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Homeric Hymn To Aphrodite Essay

Classics Notes > Early Greek Hexameter Poetry Notes

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What is Homeric about the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite?
The Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite is known as the most Homeric of all the hymns; this is because it closely resembles the epics of the Iliad and Odyssey in terms of diction and subject matter. It is unlike the other hymns in that it is neither a birth story nor the explanation of a cult foundation and, perhaps a little strangely, it begins with a list of the goddesses over whom Aphrodite does not have any power, rather than a celebration of these powers as is found in other hymns. As it moves away from the other hymns in terms of subject matter it moves closer towards the Homeric epics in this respect and certainly validates its title as the most Homeric Hymn. The linguistic similarities between the Hymn to Aphrodite and both the Iliad and the Odyssey are striking. The language of the Hymn is archaic in that it is very close to the language of Homer and shares a large number of Homeric formulae. The work of Faulkner has shown that the neglect of the digamma is low (15.9%) and therefore very close to both the Iliad (17.2%) and the Odyssey (17.9%). Also the percentage of a-stem genitive plurals in the Homeric style is very high (85.7%), as are the proportion of o-stem dative plurals (80.3%). This shows that the author of the Hymn has deliberately adopted the linguistic style of Homer throughout the majority of his work. Even more compelling evidence, however, comes from the fact that there are twenty lines which are exactly the same or are very similar; this is a very high proportion when one takes into account that the Hymn itself is only 293 lines, meaning about sixteen percent of the total is taken directly or with slight alteration from the Homeric epics. For example Aph line 35 is identical to Odyssey line 9.521 and lines 59 to 63 are all identical to different lines from both the Iliad and Odyssey. This mixture is interesting because the author of the Hymn has not simply copied a three lines section from the Odyssey, in this case lines 59, 61, 62 correspond to book eight lines 363-35, but has slipped in a line from Iliad book fourteen (169) and then rounded off the imitation with another line from the same book of the Iliad (172). Line 61 could easily follow from line 59, as it does naturally in the Odyssey, so it seems this has been a conscious attempt by the author to show an intimate knowledge of similar scenes in both the Odyssey and the Iliad to be able to fit the language together so neatly and closely. The explanation for this unusual combination of the lines is perhaps this; the lines taken from the Odyssey deal with a description of the goddess Aphrodite in that epic and so fit nicely the purpose of the author because they will have a close similarity to what he intends to say, however the lines from the Iliad are taken from Hera's preparation for the seduction of Zeus. This is not a necessary linguistic link but it is nevertheless an interesting thematic one; the author of the hymn wishes to draw a parallel between Aphrodite's seduction of Anchises and Hera's seduction of Zeus. In both cases the preparation is grand and extensive, as the parallels in the language is intended to show, but it is ironic that Aphrodite goes to these lengths to seduce only a mortal man whereas Hera seduces the most powerful being in the universe. This is perhaps a joke at the expense of Aphrodite who is not shown in all her grandeur in the hymn as one might expect for a hymn of this sort but at the mercy of the will of Zeus, just as everything is in both the Iliad and the Odyssey. The author is deliberately imitating the Homeric epics in order to show his intentional closeness to them, not just in terms of language but also in terms of subject matter.

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