The Athanassakis translation of the "Homeric Hymns" -- a somewhat disparate collection of narratives, possible opening invocations for performances of longer poems, and a mix of what seem to be actual religious documents and literary exercises -- displays both literary grace (in the verse-line translations), and scholarly explication (in the introduction, and in the accompanying notes to the individual hymns).
[In his 2004 revised edition -- my review is of the original 1976 publication -- the translator continues to insist he was not aiming at producing poetry. It is indeed not formal English verse, but after decades of use I still find his translation not only readable but exceptionally attractive, and at least poetic, and not just by comparison to the old Evelyn-White translation.]
The poems are described as Homer's in the manuscript tradition, in which they are offered together with hymns by historical poets, but also some attributed to the mythical Orpheus. They are in the dactylic hexameter line of the Homeric epics, which in some of them is employed as a lyric meter -- a somewhat astonishing idea to those who know the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey." Athanassakis does a wonderful job of producing consistently attractive English versions, while attempting to adhere closely to the original. (I have no claims to real scholarship in this, but I once took the trouble to work through passages against the corresponding lines in a Greek text, with the help of the Liddel-&-Scott "Lexicon" and several grammars.)
After a long period of neglect on the part of translators into English, this group of poems has been translated in both verse and prose a number of times in recent decades. This volume first appeared at about the same time as translations by the poet Charles Boer (extremely "modern") and by Thelma Sargent in the Norton Library (to mention those still in print). These lacked the helpful apparatus (although Sargent could probably have provided something similar). The later Shelmerdine translation, in the Focus Classical Library series, is very extensively annotated, but is in part aimed at readers completely unfamiliar with Greek myth and literature in part at those more interested in narrative than ancient verse-forms. (In other words, a good textbook in a world in which the "classics" have dropped out of pre-collegiate courses.) Among the crop of *very* recent translations, by Cashford (Penguin Classics, with notes by Richardson), by Crudden (Oxford World's Classics), and (in a Loeb Classical Library bilingual edition) by M.L. West) [and now (2004) Diane Rayor], the work of Athanassakis seems to me to retain its place as both attractive and useful. Although Crudden, in particular, shows the benefit of another quarter-century of scholarship, his annotations often address other issues, and his notes on some of the hymns range from slim to nothing at all.
How important are the notes? To a casual reader, they are of interest only if they help to make sense of a passage at hand. Some readers, however, will be using the book as a primary source for Greek myth and religion. Guesses and compromises obvious to a classicist, or even an amateur like me, may look like solid facts to the uninformed.
An example of the care Athanassakis takes with such issues is his explanation of a much-debated passage in the "Hymn to Demeter." It is usually understood to explain winter as the portion of the year Persephone must remain in the Underworld. (If you don't know the story, sorry -- look it up, you may enjoy it). Unfortunately, explicit statements of this interpretation in Greek texts are late. Some scholars, such as the very distinguished authority on Greek religion, M.P. Nilsson, have argued for the barren Mediterranean summer instead. The "Hymn" should settle the matter, and Athanassakis, like most translators, offers a version in which it *is* winter -- but explicitly notes (as Cashford/Richardson, for example, do not) that the whole section is in such poor condition in the only extant manuscript that this is merely a plausible reconstruction. Important to know, if you want to build on argument on what looks like a solid fact!