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The Politics of Olympus: Form and Meaning in the Major Homeric Hymns (BC Paperbacks) (BC Paperbacks Series)
The Politics of Olympus: Form and Meaning in the Major Homeric Hymns (BC Paperbacks) (BC Paperbacks Series)
by Jenny Strauss Clay
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.28

5.0 out of 5 stars "I will sing of Zeus...", 1 Mar 2007
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`The study of the Gods in early Greek poetry is not merely of antiquarian or academic interest, but is justified as a necessary foundation for an understanding of the roots of western thought.' So Clay begins her panoramic account of the four major Homeric Hymns. This works sets about rehabilitating and restoring the hymns to their deserved `central place in Greek poetic thought concerning the Olympian order', after centuries of neglect and misuse.

Considering inadequate attempts to define the hymns in terms of their performance or structural composition alone, Clay opts for a contextual approach, paying close attention to the mythological narratives; `The Homeric [epic] poems show us the fully perfected and stable Olympian pantheon in its interaction with the heroes; the Theogony [of Hesiod] reveals the genesis of the Olympian order and ends with the triumphal accession to power of Zeus. Between theogonic poetry and epic there remains a gap, one that is filled by the Olympian narratives of the longer hymns.'

She alludes to `strong centripetal forces' arising in 8th century BC Greece, actively synthesising broken images of local gods and forging them into the PanHellenism of Homer and Hesiod. The Homeric Hymns, which Clay finds `practically identical' in terms of metre and diction to epic and theogonic poetry, were `created in order to fill the perceived gap between Hesiod and Homer and thus to provide accounts of the major events in the evolution of Olympus.'

In setting about to prove this she is masterful. She writes an account accessible to the lay reader, providing English translations whenever quoting, and happy to spend equal time on both obscure works such as the lost Cypria, known only by secondary references, and episodes familiar to children, such as the beauty-pageant of Hera, Athena and Aphrodite before Paris. Her technique of linear analysis is not comprehensive; she misses references to Inanna during the undressing of Aphrodite for example, but this helps keep the book wieldy and maintains its focus throughout.

The biggest beneficiary of the work is Zeus. In the whole of the hymns their is only one small 4-line piece dedicated to Zeus, but Clay makes all narrative action flow either from or for him; `In Apollo (3), although Zeus makes only fleeting appearances in the course of the narrative, the new god defines himself in relation to his father, while in Hermes (4) Zeus' intervention receives special emphasis, precisely because the story itself does not seem to need it.' Clay writes out a fantastic meta-narrative of Zeus and his striving for order; the grand patriarch is constantly on the watch for radical feminists demanding respect, equality, revolution! and other such damn-fool things. His goddesses become either obedient or beaten subjects, and so the safe world of men is forged.

Even if you don't agree with Clay's conclusions regarding Zeus' importance, the Politics is a great way of getting to think about the Hymns and is a wealth of information itself. It informs readings of epic fare beyond and is generally top stuff.

The Homeric Hymns (Oxford World's Classics)
The Homeric Hymns (Oxford World's Classics)
by Michael Crudden
Edition: Paperback

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating but Cold, 28 Feb 2007
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Of the four recent English-language Homeric Hymns translations I found Michael Crudden's OUP work the most thorough introduction, both in terms of attention to textual detail and general airing of backstories for those not so much in the know.

To begin, his introduction places the hymns firmly within their context, following the epic poems of Homer and Hesiod, preceding the more definitely literary works of the 5th and 4th centuries BC. He gives a brief sketch of the Hymns structural coherence, a legacy of their epic ancestors, before going on to summarise the four major Hymns themselves (those to Demeter, Aphrodite, Apollo and Hermes) and is happy enough leaving subtleties to the very full explanatory notes and glossary at the back. The select bibliography, whilst including all the important references I've used, are mostly obscure journal articles and there is not nearly enough of the general interest reference so helpful in the Rayor (2004) edition.

The poems themselves have been translated into fixed hexameter verse, which Crudden justifies saying, "...certain words and expression were not available to the Greek poets due to the unyielding demands of their metres, and verse translators should operate under similar constraints." For some, this works; read the Bryn Mawr Classical Review for this edition and you'll find the remark, "The author's strength is in the sheer beauty of his translation", yet for me clarity of sense and evocation is worth more and Crudden fails here in comparison to Cashford's (2003) free verse. Consider here a detail from Hymn 21 to Apollo:

Cashford: `And it is of you

The poet sings,

Speaking sweetly

To his clear-voiced lyre.

At the beginning

And at the end

It is always of you.'

Crudden: ` ...and of you

The sweet bard with clear sounding lyre

Sings ever both first and last.'

And again in Hymn 5 to Aphrodite:

Cashford: 'She felt joy in her heart to see them

and she filled their hearts with longing

so that they all went in twos

into the shade of the valleys

and made love with each other.'

Crudden: 'Delighted at heart by the sight, she put in their breasts


And all together they mated in pairs through the shadowy


Finally though, in the words of the BMCR, "The line between padding and fluency is hard to draw and comes down to a matter of taste: some like their Budweiser, others Newcastle Brown Ale or even Guinness." At times, Crudden is as crisp and manufactured as a super-chilled lager, and as difficult to swallow; prefer your belly warmed by something smoother and more natural, then this edition isn't for you.

Its strengths, fittingly, lie in the detailed dissection of the hymns. Crudden manages to find 14 pages worth of notes for the Hymn to Hermes alone, pulling structural motifs and finer mythological tangles out into the light for us sadly uneducated duffs. He relies heavily on the analytical works of Sowa (1984) and Clay (1989) and these are both well referenced throughout; in fact, Crudden's explanatory notes are analyses in miniature in comparison to Cashford's, whose notes share more with Cruddens glossary.

Whilst claiming no intention of a critical edition, this book offers a highly intelligent account of the Homeric Hymns and the reader will come away with a greater sense of Greek mythology and the hymns' relevant context. Buy it with Cashford aswell though, the two are complementary in terms of their stated objectives, and what is lost in one you'll find in the other.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 15, 2011 11:29 PM BST

The Homeric Hymns: A Translation, with Introduction and Notes
The Homeric Hymns: A Translation, with Introduction and Notes
by Diane Rayor
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.14

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Choice of the Bunch, 28 Feb 2007
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Of the three recent popular translations of the Homeric Hymns, Diane Rayor's does the most to please both the absolute beginner and the reader already acquainted with the Greek canon. Throughout her introduction, covering the religious meaning, performance, style, and her translation of the hymns, she speaks with clarity and conciseness. She focuses on the power-politics apparent in the major hymns and generally picks up on gender-conflicts to illuminate motive forces driving narrative action, revealing much through asides on bit-characters like Heracles and Typhon. For the lay reader these provide fascinating avenues for further reading; one could easily be led to Clay's Politics of Olympus or Wolkstein & Kramer's Inanna.

On translation Rayor says: `Because the hymns were composed for performance, I focused on the harmonious sound of the language' and this process has made her hymns fluidly readable. For example, this passage from the Hymn to Dionysus (7):

Rayor: ` With a sudden leap,

the lion seized the captain. Then all the rest,

fleeing their doom, dove into the glistening sea

and became dolphins.'

Crudden: ` The god with a sudden rush forward


The captain; the men, as they tried to escape from an evil


All together plunged, when they saw, in the brilliant sea,

And into Dolphins turned.

In comparison Crudden seems to me the master of Yoda-talk. Rayor is at times more freely colloquial than Cashford, even; in the same hymn a sailor shouts, `Mates, who's this strong god you've nabbed?', and in the Hymn to Apollo, Telphussa describes men `ogling fancy chariots'. Her dictate that formal constraints like metre shouldn't hamper the intended effect of the hymn helps create fluent narratives and more graspable and believable characters.

The notes, glossary and further reading are full and comprehensive. Her best notes reveal dimensions to the hymns which demand further exploration; the whole back-story of the `son-usurping-the-father pattern', relevant to the Hymn to Apollo, refers the beginner to Hesiod and now I will read him again. Those looking for more analysis on sympathetic lines should read Clay's Politics with this edition for a fuller understanding.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 6, 2012 10:38 AM GMT

The Homeric Hymns (Penguin Classics)
The Homeric Hymns (Penguin Classics)
by Homer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beginners Best, 28 Feb 2007
This Penguin Classic edition of the Homeric Hymns, one of four recent translations, is easily the most accessible for readers looking to find a way into Greek literature.

The introduction by Richardson, who has written extensively on the Hymn to Demeter, is cut into sections on purpose, composition, dating, theme, style and, uniquely, later influence. He makes the case that the poems are introductions (prooimia) to epic pieces sung at festivals, always sung rather than read, and not really to be sung in isolation.

His discussion on theme highlights the piecemeal assembly of the hymns. They all share an announcement of their subject-god, a line of praise and final prayer for something in return; then generic theme-types on the birth of the god, their introduction the Pantheon and such are added depending on the degree of detail the hymnist felt appropriate.

Both Richardson and Cashford emphasise that the hymns change in mood or tone depending on the god being sung. So in the Hymn to Pan we can visualise a sprightly, felicitous god in the written format, touching the page briefly only words at a time before skipping over to new stanzas. Similarly, Cashford matches Hermes' trickster character (and the general comic tone of his major hymn) with colloquial, chatty speech; compare Cashford, who writes openly in free-verse, with Crudden, the hexameter purist, in this fragment from Hermes (4):

Cashford: `Old man, digging your plants

with hunched shoulders,

you're going to have

a whole lot of wine

when all these bear fruit

just so long as you obey me...'

Crudden: `Old man who dig at your plants with shoulders curved in a stoop,

Wine will be yours in plenty, whenever all these bear fruit.'

The hymns themselves are great fun to read, and perhaps it's because of this the authors decided against very full explanatory notes. The notes here are more a glossary of names and places for the uninitiated and readers already acquainted with the classical world will find they add little to their understanding of the hymns. For this, see Crudden (2001), which I recommend as a critical complement to this good pop edition.

An Introduction to Metaphysics
An Introduction to Metaphysics
by Henri Bergson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.45

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eternal motion makes for long, long sentences., 23 Nov 2006
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This is a very small book. Eleven pages of introduction, much of which does not directly cover the translated work itself, forty-one pages of Bergson, a la Hulme, and no real footnotes or endnotes to speak of. Despite that, if you can burrow your way through paragraphs three pages long, then this still manages to convey some hefty ideas.

From the first page Bergson sets out his duality of analytic and intuitive types of knowledge. The analytic responds to its object by translation and approaches asymptotically by means of images and concepts ("symbols"), the intuitive is the subjective actuality of the thing, which he calls "absolute" and "perfect" for being itself, not an imperfect reflection.

He then ties this in to psychology; the analytic approach creates a man "clothed" in discrete and static "psychical states", rather than try to develop an intuitive awareness of the man, the duration of his personality and the underlying causes of his condition. Duration is the important aspect here; it is, for Bergson, the true reality (much like the flux of Heraclitus) and stasis is merely a flawed, human way of perceiving the world, a way that assumes some vested-interest or intention.

That we see the world in discrete positions or "suppositions" explains Zeno's `flighted arrow' paradox. For Zeno, an arrow in flight should actually be still, as any object occupying a space equal to itself must be at rest in that space; ergo at each moment of its flight the arrow is at rest. In response, Bergson argues it is the "supposition" of moments of flight upon the moving object that creates paradox.

To overcome this conceptual "frozen surface" and truly appreciate, by intuition, the world in and as motion "is extremely difficult. The mind has to do violence to itself, has to reverse the direction of operations in which it usually thinks, has perpetually to revise, or rather to recast, all its categories." Ultimately Bergson sees this as the merging of metaphysics and positivism, an inversion of the legacy of Platonic thought and the systematising of the "integral experience" of knowledge.

Bergson won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1927 and this is a work rich in simile and metaphor; check his analogy of the intuitive faculty as the creative impulse involved in writing. Despite the fact some of his paragraphs do seem interminable and this is by no means an `introduction' to be taken lightly, I would definitely recommend taking the day off work to devote yourself to what it has to say.

Homeric Hymns: WITH Homeric Apocrypha AND Lives of Homer (Loeb Classical Library)
Homeric Hymns: WITH Homeric Apocrypha AND Lives of Homer (Loeb Classical Library)
by Martin L West
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.90

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Translators only, please., 15 Nov 2006
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In this review I focus on the Homeric Hymns only. Athanassakis (1970) says' `poetry is untranslatable', and here West provides in that manner an accurate word-for-word translation of the left-page Greek verse to right-page English prose. This edition, with its slight introduction and negligible footnotes or endnotes, is made purely for the student learning Greek and looking for support along the way. Those with a lay interest will turn to Rayor (2004) or Crudden (2001).

West's introduction pauses briefly to consider the hymn-genre and its purpose, consigning them to prelude-status only. On authorship he maintains the `Homeridai' purposefully remained anonymous, considering themselves inheritors only, but then (surprisingly) names individual authors for Apollo (3) and Ares (8) as well as relatively precise dates for each hymn, given with their summary. His summary for the Hymn to Apollo (3) is a good example of the present babel-nature of work in this field; he dates the Pythian half older than the Delian and provides an interesting account of Polycrates' possible influence in usurping the older and having it lengthened to include references to Hera, the patron-goddess of Samos, and his own Delian festival to Apollo. This account is found nowhere in the other three recent popular translations, or in Clay's intelligent Politics of Olympus.

For those already acquainted with the hymns, the extra material afforded by West's close study makes tantalising reading. The Hymn to Dionysus (1), informed by a previously unpublished papyrus, is lengthened to include an account, heavily reconstructed, of Zeus' plans to send Ares and Dionysus to reconcile Hephaistus to Hera, which is completely absent in other editions. The pieces are frustratingly good, and suggest a revelation of the ambiguous Dionysus figure.

Throughout the translation West keeps up with the colloquialisms of Rayor and Cashford; he's happy to describe pirates as `freebooters from Tuscany', and Hermes' gassy omen is referred to comically in a terse footnote as simply, `a fart'. This never really compensates for the lack of verse though, and the result was a translation I felt dislocated from by the requirements of an academic focus. If you're in it for fun, chaps, then Crudden, Rayor and Cashford are what you want.

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