Goddess that became dissociated from

her character and took on a life of its own. Other non-anthropomorphic divinities could and did suffer by their attachment to a mortal. The horses of Achilles grieve at the death of Patroklos, and Zeus pities them in their grief, for he made them suffer contact with mortality when he gave them to Peleus.80 The relationship between a mortal and a goddess could, ho~ev~r, also be dangerous to the man. Anchises tells Aphrodite m H. Aphr. 188-190 that it isn't "healthy" for a man to sleep with a goddess, and begs her not to let him dwell among men "alive, but without strength":

Kalypso makes plain in Odyssey 5 what Aphrodite only hints at; she tells how Iasion, Demeter's lover, was killed by Zeus's thunderbolJ (Od. 5. 128), and how Orion, who slept with Eos, was killed by Artemis' arrows (Od. 5. 123-124). Peleus who married _Thetis,?id not fare well, either. Achilles, thei; son, uses their story m I/. 24. 527-542 to illustrate the pessimistic story of the two jars of Zeus: a person may get some evil and some good in his life, or he may get all evil, but i:ever all ?ood. _Peleus had good fortune in being happy and nch, and m havmg a goddess for a wife; but now that he was ~ld and gray, his son, who was born of that glorious marnage, would soon die, not surviving to care for him in old age. Ev~n Ap_hrodite,telling relatively encouraging anecdotes ~o Anch1~es,mcludes the story of poor Tithonos, who gained 1mmortahty by marrying Eos, only to waste away in an eternal old age. In Python, Fontenrose has brought together many examples, both Greek and Oriental, of the motif of the female who brings disaster to her lover. Some other Greek examples are Omphale, the Lemnian Women , the Danaids ,



µ,'Y)µ,e {wv-r' aµ,EV'J]VOV EllavfJpw1To1,a-1,v e&:ar,,;; ,

, \'I.'




VatEW, a/\1\ €1\Eatp '






OV /3w()a1,.µ,io,;; CiV't)p

0ea'i,;evva{ewt &0av,h'f/ui.

Indeed, Aphrodite does threaten him, in vv. 286-290, with death by thunderbolt if he tells anyone that he has slept with her:


and Empusa. 81 Farnell shows that the theme underlying " ... Eastern stories of the goddess whose love was often dangerous to its objects appears in the legends of Hippodameia and Phaedra, both of which names there is reason for attaching to Aphrodite." 82 Even in the Hymn to Demeter, where the relationship between Demeter and Demophoon, to whom she tries to give immortality, is not sexualized, the same danger to the man is conveyed by her dire prophecy in vv. 265-267: in the years to come, the Eleusinians will be engaged in constant warfare with each other. Why was there danger for a man in having sex with a goddess? The encounter with the supernatural is an exhilarating but frightening experience. This fear is frequently rationalized in the theme of the Wrath of God (note the actual phrase 0ewv ... µijviv "wrath of the gods" in H. Aphr. 290, quoted above). A patriarchal society, moreover, tends to portray an intelligent and sexually aggressive woman as a dangerous vampire-a tendency still visible in modern popular entertainment. A third reason to fear sex with a goddess lies in the goddess' place in man's acceptance of his own mortality. In a version of the story hostile to women, the female is made responsible not only for man's knowledge of his mortality but for mortality itself. Adam would have been immortal if Eve had not given him the fruit of the tree of knowledge. In Genesis, the knowledge given by the tree is of good and evil, but the fact that to eat of its fruit is to become mortal suggests that the knowledge it gave was the knowledge of one's own mortality. 83 In the myth of Prometheus, the knowledge has been transmuted into the knowledge of fire, but it, too, was gained at the cost of the destruction caused by Pandora. The Marriage of the Fertility Goddess is a tragic theme in the classic sense, in which good and evil are mixed, and have the same origin. Glory, beauty, pain, and happiness cannot be separated, because they come, at root, from the same source.

