6. Sacred Apostrophe: Re-Presentation and Imitation in Homeric Hymn to Apollo and Homeric Hymn to Hermes [1]

I. Genre and History

From the beginning, the Homeric hymns mark both beginning and end. They come before the recitation of epic, but after Homeric epic has reached its peak. The evidence is scanty, but so far as we can tell, the works in this somewhat paradoxical category of “Homeric hymn” represent an elaboration by the rhapsodes of the invocation that had traditionally begun an epic song. Demodocus, at the start of his third song at Phaeacia, is said to “begin from the god” or “goddess” (Odyssey viii 499). [2] Similarly, the Homeridae, according to Pindar Nemean 2.1–3, “generally begin their woven epics with a prooimion to Zeus,” the same term “prooimion” with which Thucydides (3.104) in our earliest explicit reference to the hymns designates the Homeric Hymn to Apollo. [3] According to the scholiast on Nemean 2.1 (3.28.16–3.29.18 Drachmann), the Homeridae were “originally sons of Homer who sang by right of succession” and later rhapsodes who performed Homeric epic without claiming direct descent. [4] The Homeridae performed at such contests as those described in the Contest Between Homer and Hesiod, local gatherings like the funeral at Chalcis where Hesiod triumphed (see also Works and Days 654–659) and larger festivals like the panêguris at Delos (see also Hesiod fr. 357 MW). While questionable as biography, the Contest does seem to preserve a plausible picture of the process by which the works of the poets canonized as “Homer” and “Hesiod” were gradually disseminated and finally fixed in their Panhellenic form. [5] So we have this chain of evidence: Demodocus begins his song with an invocation of the deity; the “sons of Homer” who recite epic at contests during the period of its progressive fixation begin with a prooimion to Zeus; and our earliest reference to a Homeric hymn is as a prooimion.
This evidence, to quote the commentary of Allen, Halliday, and Sykes (1936:lxxxviii–lxxxix) seems “to show the ‘Homeric hymn’ in the light of a πάρεργον of the professional bard or rhapsode, as delivered at an ἀγών, whether at a god’s festival or in honor of a prince.” The Homeric hymn is a πάρεργον “subordinate or secondary business” of the “sons of Homer” in relation to their primary job of repeating the father’s words. A πάρεργον, yes, but not merely so, for as the major hymns of the corpus testify, this “preface” develops into a genre in its own right, and it does so as the paternal genre declines. The period and the process of the dispersal, fixation, and Panhellenization of Homeric epic is also the period and process of epic’s decline. During that period, the agents of the process, the “sons of Homer,” develop the old preface into a genre of their own. The old beginning of Homeric epic begins as a vital genre when Homeric epic ends. [6]
Why did the Homeridae choose to elaborate the prooimion? What was it about the hymn form that appealed to them? With such scarcity of data, any reconstruction can, of course, be only speculative, but within that limitation, can we make any correlation between the nature of the hymnic genre and such evidence as we have of its historical function? The rhetorical figure at the heart of the genre seems to point the way. That figure is apostrophe or the direct address by the poetic voice, as when, for example, the hymnist addresses the god. Tracking the operation of apostrophe in the Homeric hymns leads to an analysis of the hymn in which it is most prominent, the Homeric Hymn to Apollo. This is also the hymn in which the poetics of the genre—for example, the context of performance, the relation between the hymnist and his subject, his audience, and his “father” Homer—are an overt theme. The Homeric Hymn to Apollo presents a vision of poetic and prophetic practice that assimilates the hymnist’s achievement to the power claimed in the hymn by Apollo himself. This text would seem to offer a complete picture of what the Homeridae were attempting to accomplish with the elaborated prooimion, except that its version of Apollo is both expanded and qualified by the other major hymn that concerns poetry and prophecy, the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. The complementary and contradictory relation between these two hymns sheds light upon the genre and its history.

II. Sacred Apostrophe and Sacred Presence

The formal feature that distinguishes the Homeric hymn from Homeric epic is not the narrative core of the poems, for hexameter narration is what the hymns share with epic, what makes them formally “Homeric.” What makes the Homeric hymn a “hymn” is its particular use of the most poetically marked, but also the most rare and restricted convention of epic, namely, apostrophe. [7] The difference between apostrophe in epic and in a hymn is not solely one of quantity. To be sure, the figure is more frequent in the hymns, closing thirty-two of the thirty-four poems (the other two lack closings), opening five, and occurring sporadically (or in the case of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, profusely) in the body. But this quantitative difference is significant only as a reflection of the more fundamental difference of function. The epic is cast by its opening invocation as the voice of the Muse—“Sing, Goddess, the wrath” and “Sing, Muse, the man”—but the closing apostrophe makes the hymn the poet’s own speech.
In its complete form, the final apostrophe casts the hymn as the inverse of epic, not a goddess’s words, but the poet’s product, one he will try to exchange with a god. The obligatory χαῖρε “farewell” is followed by imperatives that ask the god to grant victory or some other blessing in return for the hymn. (It is the judges of the contest, of course, who will “act for the god” in awarding the prize.) [8] Then, after leaving unstated but implied the necessary connective—“If you accept this offer,”—the poet concludes with the promise to initiate another exchange, “I will remember you and another song.” This ending that promises another beginning is, in fact, the opening of most of the hymns. About a third of the hymns imitate epic by calling upon the Muse to “sing the god,” but the rest start either with an apostrophe of the god or with the words, “I will remember . . .” or “I begin to sing . . .” or “I will sing . . . .” The conventional hymnic beginning (apostrophe or “I will remember . . .”) matches the hymnic close (apostrophe and “I will remember . . .”), a close that promises another beginning. [9] This frame casts the hymn as a single direct address of the god, one grand “sacred apostrophe.” Why is a such a product worth the response of the god/audience? What does “sacred apostrophe” aim to effect? Culler’s analysis (1977) of the secular function of the figure points to the answer.
Starting from Quintilian’s definition of apostrophe as a “turning away from” the judge, Culler bases his analysis upon the communicative context of the trope. This context includes three parties: the speaker, the addressee, and the judge—a triangle parallel to the rhapsode, the god, and the judges of the contest. Culler shows how the function of apostrophe in this situation is twofold. The poet apostrophizes not simply to elicit the response of the addressee, but also to prove to his “judging” audience the poetic power of his speech. By invoking Nature, the Romantic poet implies that Nature itself responds to his call. Invocation tends to animate even lifeless objects: when called upon, who knows if they may not answer? Apostrophe of non-existent objects demonstrates the most basic capacity of the voice, to “re-present,” to “make present” something by the sheer act of uttering it. The claim of the apostrophizing voice is that of a “motivated signifier,” namely, to indicate the signified not by an arbitrary connection, but by a natural semiotic constitution. [10] The effect of “sacred apostrophe” would therefore be the re-presentation of the “transcendental signified,” divinity itself. In exchange for the prize, the hymnist offers nothing less than an epiphany of the god.
If sacred apostrophe establishes the poetic voice in the eyes of the judges as able to re-present divinity, consider how well it would seem to serve the Homeridae in their complex relation to Homeric epic. When epic was “winged words,” individual bards could win praise and prizes, while avoiding self-reference in their songs. Many may have even called themselves by the same name, if “Homer” denoted the bardic function rather than a single poet. [11] In order to concentrate on the κλέα ἀνδρῶν “famous deeds of men,” the conventions of epic minimize the presence of the singer—the poetically marked apostrophe is correspondingly rare—but foster the display of individual skill in the composition of the narrative. Since each prize-winning composition was a unique performance, bards could share the prestige of “Homer,” but no “Homer” could repeat another’s song and thus steal his prize. With the advent of writing, however, a fundamental change in the means of poetic (re-)production in Greece takes place.
With writing comes the possibility of preserving and canonizing a monumental Homeric composition, but the process involves both gain and loss for the Homeridae. As Homeric epic becomes a fixed text, the chance for innovation or variation in the genre diminishes, along with proper attribution and compensation of the product. In elevating Homeric epic to Panhellenic pre-eminence, the Homeridae give up the chance to develop the form in their own right. The more they increase their patrimony, so to speak, the less they can spend it themselves. Now defunct through the prestige of fixation, the epic genre is no longer a living tradition, but a virtuoso repetition. [12] As far as the “son of Homer” is concerned, such a “repeatable” legacy is not even his own. The text of “Homer” may be the ultimate epic, but because it is fixed in writing, it is no longer the possession of a proper Homeric line, handed down only to legitimate heirs. It is rather the common property of any “son” who can (re-)write a copy for himself. What can a “son of Homer” do to avoid this unprofitable trade-off? How can he continue to profit from the prestige of Panhellenization, without the loss of his identity as a Homeric poet? How can he, like the oral bard, win the prize for his own Homeric composition?
What can the “son of Homer” do, after the fixation of Homeric epic? He can develop a new Homeric genre, a new and more self-referential Homeric speech, out of the single convention of epic that points to the poet’s voice. The opening apostrophe of epic can be expanded, via a relative clause, into a narrative of the god’s traditional ἔργα “works,” where the Homeridae can emulate (or parody) epic art. And when apostrophe is not just expanded but also exploited, the hymn can be more than an emulation of epic. While shorter and introductory, this πάρεργον “subordinate or secondary business” can exceed the primary genre in its glorification of the poetic voice. For when its close matches its opening, the hymn becomes one grand invocation, one grand display of the power not just to describe, but to epiphanize a god through speech.
This function of the apostrophe is most clear in the hymn where the figure is most prominent, the hymn to the gods’ own hymnist, Apollo. In the Homeric Hymn to Apollo we find a profusion of apostrophe and doubling (even the “number” of the text, whether it is singular or a plural, is in question), a profusion sometimes faulted as proof of careless or multiple authorship. These formal features demonstrate the re-presentational capacity of the hymnic voice: apostrophe makes present again its addressee, while doubling re-presents particular diction or themes. This doubling becomes the form and apostrophe the figure for the power attributed in the content of the hymn to its three poetic/prophetic speakers—Apollo, the Delian Maidens, and the hymnist himself—the power of unerring re-presentation. Apollo’s oracle re-presents the will of Zeus; the chorus of Delian Maidens, θεράπναι “attendants” of Apollo, re-present the voices of those attending the festival at Delos and sing a hymn to Leto, Apollo, and Artemis; the hymnist re-presents himself singing at the Delian festival this very Homeric Hymn to Apollo. For in the midst of describing the scene at the festival, the hymnist apostrophizes the Delian Maidens: O Maidens, he says, remember me and whenever you are asked to name the pre-eminent poet, answer “the blind man from Chios,” that is, “Homer” (166–172). Through this extended apostrophe, the hymnist turns narration into a demonstration of his own voice re-presenting the voice of the pre-eminent poet, the father “Homer.” This, it would seem, is what the hymnic apostrophe offered the “son of Homer,” a mode by which to re-present the voice of the father, the voice of poetic supremacy, a re-presentation that emulated Apollo’s own poetic and prophetic role.
But the Homeric Hymn to Apollo does not tell the whole story of that god’s relation to poetry and prophecy. The rest of the tradition comes in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, the “sequel” to the Homeric Hymn to Apollo both in content and in the order of our corpus. The Homeric Hymn to Hermes revises and adds to the earlier account. Here the first act of Hermes after his birth is to invent the lyre, while in the earlier hymn the first act of Apollo after his birth is to claim possession of the lyre as the precondition of his oracular accuracy. Hermes then tries to steal Apollo’s cattle by the trick of driving the herds backwards so that their hoofs point in the opposite direction from their actual movement. When the ruse is discovered, he exchanges the lyre for the stolen cattle. Now the defining “property” of each god is an original possession of the other. No sooner is this trade completed than Apollo gives Hermes what he had sworn to retain as his exclusive possession, μαντεία “oracular speech.” He describes the responses of Hermes’ new μαντεία as discernibly true and false, while revealing the similarly double but indistinguishable voices of his own oracle. Now who is the unerring prophet and who the thief? Each god seems to imitate the other.
Taken together, therefore, the hymns to Apollo and Hermes reveal a competition between the two gods over the issues of ownership, accuracy, temporal primacy, and origin. This competition centers around the problem of repetition. The hymns present divergent forms of repetition, two modes of doubling: the “re-presentation” of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo and the “imitation” of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. In re-presentation, something is repeated or presented again but at a different time or place—for example, when the hymnist apostrophizes Apollo at one time and the same Apollo later, or when he begins and ends a hymn with the same words. In re-presentation, there is no effort to disguise the difference between the first and the second instances and no effort by the second instance to take the place of the first. In imitation, on the other hand, something is repeated but without distinct, stable difference between an “original” and a “copy”—for example, when Hermes (re-)invents the lyre. [13] What are we to make of this divergence between the two hymns?
Before we can pursue this question, we must answer a more basic one. By what justification do we treat these two texts together, if like the other Homeric hymns they were originally composed separately of traditional material, performed orally, and juxtaposed in our written corpus only centuries later? [14] The interpretive position of ancient listeners and modern readers is not the same, but there is a bridge: because the hymns are traditional poetry, thematic interdependence in our texts reflects thematic interdependence in the tradition. The relationship between the Iliad and the Odyssey provides a parallel. Because we have the written texts, we can read the Odyssey in terms of the Iliad or even ignore chronology and read the Iliad in light of its sequel. But the same sort of interpretation, even the anachronic, could be made before the fixation of the texts, since the audiences knew the traditions from which epic was composed. Because their thematic interconnection is traditional, there was never a time when the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” as traditions did not imply one another, when any version of either one was meaningful except in relation to its complement. The intertextuality of our Iliad and Odyssey mirrors this “inter-traditionality.” In the same way, the thematic integrity and formal placement of the hymns to Apollo and Hermes represent the traditional brotherhood and rivalry of the two gods. (Indeed, pairing hymns to Apollo and Hermes may itself be a traditional mechanism for expressing the traditional relationship of the two gods.) [15] Any correlations or inconsistencies we observe by comparing the hymns with each other, early listeners could also observe by comparing either hymn with this tradition. It is the traditional character of the affinity and competition of Apollo and Hermes that entitles us to treat the hymns to these gods as cognate and competing accounts of poetic, prophetic, and economic supremacy.
If, then, it is not anachronistic to read these two hymns together, how are we to interpret their contradictions? We could simply take them as marks of mythic subject matter. Two versions of the same myth are often inconsistent, and mythic temporality often ignores historical sequence. But a parallel pairing of two gods recorded in Plato’s Phaedrus suggests that the inconsistencies and temporal anomalies between these two hymns are themselves germane to the meaning of the tradition of Apollo and Hermes. For the relation between Apollo and Hermes and between the two modes of repetition exemplified in their hymns corresponds to the relation between the Egyptian deities Ammon and Theuth as described by Socrates in the Phaedrus, when he is trying to illustrate the superiority of “living speech” over “dead writing” (274c–277a). In his analysis of the Phaedrus Jacques Derrida points out the shared characteristics of Theuth and Hermes and describes for speech and writing the sort of complex kinship and competition that we have seen between Apollo and Hermes. [16] We may have in the relation between Apollo’s re-presentation and Hermes’ imitation a pre-conceptual version of the relation between speech and writing in the Phaedrus. In view of the role of speech and writing in the historical situation of the Homeridae, it is not implausible that the two “hymns about Homeric hymning” may be concerned with these two modes of poetic (re-)production.

