The performative contexts and the function of the Homeric Hymns.
My research project proposes a study of the Homeric Hymns that aims to verify the possibility of identifying references to elements of the ritual reality useful for placing their performance in time and space: thanks to the support provided by the analysis of the literary, epigraphic and archaeological sources, this study aims to demonstrate that the performance of the Hymns was closely related to the ritual and social context in which the poets had to present them to their audience. So, I intend to consider and read the Hymns as poetic ritual offerings to the divinities, taking into account the fact that the texts we read are the result of a compositional stratification whose diachronic develop is important, but difficult, to define.
Following the historical-anthropological method in the study of mythical images, divine figures and data of civilization, I’m going to propose an analysis focusing attention on the formulas of debut and farewell from the divinity (the sections in which the subjectivity of the rhapsode and his relationship with the community could emerge more easily) and on the community’s self-ritual world relationship: the analysis of particular forms of expression (such as the verbs ἄρχομαι and χαίρω and the use of plural) can be useful indeed to shed light on their function and on the crucial role of the audience. Then, great importance will be also given to the definition of the god’s image and prerogatives, thanks to a study of the epithets and of the contexts of their use, and thanks to an analysis of the narrative sections of three of the so called “major Hymns” (to Demeter, to Apollo, to Hermes): they are, indeed, the Hymns with the biggest number of ritual and mythical references useful for defining their performative context.
In conclusion, the main purpose of my project is to reconstruct the mythical and ritual contexts mirrored by the Homeric Hymns and clarify their strong connection with religious practices. In order to be an adequate ritual offering to the divinity – who has to respond to the demands of the community – the song has indeed to contain mythical elements and epithets resonant to the particular situation of the performance: the same can be said about the request to the deity, which has to be adequate to the way in which the god is celebrated and has to praise it according to the prerogatives that are more suited to that particular ritual context. Therefore the Hymns, according to this perspective, constitute a crucial evidence in order to clarify the religious, cultural and social reality of the involved communities.
Max-Weber-Kolleg für kultur- und sozialwissenschaftliche Studien Universität Erfurt Postfach 90 02 21 99105 Erfurt