You are here

Intertextual Impersonation in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo

Thomas James Nelson

University of Cambridge

In this paper, I highlight an unnoticed aspect of Homeric impersonation in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo. I argue that the author of the poem establishes his Homeric pedigree through specific allusions to an established canon of Homeric epic, particularly the Odyssey. Rather than just offering evidence for the early development of Homer’s biography, the hymn also attests to the early reception of his poems.

My discussion focuses on the famous appeal to the Delian maidens at HhAp.166-176, in which the hymnic poet asks the maidens to remember him as the blind man from Chios, pre-eminent in song. In the past, this passage has been much discussed as a locus for early Greek conceptions of literary history and poetic biography (e.g. Burkert 1979, 53-58; West 1999, 368-372; Graziosi 2002, 62-66; Spelman 2018). It is a highly self-referential passage, which focuses on the pleasures of poetry (ἥδιστος, HhAp.169; τέρπεσθε, HhAp.170) and constructs the Delian maidens as Muse-like figures (Nagy 2009, 284-285; 2011, 306-307). Within such a self-conscious setting, however, I argue that the passage also recalls key aspects of Homer’s own poems.

First, I explore how both the poet and the anonymous stranger (with whom the maidens are imagined to converse) are presented in a highly Odyssean guise.

The stranger is ταλαπείριος, a word intimately tied to the Homeric Odysseus, an archetypal sufferer (πολλὰ...πάθεν, Od.1.4). The epithet never features in the Iliad, but its five Odyssean instances can all be related to the poem’s protagonist as a long-suffering stranger and suppliant (Od.6.193, 7.24, 14.511, 17.84, 19.379). The adjective’s use here thus has a distinctively Odyssean tinge; the maidens encounter an Odysseus redux.

In a similar manner, the hymnic poet also impersonates the Homeric Odysseus, ranging among the various cities of men (στρεφόμεσθα πόλεις εὖ ναιεταώσας, HhAp.175 ~ πολλῶν δ’ ἀνθρώπων ἴδεν ἄστεα, Od.1.3; πόλιάς τἐὺ ναιετοώσας, 8.574). If, moreover, we accept Thucydides’ variant reading in verse 168 (ἐνθάδ᾽ ἀνείρηται ταλαπείριος ἄλλος ἐπελθών, Thuc.3.104.5: Sbardella 2012, 89-99), the poet will have presented himself too as a ταλαπείριος wanderer, just like his Odyssean hero. The ‘Homeric’ author of the hymn adopts the characteristics of his own epic character. I suggest that this parallelism builds off the Homeric tradition, in which Odysseus is already presented as a quasi-bardic figure and mirror for Homer himself (cf. Beck 2005; Kelly 2008, 178).

After exploring these Odyssean resonances, I expand my analysis by considering other, broader Homeric echoes in these verses, including words which point to a more martial and Iliadic tradition (such as ἀριστεύουσιν, HhAp.173): the poet is an Odyssean wanderer with an Iliadic armoury of song. Of course, at this early date, the Iliad and the Odyssey were not the only songs attributed to the Chian bard (e.g. Wilamowitz 1884, 351-354; Burgess 2001, 8, 129-131), but these echoes suggest that already in the late sixth century, the pair (or at least the Odyssey) were especially prominent in the conception of the poet and his oeuvre.

To close, I ask what these allusions suggest about the state of the Homeric poems in the sixth century BCE (how ‘fixed’ a text do they presuppose?), and compare this case of allusive impersonation to later Virgilian pseudepigraphy, where similar strategies can be found (Peirano 2012). In sum, while looking forward to the speaker’s future renown, this passage also looks backwards to an already established Homeric corpus – a conclusion that enriches our understanding of archaic Greek epic, Homeric reception and the functioning of allusion in the archaic age.

Session/Panel Title

Archaic Poetics of Identity

Session/Paper Number


Share This Page

© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy