The Homeric Hymns eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 121 pages of information about The Homeric Hymns.
to the most archaic beliefs.  They are products, not of the most rudimentary savage existence, but of the evolution through the lower and higher barbarism.  The worst features of savage ritual are different—­taking the lines of sorcery, of cruel initiations, and, perhaps, of revival of the licence of promiscuity, or of Group Marriage.  Of these things the traces are not absent from Greek faith, but they are comparatively inconspicuous.

Buffoonery, as we have seen, exists in all grades of civilised or savage rites, and was not absent from the popular festivals of the mediaeval Church:  religion throwing her mantle over every human field of action, as over Folk Medicine.  On these lines I venture to explain what seem to me the strange and repugnant elements of the religion of a people so refined, and so capable of high moral ideas, as the Greeks.  Aphrodite is personified desire, but religion did not throw her mantle over desire alone; the cloistered life, the frank charm of maidenhood, were as dear to the Greek genius, and were consecrated by the examples of Athene, Artemis, and Hestia.  She presides over the pure element of the fire of the hearth, just as in the household did the daughter of the king or chief.  Hers are the first libations at feasts (xxviii. 5), though in Homer they are poured forth to Hermes.

We may explain the Gods of the minor hymns in the same way.  Pan, for instance, as the son of Hermes, inherits the wild, frolicsome, rural aspect of his character.  The Dioscuri answer to the Vedic Asvins, twin rescuers of men in danger on land or sea:  perhaps the Evening and Morning Star.  Dionysus is another aspect of the joy of life and of the world and the vintaging.  Moon and Sun, Selene and Helios, appear as quite distinct from Artemis and Apollo; Gaea, the Earth, is equally distinct from Demeter.  The Hymn to Ares is quite un-Homeric in character, and is oddly conceived in the spirit of the Scottish poltroon, who cries to his friend, “Haud me, haud me, or I’ll fecht!” The war-god is implored to moderate the martial eagerness of the poet.  The original collector here showed lack of discrimination.  At no time, however, was Ares a popular God in Greece; in Homer he is a braggart and coward.


The beautiful Hymn to Demeter, an example of Greek religious faith in its most pensive and most romantic aspects, was found in the last century (1780), in Moscow. Inter pullos et porcos latitabat:  the song of the rural deity had found its way into the haunts of the humble creatures whom she protected.  A discovery even more fortunate, in 1857, led Sir Charles Newton to a little sacellum, or family chapel, near Cnidos.  On a platform of rock, beneath a cliff, and looking to the Mediterranean, were the ruins of the ancient shrine:  the votive offerings; the lamps long without oil or flame; the Curses, or Dirae, inscribed on thin sheets of lead,

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The Homeric Hymns from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.