Two Homeric Hymns to Dionysus and Some Notes

Homeric Hymn 1: To Dionysus

“Some say that it was at Drakonos, some say on windy Ikaros
others allege it was Naxos where the divine Eiraphiotes was born,
or even that it was beside the deep-eddying river Alpheios
where Semele, impregnated by Zeus who delights in thunder, gave birth.
Lord, others say that you were born at Thebes
But they all lie: The father of men and gods gave birth to you
hiding you from white-armed Hera far from all men.
There is a place called Nusê, the highest mountain flowering with forest,
In far-flung Phoenicia, near the flowing Nile.

They dedicate many images of you in the temples:
Since there are three, at the triannual festivals forever
Men will sacrifice to you perfect Hecatombs.
At this, Kronos’ son will nodded his dark eyebrows;
The ambrosial hair of the god danced about
On his immortal head, and Olympos shook greatly.
[After he spoke, councilor Zeus ordered with a nod.]
Be kind to us, Eirophiotes, woman-maddener: we singers
Begin and end with you as we sing: it is not possible
To begin a sacred song without thinking of you.
So, hail, Dionysus, Lord Eiraphiotes, and your mother too
Semele, the one they also call Thyône.”

οἱ μὲν γὰρ Δρακάνῳ σ’, οἱ δ’ ᾿Ικάρῳ ἠνεμοέσσῃ
φάσ’, οἱ δ’ ἐν Νάξῳ, δῖον γένος εἰραφιῶτα,
οἱ δέ σ’ ἐπ’ ᾿Αλφειῷ ποταμῷ βαθυδινήεντι
κυσαμένην Σεμέλην τεκέειν Διὶ τερπικεραύνῳ,
ἄλλοι δ’ ἐν Θήβῃσιν ἄναξ σε λέγουσι γενέσθαι
ψευδόμενοι• σὲ δ’ ἔτικτε πατὴρ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε
πολλὸν ἀπ’ ἀνθρώπων κρύπτων λευκώλενον ῞Ηρην.
ἔστι δέ τις Νύση ὕπατον ὄρος ἀνθέον ὕλῃ
τηλοῦ Φοινίκης σχεδὸν Αἰγύπτοιο ῥοάων

καί οἱ ἀναστήσουσιν ἀγάλματα πόλλ’ ἐνὶ νηοῖς.
ὡς δὲ τάμεν τρία, σοὶ πάντως τριετηρίσιν αἰεὶ
ἄνθρωποι ῥέξουσι τεληέσσας ἑκατόμβας.
ἦ καὶ κυανέῃσιν ἐπ’ ὀφρύσι νεῦσε Κρονίων•
ἀμβρόσιαι δ’ ἄρα χαῖται ἐπερρώσαντο ἄνακτος
κρατὸς ἀπ’ ἀθανάτοιο, μέγαν δ’ ἐλέλιξεν ῎Ολυμπον.
ὣς εἰπὼν ἐκέλευσε καρήατι μητίετα Ζεύς.
ἵληθ’ εἰραφιῶτα γυναιμανές• οἱ δέ σ’ ἀοιδοὶ
ᾄδομεν ἀρχόμενοι λήγοντές τ’, οὐδέ πῃ ἔστι
σεῖ’ ἐπιληθομένῳ ἱερῆς μεμνῆσθαι ἀοιδῆς.
καὶ σὺ μὲν οὕτω χαῖρε Διώνυσ’ εἰραφιῶτα,
σὺν μητρὶ Σεμέλῃ ἥν περ καλέουσι Θυώνην.

A few brief notes

1 Drakonos; Ikaros; Naxos: In part, this selection of different place names echoes the mythical travels of Dionysus. Drakonos is considered to be a location on the island of
kos; Ikaros and Naxos are also islands in the Aegean. The Alpheios river is in the Peloponnese: it is one of the two rivers re-routed by Herakles and a common toponym in myth.

