Hearth Cultural Book Review
The Homeric Hymns
Oxford World Classic Edition, Michael Crudden, trans.
from Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns, Epic Cycle & Homerica,
Loeb's Classical Library #57,H.G Evelyn-White, trans.

For my hearth culture book review, I've chosen to use The Homeric Hymns. Once attributed to a blind poet named Homer, many scholars now agree that the hymns were written in the same style by a number of writers who may or may not have lived several hundred years apart.

As a Hellenic polytheist, the Homeric Hymns are invaluable. There are thirty-four of them, most written to a single god or goddess, some to more than one. The longer hymns, such as the second, third, fourth and fifth are sources of some of the familiar mythology surrounding Demeter, Apollo, Hermes and Aphrodite. Other, shorter hymns give us ideas of how the gods may have been worshipped, or how we might worship them today. Many of them can be used in ritual as invocations, or read in honor of the gods.

The Homeric Hymns (as well as many other works) are particularly important to us because they are a piece of primary source material- written by poets from the culture that worshipped these gods. They are not observations written by an invading group on one of their conquests. Those of us who study Hellenic mythology are particularly fortunate to have so much original material available. (We do need to watch out for poor translations though.)

I actually read two different translations- the Oxford World Classics translation by Michael Crudden and the Loeb's Classics translation by HG Evelyn-White. I found it very interesting how subtly (or sometimes not so subtly) differently the language can be translated and how the rhythm and flow of the language can be so different with each translation. One of the examples that I first noted came from the 21st hymn in honor of Apollo where Evelyn-White translates "even the swan sings with clear voice to the beating of his wings, as he alights upon the bank by the eddying river Peneus;", Crudden translates the same line as "even the swan sings clear to the wing-beat's tune As he lights on the bank by Peneios' eddying stream;". The first is more prose-like in style while the second seems to aim to be a bit more poetic.

I've found both translations to be well worth the time to read, and to take the time to compare. I would recommend the Homeric Hymns in general to anyone interested in Hellenic mythology, and I would recommend reading both translations- as well as others- if one is interested in comparing different translations.

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March 2010

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