“Be Kind to Us”: Homeric Hymns to Dionysus

Plutarch, Greek Questions 36 [=PMG 871]

“Come, hero Dionysus
To the holy temple of the Eleans
With your Graces
Rushing with your oxen foot…

[then they sing twice]

Bull, so worthy,
So worthy a bull.

ἐλθεῖν ἥρω Διόνυσε
Ἀλείων ἐς ναὸν
ἁγνὸν σὺν Χαρίτεσσιν
ἐς ναὸν
τῷ βοέῳ ποδὶ θύων,
[εἶτα δὶς ἐπᾴδουσιν]

ἄξιε ταῦρε,
ἄξιε ταῦρε.

 

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.

All-About-Athena: Hymns, Prayers, Cult Names

Athena

Solon, fr. 4.4-5 (6th Century BCE)
Solon emphasizes Athena’s power as a protector and connection with Zeus

“This sort of a great-hearted overseer, a daughter of a strong-father
Holds her hands above our city, Pallas Athena”

τοίη γὰρ μεγάθυμος ἐπίσκοπος ὀβριμοπάτρη
Παλλὰς ᾿Αθηναίη χεῖρας ὕπερθεν ἔχει•

Euripides, Heracleidae 770-72 (5th Century BCE)
Euripides echoes Solon but also refers to Athena as a maternal figure

“Queen, the foundation of the land
and the city is yours, you are its mother,
mistress and guardian..”

ἀλλ’, ὦ πότνια, σὸν γὰρ οὖ-
δας γᾶς καὶ πόλις, ἆς σὺ μά-
τηρ δέσποινά τε καὶ φύλαξ…

Aristophanes, Knights 581-585 (5th Century BCE)
Aristophanes echoes the defender motif and connects it with the glory of Athens as a martial and creative center (perhaps under influence of a more robust Panathenaia)

“O Pallas, protector of the city,
The most sacred city-
and defender of a land
that surpasses all others
in war and poetry.”

῏Ω πολιοῦχε Παλλάς, ὦ
τῆς ἱερωτάτης ἁπα-
σῶν πολέμῳ τε καὶ ποη-
ταῖς δυνάμει θ’ ὑπερφερού-
σης μεδέουσα χώρας,

Homeric Hymn to Athena 1 (Allen 11)
The shorter of the extant Homeric hymns focuses on Athena’s connection with war and heroes

“I begin to sing of Pallas Athena the dread
defender of cities, to whom the acts of war are a concern with Ares:
the cities sacked, the shrill sound, and the battles,
She rescues the host when it leaves and when it returns”

Παλλάδ’ ᾿Αθηναίην ἐρυσίπτολιν ἄρχομ’ ἀείδειν
δεινήν, ᾗ σὺν ῎Αρηϊ μέλει πολεμήϊα ἔργα
περθόμεναί τε πόληες ἀϋτή τε πτόλεμοί τε,
καί τ’ ἐρρύσατο λαὸν ἰόντα τε νισόμενόν τε.
Χαῖρε θεά, δὸς δ’ ἄμμι τύχην εὐδαιμονίην τε.

Continue reading “All-About-Athena: Hymns, Prayers, Cult Names”

The Protector of Cities: Some Prayers and Hymns to Athena

5-east-pediment-birth-of-athena
Reconstruction of East Pediment of the Parthenon, Showing the Birth of Athena

Solon, fr. 4.4-5 (6th Century BCE)
Solon emphasizes Athena’s power as a protector and connection with Zeus

“This sort of a great-hearted overseer, a daughter of a strong-father
Holds her hands above our city, Pallas Athena”

τοίη γὰρ μεγάθυμος ἐπίσκοπος ὀβριμοπάτρη
Παλλὰς ᾿Αθηναίη χεῖρας ὕπερθεν ἔχει•

Euripides, Heracleidae 770-72 (5th Century BCE)
Euripides echoes Solon but also refers to Athena as a maternal figure

“Queen, the foundation of the land
and the city is yours, you are its mother,
mistress and guardian..”

ἀλλ’, ὦ πότνια, σὸν γὰρ οὖ-
δας γᾶς καὶ πόλις, ἆς σὺ μά-
τηρ δέσποινά τε καὶ φύλαξ…

Aristophanes, Knights 581-585 (5th Century BCE)
Aristophanes echoes the defender motif and connects it with the glory of Athens as a martial and creative center (perhaps under influence of a more robust Panathenaia)

“O Pallas, protector of the city,
The most sacred city-
and defender of a land
that surpasses all others
in war and poetry.”