2 Eiraphiotes: This is a problematic and confusing epithet. Ancient commentators related it to the word rhaptô “to sew”, indicating that it had to do with the fact that Dionysus was sewn up in Zeus’ thigh. (This may also as well, even if only tangentially, associate him with the recitation of poetry through rhapsodes who “sew the song together. This is uncertain and speculative, but the end of the second fragment ties the deity together with singers). A modern interpretation of the epithet finds a Sanskrit root and identifies Dionysus thus as a “Bull-god”. He was known at times for shape-shifting and, in this particular hymn, he is granted hekatombs.

3 Dionysus’ birth: Zeus impregnated Semele, she was killed by a thunderbolt, and Dionysus gestated in Zeus’ thigh. Therefore, it is easy to say (1) that both Semele and Zeus “gave birth to him” and (2) that he was born in more than one place.

4 Thebes: The home of Semele, a daughter of Cadmos, and a city typically punished for rejecting Dionysus.

6 Nusê; near the flowing Nile: In early Greek mythology, the mountain is often combined with a form of Zeus’ name (Dios) as an etymology for the name Dionysus. The location of Dionysus in Egypt may merely be part of the traditional motif that has the autochthonous god born elsewhere (other times in Asia, India) only to return and reclaim his rightful place. But according to the Orphic Theogony, Dionysus is torn apart by the Titans. His body is sometimes said to have been put back together by Demeter or to be ground up and served in a drink to Semele who gave birth to him again. This ritual-murder/deification motif collocated with mention of Egypt, however, may echo the connection Herodotus makes between Dionysus and the Egyptian god Osiris who was also murdered and in some cases torn apart only to be resurrected as a god of the underworld and rebirth.

7 woman-maddener: gunaimanes, “the one who makes women go insane”, an epithet connected with the mythical traditions that have Dionysus upending social orders and his special association with Bacchantes (mad, feral women)

8 “we begin and end with you”: this is in part a formulaic ending in Hymnic language, but for Dionysus, who was associated with so many performance rituals, this may give him a bit broader of a sphere of influence (e.g. tragedy, choral performances) or may draw upon the language of poetic inspiration via Dionysian ecstasy.

9 Thyône: A name for his mother or nymph who nursed him.

Homeric Hymn, 26: To Bacchus

“I begin to sing of ivy-haired Dionysus, who roars powerfully,
the shining son of Zeus and glorious Semele,
the one the fair-tressed nymphs raised after they took him
to their chests From his lord father to raise him rightly
tn the folds of Nusê. He grew up according at his father’s will
tn a fragrant caves, one among the number of immortals.
But once the goddesses had raised up the much-sung god,
then he went to wondering through the forested valleys
covering himself with ivy and laurel. The nymphs followed him
and he led—the thunder of the procession gripped the endless woods.
Hail to you too. Dionysus rich with clusters of grapes.
Grant that we may come happy into another season
And return again at this time for many more years.”

Κισσοκόμην Διόνυσον ἐρίβρομον ἄρχομ’ ἀείδειν
Ζηνὸς καὶ Σεμέλης ἐρικυδέος ἀγλαὸν υἱόν,
ὃν τρέφον ἠΰκομοι νύμφαι παρὰ πατρὸς ἄνακτος
δεξάμεναι κόλποισι καὶ ἐνδυκέως ἀτίταλλον
Νύσης ἐν γυάλοις• ὁ δ’ ἀέξετο πατρὸς ἕκητι
ἄντρῳ ἐν εὐώδει μεταρίθμιος ἀθανάτοισιν.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δὴ τόνδε θεαὶ πολύυμνον ἔθρεψαν,
δὴ τότε φοιτίζεσκε καθ’ ὑλήεντας ἐναύλους
κισσῷ καὶ δάφνῃ πεπυκασμένος• αἱ δ’ ἅμ’ ἕποντο
νύμφαι, ὁ δ’ ἐξηγεῖτο• βρόμος δ’ ἔχεν ἄσπετον ὕλην.
Καὶ σὺ μὲν οὕτω χαῖρε πολυστάφυλ’ ὦ Διόνυσε•
δὸς δ’ ἡμᾶς χαίροντας ἐς ὥρας αὖτις ἱκέσθαι,
ἐκ δ’ αὖθ’ ὡράων εἰς τοὺς πολλοὺς ἐνιαυτούς.

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