- The Homeric Hymns: Interpretative Essays
This volume, according to its editor, is intended to fill the need for a companion to the Homeric Hymns, but “[it] is more than just a companion. It aims not only to evaluate the state of scholarship on the Hymns but also to advance it” (23). Actually, the collection falls far short of a satisfactory companion, and its influence could set back scholarship on the Hymns to before Clay’s pioneering ensemble reading of the major Hymns in The Politics of Olympus (Princeton, 1989). Since the volume’s title promises “interpretative essays,” it might be ungenerous to dwell upon its shortcomings as a companion. But only a few of its fourteen contributions could even be described as “interpretative,” except loosely. Almost all focus upon putative facts, some of them imaginary.
The editor’s introduction is symptomatic of problems that beset the entire collection. A survey of recent scholarship on the Hymns sketches representative positions of what is styled a “debate,” which to Faulkner apparently means that all views worth mentioning get equal time, none are ever legitimately invalidated, and consensus forms around a hypothetical middle ground. Faulkner divides the field into four categories, “Oral Poetics,” “Dating and Language,” “Performance and Function,” and “Genre, Panhellenism, and Local Connections,” a misleading division since a single research paradigm, traditional oral poetics, defines most of the issues here distributed among three of the categories (the first, third, and fourth). Faulkner’s historical sketch of oral poetics conventionally accords seminal status to Parry and Lord, but it takes no notice of Nagy, and an inexperienced reader would never suspect how much current work on archaic Greek poetry, including much in the present volume, emanates from this one scholar’s program. As for intellectual influences originating outside philology, Faulkner recognizes none at all; his survey makes no mention of structuralism, and more importantly, no mention of the functionalist sociolinguistics channeled into classical Greek scholarship by Gregory Nagy and (somewhat differently) by Claude Calame, both contributors to this very volume. On the other hand, Faulkner acknowledges the importance of Clay’s Politics quite explicitly, but still misleadingly, for he summarizes the book’s thesis but passes over the analytic framework on which (in principle) it rests. He then proceeds to tabulate a few dissenting positions, again without analyzing their premises or merits. All this conveys an impression that academic research on the Hymns has no programs, methods, or standards, that the [End Page 521] field consists of numerous independent researchers who spontaneously converge around a limited repertoire of questions, and that disciplinary authority belongs to a consensus of prudent experts rather than investigative rigor or hegemonic theory. From an editor who sees the academic landscape in this way, we get a collection of articles whose main purpose appears to be that of assembling and projecting consensus. Readers will learn what a certain disciplinary network thinks to be in vogue at the present time (itself), but not much about the Homeric Hymns, and certainly not much about the four major hymns that have prompted the most study and contemplation.
Besides the editor’s introduction, the volume features contributions by Martin West (speculative reconstruction of the fragmentary first Hymn to Dionysus), Nicholas Richardson (survey of issues in recent work on the Hymn to Demeter), Mike Chappell (survey of arguments for and against the Hymn to Apollo being a composite), Athanassios Vergados (argument that the Hymn to Hermes effects the god’s epiphany obliquely), Pascale Brillet-Dubois (the Hymn to Aphrodite as an intertextual dialogue between “Aphroditean” and “Iliadic” poetics), Dominique Jaillard (the epiphanic framework of Hymn 7 to Dionysus), Oliver Thomas (thorough reading of the Hymn to Pan), Andrew Faulkner (allusions to the hymns as evidence of the collection’s contents and circulation in certain periods), William D. Furley (the Homeric Hymns as a departure from authentic religious hymns), Jenny Clay (the existence of a genre of Olympian narrative), Nancy Felson (confrontations between Zeus and his children in Hesiod’s Theogony, the Hymn to Apollo, and Hymn...