b) Multiplication of Themes and Characters in the Hymns to Aphrodite and Demeter We do not know if Aphrodite and Demeter were originally the same goddess, but by historic times they were pretty well distinguished, at least in epic, as the goddesses of animal and vegetable fertility, respectively.84 Demeter's gift to human beings is the grain; Aphrodite in the H. Aphr. 44


causes the animals to mate along her path (vv. 64-74), and her ultimate gift to Anchises is a glorious progeny. The personalities of the two goddesses developed in different ways, too, so that while the same theme could be applied to both, their stories developed in different directions and seem totally unlike. In the H. Aphr., the bringing of fertility to man is presented in its most graphic and literal form, as the mating of a man with the very power of fertility, represented as a beautiful goddess. It develops into a Seduction story. In the H. Dem., this simple and uncomplicated tale has split and multiplied, and its main pl9t was drawn into the themes of the Journey, Withdrawal and Return, and the Wrath of God. Various aspects of the single relationship of Goddess and mortal (or mortality) have, furthermore, been distributed among several different relationships between different characters. Instead of one goddess on whose presence the success of the crops depends, there are two in the H. Dem. Persephone may or may not have originally been the same as Demeter, but even if the ultimate origins of the two characters are different, the fact remains that the heroine of the theme has certainly doubled. The crops fail because Demeter withdraws in anger, but also because of the absence of Persephone herself below ground for a part of the year, an absence ratified forever by the pact with Hades. Hekate, who, like Demeter, carries a blazing torch as her emblem, is a third version of Demeter, and Zeus and A'idoneus also duplicate each other. Persephone's relationship to Hades doubles Demeter's relationship to various patriarchal gods in early myth, including Poseidon; but the relationship of Demeter that is most parallel to Persephone's marriage is the linking of Demeter's name to that of "Underworld Zeus" in Hesiod. In the H. Dem., Hades abducts Persephone because it is the will of Zeus. The role of the male god is thus further divided, the one god willing the act, the other carrying it out. When the happy ending is reached, resulting in fertility and prosperity for mankind, the number of mortals who are the recipients of Demeter's bounty is also multiplied. They include Demophoon, the kings of Eleusis, and all mankind, since all who are initiated may participate in the Mysteries. Persephone plays several other roles besides that of the young Demeter, roles derived from still other themes that have been combined with that of the Goddess and Her Lov- · er. In her character as Maiden, Persephone acts out the 45


theme of the Maiden Abducted While Dancing and Picking Flowers. Aphrodite in the H. Aphr. assumes this characterization too, but not in the main plot of the poem; she tells Anc,hises-untruthfully-that Hermes abducted her while she was dancing with Artemis. The motif of Death claiming his bride, and the custom of winning or kidnapping one's bride have also entered into the characterization of Persephone. Like the Maiden Abducted While Dancing and Picking Flowers, these belong to the theme of Rape. Persephone has also absorbed part of the role of the male consort of Demeter, the part related to the myth and character of the Dying God. In the Oriental analogs of the Dying God myth, the Mother Goddess mourns the loss of her young male consort, searches for him, and eventually brings him back to life. This theme has been suppressed altogether in the H. Aphr. , but it survives in the H. Dern. in the desexualized form of the mother mourning for her daughter.' The male consort who dies perhaps has a different origin from the mortal lover to whom the goddess offers immortality. In at least some of his manifestations, he may be a personification of one of the goddess' own aspects, split off into a separate character. The presence of a Sumerian story in which the goddess herself goes to the Underworld and dies suggests the possibility that the goddess' own death and resurrection was a more basic version. The Ugaritic poems about Ba'al and Anath illustrate the Dying God theme in what we have come to think of as the standard form: In the relevant part of the story, the fertility god Ba'al has been killed by Mot Anath, his sister the warrior-goddess, searching for Ba'al, finds Mot and kills him. She winnows Mot, grinds him, and sows him in the fields. Thus she performs the functions both of a fertility god and of the god who kills the Monster. Ba'al is returned to life.86 In the Assyrian story of Bel (the Babylonian Marduk), Bel is bound wounded, and confined in a mountain (there was menti~n of his tomb in Babylon). A female character goes in search of him. 86 Other non-Greek dying gods were Dumuzi (Tammuz), Attis, and Adonis, and the pre-Greek Hyakinthos. Hyakinthos was represented in historic times. as the beloved of a male god, Apollo, but the epithet of Artemis 'Y aKivBoTpoo'>suggests that the original connection was to her.s7 An often-cited example of the Dying God theme is the search of the Egyptian goddess Isis for her husband Osiris. Osiris has been killed (either by drowning or dismember. 46


