Monday, August 21, 2006

The Hymn to Demeter

The longer Homeric Hymn to Demeter is now available at Aoidoi, fully parsed with beginning readers in mind.

The story of its transmission is worth telling. It was probably composed in the seventh century, but there are few echoes of the hymn in classical literature, and all of the direct quotations, according to Richardson, are late, indicating that it was best known in Hellenistic times. Except for two very small fragments, and some quotations, we possess the hymn in one single manuscript from the book known as Mosquensis (or M). This book was found in 1777 by Christian Friedrich Matthaei in the library of the Synod in Moscow, and according to what Matthaei was told, it was found in a stable, ubi per plures annos...inter pullos et porcos latitabat, where for many lay hidden between chickens and pigs. All of our other manuscripts of the hymns open with the Hymn to Apollo, but M opens instead with our only copies of the hymns to Dionysus and Demeter. It is dated by the watermarks to the early 15th century, and shows a second hand (known as "m") at work on the damaged sections, who probably wrote in the 16th century. The hymn was virtually unknown to the writers and artists of the Renaissance, and it is an exciting story, in my opinion, that we have access to a work of this length after it had gone to the very brink of vanishing, and only barely managed to survive, unlike so much other Greek literature.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you say the hymn was "virtually" unknown in the Renaissance, do you mean to leave room for a limited awareness? If we can date the watermarks, does that mean we know in what country it was manufactured?
I am trying to find out if it is possible that the manuscript itself circulated in 15th century Italy, or if someone who knew of its existence, say Demetrius Chalcondyles for example, could have spread word of its existence while teaching in Italy. Can you illuminate any of these issues?

6:03 PM  
Blogger Nicholas said...

The scribes who copied it were aware of it (obviously) and it's possible that they spoke to others of it. My sources (Allen and Richardson) were surprisingly vague, but I'll try to clarify my understanding of the matter. In brief, there seems to be no hint whatsoever of the hymn's influence on art beyond Roman times. R. says: "As the ms of the Hymn was not apparently known to the world in general until the end of the 18th c., the Hymn exercised no influence over Renaissance literature." I took the precaution of using the word "virtually" because there was at least one ms containing the hymn, where it was placed second, and it was recopied, of course, and read during that time by at least two people (M and m). But there might possibly have been other mss that we don't have now (besides the one that M was based on), and those interested in Grk in 15th c. Italy might have heard of it, since Grk mss were highly coveted by those in the field. In any case, it seems much more unlikely that poets and artists would have known about it, which is what R. and I meant. R. mentions with a warning that a paper was once written trying to trace the influence of the Hymn on Milton, but he doesn't cite anything.

Re watermarks, that is a good question, and neither of my sources say. My understanding is that dating by watermark requires comparison, so perhaps we could tell what country the paper was from. Of course, it is possible that it might have been manufactured in one place, and the hymn copied in another. R. references "Bibliotheca Universitatis Leidensis, Codices Manuscripti", VIII, Leiden, 1965, for the dating, if you can find or read it.

Remember that I'm just an interested amateur. But if you have any more questions or other info to share, feel free to contact me at nicholasjswift on yahoomail. I'd be interested to hear what you're working on, or if you're just curious like me.

2:40 PM  

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