῏Ω πολιοῦχε Παλλάς, ὦ
τῆς ἱερωτάτης ἁπα-
σῶν πολέμῳ τε καὶ ποη-
ταῖς δυνάμει θ’ ὑπερφερού-
σης μεδέουσα χώρας,

Homeric Hymn to Athena 1 (Allen 11)
The shorter of the extant Homeric hymns focuses on Athena’s connection with war and heroes

“I begin to sing of Pallas Athena the dread
defender of cities, to whom the acts of war are a concern with Ares:
the cities sacked, the shrill sound, and the battles,
She rescues the host when it leaves and when it returns”

Παλλάδ’ ᾿Αθηναίην ἐρυσίπτολιν ἄρχομ’ ἀείδειν
δεινήν, ᾗ σὺν ῎Αρηϊ μέλει πολεμήϊα ἔργα
περθόμεναί τε πόληες ἀϋτή τε πτόλεμοί τε,
καί τ’ ἐρρύσατο λαὸν ἰόντα τε νισόμενόν τε.
Χαῖρε θεά, δὸς δ’ ἄμμι τύχην εὐδαιμονίην τε.

Homeric Hymn to Athena, 2 (Allen, 28)
The longer of the extant Homeric Hymns to Athena tells the story of her birth (but not her conception, perhaps reflecting the war-dances done in her honor

“I begin to sing the honored goddess, Pallas Athena,
The grey-eyed, very-clever one with a relentless heart,
A city-defending, revered and courageous maiden
Tritogeneia, whom counselor Zeus himself gave birth to
from his sacred head, already holding her weapons,
all gold and shining. Then awe took all the immortals
who looked on. And she rose from the immortal head
of aegis-bearing Zeus immediately in front of them
shaking her sharp spear. And great Olympos shook
terribly beneath the fury of the grey-eyed goddess
as the ground echoed frightfully around. Even the sea
was churned up with its dark waves and the brine seized
suddenly. The glorious son of Hyperion brought his
swift-footed steeds to rest for a long time until
the maiden Pallas Athena took the divine weapons
from her immortal shoulders. And counselor Zeus laughed.
Hail to you, then, child of aegis-bearing Zeus.
And I will also praise you with yet another song still.”

Παλλάδ’ ᾿Αθηναίην κυδρὴν θεὸν ἄρχομ’ ἀείδειν
γλαυκῶπιν πολύμητιν ἀμείλιχον ἦτορ ἔχουσαν
παρθένον αἰδοίην ἐρυσίπτολιν ἀλκήεσσαν
Τριτογενῆ, τὴν αὐτὸς ἐγείνατο μητίετα Ζεὺς
σεμνῆς ἐκ κεφαλῆς, πολεμήϊα τεύχε’ ἔχουσαν
χρύσεα παμφανόωντα• σέβας δ’ ἔχε πάντας ὁρῶντας
ἀθανάτους• ἡ δὲ πρόσθεν Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο
ἐσσυμένως ὤρουσεν ἀπ’ ἀθανάτοιο καρήνου
σείσασ’ ὀξὺν ἄκοντα• μέγας δ’ ἐλελίζετ’ ῎Ολυμπος
δεινὸν ὑπὸ βρίμης γλαυκώπιδος, ἀμφὶ δὲ γαῖα
σμερδαλέον ἰάχησεν, ἐκινήθη δ’ ἄρα πόντος
κύμασι πορφυρέοισι κυκώμενος, ἔσχετο δ’ ἅλμη
ἐξαπίνης• στῆσεν δ’ ῾Υπερίονος ἀγλαὸς υἱὸς
ἵππους ὠκύποδας δηρὸν χρόνον εἰσότε κούρη
εἵλετ’ ἀπ’ ἀθανάτων ὤμων θεοείκελα τεύχη
Παλλὰς ᾿Αθηναίη• γήθησε δὲ μητίετα Ζεύς.
Καὶ σὺ μὲν οὕτω χαῖρε Διὸς τέκος αἰγιόχοιο•
αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ καὶ σεῖο καὶ ἄλλης μνήσομ’ ἀοιδῆς.

Birth of Athena, Full-Armed, from Zeus' Head (Ouch!)
Birth of Athena, Full-Armed, from Zeus’ Head (Ouch!)

Sources:

OCD3

Walter Burkert. Greek Religion. Cambridge, 1985.

L. R. Farnell. The Cults of the Greek City States. 1895.

Timothy Gantz. Early Greek Myth. Baltimore, 1993.

Simon Price. Religions of the Ancient Greeks. Cambridge, 1999.