ment) by his brother/rival Seth. Several goddesses search for him or mourn for him-his sister/wife Isis, their other sister Nephthys (who is married to Seth), and Mut, their mother. Isis finds Osiris and revivifies him temporarily, so that he can beget a son, Homs, upon her; Homs takes revenge upon Seth. The original of this story, so far as it can be reconstructed, was about the enmity between Horus and Seth, an example of the Feud Between Brothers, later modified so that it would harmonize with the worship of Osiris. As the dead pharaoh became identified with Osiris, and the living pharaoh with Horus (now portrayed as the son of Osiris, with whom he was not originally connected), the myth took the form of the Revenge of the Son, a theme that we find in the Greek stories of Orestes, Alkmaion, and The problem is that the story of Isis and Osiris, like other Egyptian myths, is nowhere found in continuous form in an actual Egyptian text, but must be pieced together from ritual incantations inscribed on coffins and on the walls of Egyptian tombs. The one continuous version, on which scholars relied for years, is Plutarch's De /side et Osiride. It includes an incident, which, if truly Egyptian, would not only show a fascinating parallel with the story of Demeter and Demophoon in the H. Dem. but would be evidence of an Egyptian source for the H. Dern. The villain (here called Typhon, like the Greek monster) has trapped Osiris in a chest and set it floating out to sea. The chest washes up on land near Byblos, where the trunk of a great tree grows around it A king uses the tree trunk as a pillar to support his palace roof. Isis, searching for Osiris, comes to Byblos, sits down near a spring, is discovered by the queen's maidservants, becomes nursemaid to the queen's child, and tries to make the child immortal by putting him in the fire at night. Her actions are discovered by the queen, and the baby is deprived of his immortality. Isis demands the pillar and repossesses the coffin and the body of Osiris.89 The discovery near the spring by maidens, the foiled· attempt to immortalize the child by putting him in the fire, and the interruption by the queen are all identical to the Demophoon story. Unfortunately, 'Isis' nursing of the child in Byblos is to the present time undocumented in existing Egyptian evidence from the dynastic period. We must be cautious about conclusions, for new texts are still being found, but it seems more likely that the Egyptian story as it was known in the Graeco-Roman world was influenced by Greek myth, than that the Greek myth was influenced by the 47



In another myth that has some elements that parallel Demeter's Search, it was long thought that the reason for Sumerian Inanna's Descent to the Nether World was to search for her dead consort, Dumuzi (Tammuz). With the discovery of more fragments of the text, it became apparent that this was not the case. While there are other Sumerian texts in which Inanna mourns the death of Dumuzi, in the Descent she actually causes his death. The reason for her descent is unknown; perhaps it was an attempt to wrest power from her sister Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld. lnanna herself dies in the Underworld and hangs as a corpse from a stake for three days, before being restored to life. After her return to the world of the living, she hands Dumuzi over to be taken to the Underworld, apparently as a substitute in exchange for her return. 91 The Semitic version, "Ishtar's Descent to the Nether World," did not have this element; Tammuz is represented as waiting joyfully above ground for Ishtar's return, or perhaps rising with her. 92 The Descent of Inanna, like Demeter's Withdrawal, involves the sending of embassies to effect her return. But whereas the gods send embassies to Demeter, persuading her to return (as the Greek generals do to Achilles in the Iliad), Inanna herself sends embassies to three different gods, asking them to help her escape; the third, Enki, devises her rescue. What is most important about Inanna's Descent in our interpretation of the myth of the Fertility Goddess, is that the Mother Goddess' loss of her consort and her Journey could also mean the death of the Goddess herself; the Sumerian tale also gives new meaning to a feature of the Hymn to Aphrodite. As Inanna goes through each of the seven gates of the Underworld, another piece of her ornament is removed, until, after passing the seventh gate, naked before Ereshkigal, she is finally killed. In an important scene of the H Aphr., all of Aphrodite's clothing is removed as she and Anchises prepare to make love. This ritual action may have a meaning quite aside from its obvious purpose of preparing for sexual intercourse: it symbolizes Aphrodite's death and loss of power, in her encounter with mortality. An important element of the Marriage of the Fertility Goddess is the attempt of the goddess to give immortality to her mortal lover, an attempt that is somehow frustrated. Fertility and increase are given instead. The attempt-or at least the desire-to give immortality appears in the H. Aphr. in its proper connection with the goddess' lover. The relevant passage is very similar verbally to Od. 5. 115-140, where

