This class continues our exploration of the establishment of the Olympian Pantheon begun with Hesiod’s Theogony. As proposed by Barbara Graziosi and Johannes Haubold in Homer: The Resonance of Epic (2005), we can conceive of Homeric and Hesiodic poetry as functioning in a complementary fashion to describe the steps taken to create the universe as understood by Greeks in the Archaic age. The Panhellenic perspective espoused by Homer and Hesiod presents a range of deities, associations, and practices which would have appealed to many audiences (but not necessarily all of them). In this complementary function, the ‘Hesiodic perspective’ is one which provides a macrocosmic view of the story of the universe (a great deal of the story with scant dramatic detail) while the ‘Homeric’ perspective presents a dramatic and detailed take on part of the narrative (it is microcosmic).
So, where Hesiod explains the successive generations of gods to the realm of Zeus (and then in the fragmentary Catalogue of Women the generations of heroes), the Homeric Hymns are dramatic accounts of how individual gods came to inhabit specific spheres of influence. Last class we looked at how the Hymn to Demeter channels a natural allegory and communicates important anthropological information, while also demonstrating limits on Zeus’ power and detailing the interdependence of divine honors and human activity. The two Hymns covered in this class, look at the particular cases of Aphrodite and Hermes. For the latter, we find a trickster god narrative combined with elements of the heroic journey in a narrative that makes space for Hermes by challenging Apollo, not Zeus. Aphrodite’s Hymn continues some of the thematic conflicts of Hesiod’s Theogony (and anticipates many of later myth) by seeking to curb Aphrodite’s power in the service of positioning Zeus as reigning supreme.
Ancient Authors Discussed
Some Suggested Course Texts
Homeric Hymn to Hermes
Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite
Homer’s Odyssey Book 8 (lines 250-380 on Ares and Aphrodite)
Links to Blogposts
Modern Authors Mentioned
[to be added]
In many other traditions the deity of sex is also associated with death (or has a narrative which connects the two. Consider Mesopotamian Ishtar/Inanna and Hindu Rati (and her narrative engagement with Shiva).
Marcovich, Miroslav. “From Ishtar to Aphrodite.” Journal of Aesthetic Education 30, no. 2 (1996): 43-59.
Other Articles for Additional Reading
Charles Segal, “The Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite: A Structuralist Approach.” The Classical World 67, no. 4 (1974): 205-12.
A. S. Brown. “Aphrodite and the Pandora Complex.” The Classical Quarterly 47, no. 1 (1997): 26-47.
Monica S. Cyrino “Shame, Danger and Desire”: Aphrodite’s Power in the Fifth Homeric Hymn.” Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature 47, no. 4 (1993): 219-30
Sarah E. Harrell. “Apollo’s Fraternal Threats: Language of Succession and Domination” GRBS 1991: 307-329.
Sarah Iles Johnston. . “Myth, Festival, and Poet: The “Homeric Hymn to Hermes” and Its Performative Context.” Classical Philology 97, no. 2 (2002): 109