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  • Remembering the God's Arrival
  • Egbert J. Bakker

The Homeric Hymn to Apollo is commonly believed by scholars to consist of two parts, one Delian, dealing with the god's birth and his cult at Delos, and one Pythian, describing the foundation of his shrine at Delphi.1 Stylistic and thematic differences between the two parts are adduced to argue for their separate composition and subsequent joining. The partition is thought to occur at line 181, when the Hymn makes a new start after the poet seems to have taken leave of the god in good hymnic fashion. Although I believe that the (mostly analytic) arguments for such a division have to be thoroughly rethought in light of the recent advances in our knowledge of archaic Greek poetry, the separate origin of the two parts can not in itself be disproved. What is important, however, is that we stop concentrating on the act of joining, or on the joint, and direct our attention to the recomposition of the resulting complex hymn. In what follows, I will draw attention to the cognitive aspects of archaic Greek poetics as a dimension in which the "unity" of the two Apollos is as evident as the preexistence of his constituent parts.

Following good hymnic practice, I will "start from the god." In fact, the main subject of this paper is a starting point, the beginning of the Hymn (lines 1-13), which I have reprinted below (underlined phrases will be discussed later on):

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I will remember nor be unaware of Apollo who shoots  far,as he moves through Zeus's hall, all the gods trembling  at his coming,as they jump to their feet as he gets closer,all from their seats, when he strings his brilliant bow.But Leto alone waits calmly at Zeus's side who delights  in thunder:look, she has unstrung the bow and closed the quiver;and taking it with her hands from his strong shoulders,she hangs the bow on his father's pillar,from a golden peg, and himself, she leads him to a  throne;and to him his father has offered nectar in a golden  goblet,and drinks a toast to his dear son; and thereafter all the  other gods,they there sit down; scene of joy for Lady Leto,since she bore a bow-bearing and powerful son.2

The Hymn starts, as we see, with a description of Apollo's arrival on Olympos. The central element is the god's bow, which makes the assembled gods jump to their feet. The only ones to remain calm are Leto, his [End Page 64] mother, and his father Zeus. Leto calmly takes her son's bow, hangs it on a peg, and leads him to Zeus, who offers him nectar. After this, peacefulness returns and everyone sits down. Order has been restored and a new, young, powerful god has just been integrated into the Olympic pantheon.

It is important to realize at this point that the bow incident is told out of narrative sequence; it follows chronologically on the story of Leto's wanderings in search of a place to give birth to her son and the birth itself at Delos. The Hymn returns to the arrival scene at the beginning of the Pythian part, at lines 186 and following. In spite of their alleged stylistic discrepancy, the two parts are bound together by what is an acknowledged and essential feature of archaic Greek poetry: ring composition. The "preview" of an event in order to come back to it later and to provide an orientation to the narrative ahead is a pervasive technique from Homer to Herodotus, on all levels of composition (see Bakker 1997a.112-21).

But let us not shoot too far for the moment. Recent work on the first arrival scene by Penglase, West, and others has centered on its resemblance to the Sumerian hymn An-gim, in which the god Ninurta, arriving, strikes terror in the hearts of his fellow gods (Penglase 1994.99, West 1997.355). But this Near Eastern parallel does little to dispel the confusion that the scene has created among classical scholars. The main problem...


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