Kalypso tells Hermes how she had planned to make Odysseus immortal, if t~e gods had not been jealous and begrudged a goddess the nght to marry a man-in other words, to confer upon the man her superior status, rather than suffer his mortality. Aphrodite stops short of actually offering Anchises immortality. She seems to assume that if he were granted immortality, he would suffer the fate of Tithonos , who was . made immortal at the request of the goddess Eos, but not eternally young, and wasted away into eternal feebleness. Aphrodite disregards the fact that the cause of this misfortune was Eos' own lack of forethought. Anchises will be given glorious progeny, which is as close as a mortal can come to immortality. !n the H. Dern., Demeter attempts to give immortality to _ the mfant Demophoon. Not an adult Hero, he is a future Hero, for his miraculously quick growth belongs to the myth of the Hero's Birth. In what might be called the subplot of the . Hymn, taking up the middle third of the poem , Demeter , m sorrow for the loss of her daughter, tries to make a mortal foster-son immortal by using ambrosia for baby-oil and putting him in the coals of the fire every night. As nursemaid to the family of Keleos, she assumes the central role in another theme, the God Who Becomes a Servant to a Mortal. If Demeter's attempt to make a human infant immortal seems at first a strange reaction to her grief at the loss of her daughter, our doubts are answered by seeing Demophoon like Persephone, as another substitute character. The maternal image of Demeter has again changed the story: just as she mourns a daughter instead of a consort, so she attempts to give a foster-son the immortality usually intended for a lover. She is stopped because of his mother's folly and misunderstanding. Again, there is a substitute for immortality: Demophoon will have "undying favor" because he was nurtured by Demeter. The theme of a child becoming the intended recipient of the gift of immortality was known elsewhere in epic. The lost Kopw0taK&. of Eumelos (8th century) apparently had Medea kill her children accidentally while trying to make them immortal. It is not clear how this immortality was to be given, but Hera's aid was somehow involved. 93 In Theogony 988-991, Aphrodite abducts the youth Phaethon and makes him immortal as her priest. Medea made Aison young again by boiling him, a revivification by fire reminiscent of Demeter's attempt to make Demophoon immortal by putting him in the hearth. 94 This idea lived on in later epic: Apollonius · Rhodius had Thetis leave Peleus because Peleus stopped her





from putting Achilles in the fire.95 It is but a short step from these stories of rejuvenation by roasting or boiling to myths of infanticide by cooking like those of Tantalos and Lykaon. Man's lost chance to become immortal appears in many forms. Those cases in which a mortal, like Herakles or Menelaos, actually did become immortal were the exceptions. One of the best examples of the unsuccessful search for immortality is the Sumero-Babylonian Gilgameshepic. Gilgamesh journeyed across the sea to seek immortality from Utnapishtim, who had become immortal himself, having survived the Flood. Utnapishtim told Gilgamesh that he could become immortal, if he could stay awake for six days and seven nights, but Gilgamesh fell asleep. Utnapishtim gave him another chance, telling him of a plant at the bottom of the sea that would make him young again. Gilgamesh brought up the plant, but before he could eat it himself, a snake ate it and became immortal instead.96In the story of Adam and Eve, as we know it in Genesis, Adam and Eve would have become immortal if they had not eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge. But the evidence points to a conflation of two myths, and references to a "tree of life" in Gen. 2:9, 3:22, 24 imply an earlier version in which it was man's failure to eat of the tree of life-like Gilgamesh' failure to eat the underwater plant-that caused his mortality. 97 In a story told by Hesiod in his Meya:Am'Hotm, Endymion was taken up to heaven by Zeus, but having fallen in love with Hera, he was deceived with a cloud (like Ixion) and was thrown down to Hades. 98 Tantalos, too, abused his privileges, and was thrown out of Heaven. In other myths, the man himself refuses immortality; this version emphasizes man's acceptance of his own mortality. In the Ugaritic Tale of Aqhat, the goddess Anath covets the bow of a man named Aqhat. She offers him immortality in return for the bow. He accuses her of lying, and says that no man can attain immortality. Furthermore, he says, she should not have the bow, since hunting is for men; females have no · business with it. The angry Anath causes Yatpan the Drunken Sailor, in the form of a vulture, to kill Aqhat. Paghat, Aqhat's sister, goes out to take revenge. The text breaks off here, but Paghat probably killed Yatpan and caused Aqhat to be restored to life.99 In an Akkadian story, a mortal named Adapa went to heaven, where the gods offered him "the bread of life" and "the water of life," which were apparently supposed to confer immortality. On orders from his father, the god Ea, he refused. 100 The version of the story in which the man himself refuses immortality is the one found in the Marriage

of the Fertility Goddess. In the Odyssey, Odysseus does not want Kalypso's gift; Anchises, in the H. Aphr., does not want immortality, either. Even before he knows who she is (though he suspects she is a goddess), he asks her for mortal goods"to found a family, to be famous, to live long, well, and prosperously": 101







,, ,,



uoc; µ,E µ,eTa pWEU"O"W ap1.1rrperre eµ,µ,evm avupa, '1TOtEt 6' ei.o-orrurw 0aX.epov y6vov, avTap Eµ,'aVTOV Kai opav cpao and &rpevor; in the Hymn correspond to 0A/30vand ch/wetovin the Theog.; " Ttll' EKELllaL ' " I 1rpoo/pOIIEW', ,.i.. ' ,t.1, --• " uE ;,' OIi .,.,uuuvTat correspond S t O TI!' Tvx611n Kai ov K' E'>xe'ipa'>tKr,Tat. In the H Dem. 422, we find another Plouto; she is a nymph, one of the companions of Persephone. 106

c) The Influence of the Poet's Vocabularyon the Theme


verbally into the poem, with vocabulary and verbal associations belonging only to that poem. We shall illustrate this phenomenon by examining the verbal associations in the Hymns to Demeter and Aphrodite, as they are used in two elements from the Marriage of the Fertility Goddess: the Intervention of Zeus and the Attempt to Give Immortality. The first element in the Marriage of the Fertility Goddess, as it appears in the H. Dern. and the H Aphr., tells how Zeus caused the goddess to become involved with mortality. This motif is connected in the H. Aphr. with desire and deceit, two of the main elements in the characterization of Aphrodite. In the H. Dem., it is linked to the ideas of force- _ ful violation and sorrowing loss that permeate the poem. The first ninety-one lines of the H. Aphr., from the beginning' to the point where Anchises first sees Aphrodite, form a more or less self-contained structural unit that sets the stage for the rest of the story. These first ninety-one lines are bound together by a step-like pattern of repetition in which first one verbal element is repeated, then another is established as the binding medium, when the first is dropped. Then the same thing happens with two more elements. The intervention of Zeus is linked to this chain of repetition. The first element in the chain is a single word, lpyov or lp-ya. The poet plays on this word in different senses-the works of Aphrodite, the works of Ares, the works of Athena, the works of maidens. Forms of this word occur seven times within the first twenty-one verses. The second motif, the deceit of Aphrodite, is introduced at verse 7. The lpya of Aphrodite, which are love, are synonymous with deceit. So in the first introduction of the "deceit" motif, the deceit is almost in apposition to l.pya (vv. 6-7): 1Taaw 8' lpya µ,Eµ,r,Aev EVO"TEq>avov KvOt:.pel"f)',. 0"ai. rptO"O"a-; S' ov 6vvarai 1TerrifJe~11 rppEva'-·ov6' a1rar71

"Everyone cares about the works of beautiful-crowned Cytherea. But there are three goddesses whose minds she cannot persuade or deceive." The play on lpya ends with v. 21, but the idea of Aphrodite's deceit now stands on its own as a unifying device. It is repeated in verses 33

One of the factors making each thematic element seem so different from poem to poem is the way it is integrated

TClWVov 6vvaTat 1TE1rtBe"iv q>pivar;ov6' Cl'.1TQT'l](Tat




36 Kal


7TapEKZ71vo~ voov



and 38 KQ'.t TE





.;;; :i.