III. Homeric Hymn to Apollo: The Invocation of Presence

Formal doubling and its thematic counterpart commence with the first words of the hymn, μνήσομαι οὐδὲ λάθωμαι Ἀπόλλωνος ἑκάτοιο “I shall remember and I shall not forget Apollo who works from afar” (1). There is a place or category of being remembered and another of being forgotten. The hymnic voice claims to control the difference between the two and to put Apollo in the place of the wholly remembered, the fully present. This mastery over μνήμη “memory” and λήθη “forgetfulness,” this ability to re-member, re-peat, and re-present the absent past, is expressed in the form of the repetition we find here—first, the μνήσομαι “I will remember” and then, the litotes of “remembering,” that is, οὐδὲ λάθωμαι “I will not forget.” In this doubling there occurs a return of the same—that is, the “remembering”—but at a later time and place in the sequence of the narrative. As in Platonic ἀνάμνησις “recollection,” there is an assertion of—a striving and a desire for—full re-presentation now in the present of what was fully present in the past.
In the next example, the repetition of verbal doublets marks the first apostrophe of the poem. Leto “rejoices” (χαίρει) because she “gave birth” (ἔτικτεν) (12–13). The poet then repeats, “rejoice (χαῖρε), O blessed Leto, because you gave birth (τέκες)” (14). By commanding in the first person what it has just narrated in the third person as a fact, the poetic voice displays its power both to present and to re-present, both to present a fact and to bring about its accurate re-presentation by the sheer act of invocation. Indeed, this control over presence and absence is demonstrated in the apostrophe alone, since χαῖρε signals the conventional hymnal close, the separation from the god. As a result, there is a nuance here of closure upon a mini-hymn to Leto, but a closure that will also re-open the hymn to her son. [17] For it is this same topic, how Leto gave birth to Apollo, that the poet now brings forth, via the priamel of lines 19–27, as the subject of the hymn. This priamel is also the place where apostrophe and doubling next coincide and where these opening motions toward hymnic practice become an explicit theme.
In the first of two invocations in this priamel, Apollo is characterized by two parallel totalizations:
πῶς τ᾽ ἄρ ς᾽ ὑμνήσω πάντως εὔυμνον ἐόντα;
πάντῃ γάρ τοι, Φοῖβε, νoμοὶ [18] βεβλήατ᾽ ἀοιδῆς,
ἠμὲν ἀν᾽ ἤπειρον πορτιτρόφον ἠδ᾽ ἀνὰ νήσους.

How then shall I hymn you, when you are in every way well-hymned?
For everywhere upon you, Phoebus, the whole range of song has been cast,
both upon the cattle-nourishing continent and upon the islands.
Homeric Hymn to Apollo 19–21
Apollo is always present “everywhere” and always well re-presented in song. The implication of this parallelism and of the possible pun in νομοί is that the hymning of Apollo must represent the reality of the god: as he covers all geographical νομοί (νομός “place of pasturage, field, range”), so too his hymn must contain all the νόμοι (νόμος “melody, type of song”) or the entire “range” of its possibilities, a total re-presentation that would transcend the limits of time and space. And indeed, the whole of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo is an attempt to realize that goal.
The next phase of the effort is the second apostrophe of the priamel:
ἦ ὥς σε πρῶτον Λητὼ τέκε, χάρμα βροτοῖσι,
κλινθεῖσα πρὸς Κύνθου ὄρος κραναῇ ἐνὶ νήσῳ,
Δήλῳ ἐν ἀμφιρύτῃ;

Shall I sing how at first Leto gave birth to you, a joy to mortals,
having leaned against Mt. Cynthus in the rocky island,
in sea-surrounded Delos?
Homeric Hymn to Apollo 25–27
This question answers the question of line 19, “How then shall I hymn you?” This subject may not encompass the whole range of possibilities, but it is the subject that the hymn has just presented and moved to re-present through apostrophe in the ending-like opening, χαῖρε, in line 14: “rejoice (χαῖρε), O blessed Leto, because you gave birth (τέκες).” If Apollo is present everywhere—as is asserted by the πάντῃ “everywhere” of line 20, the hymn can re-present him everywhere, as it once again displays, when it addresses Apollo directly in line 120: ἔνθα σέ, ἤιε Φοῖβε, θεαὶ λόον ὕδατι καλῷ “there, great Apollo, the goddesses washed you with beautiful water” and repeats the lines with which this subject was begun:
χαῖρε δὲ Λητώ,
οὕνεκα τοξοφόρον καὶ καρτερὸν υἱὸν ἔτικτεν.

Leto rejoiced
because she gave birth to a bow-bearing and mighty son.
Homeric Hymn to Apollo 125–126
χαίρει δέ τε πότνια Λητώ,
οὕνεκα τοξοφόρον καὶ καρτερὸν υἱὸν ἔτικτε.

Revered Leto rejoices
because she gave birth to a bow-bearing and mighty son.
Homeric Hymn to Apollo 12–13
Such “ring-composition” is, of course, a conventional feature of hexameter poetry, but it is used here so reflexively that the form tends to become a theme. [19]
Why a hymn to Apollo must so insist on its power of re-presentation becomes clear when Apollo himself emerges as a speaking presence in the text. Upon bursting his swaddling bands, Apollo’s first act is a “speech act.” It is introduced formally by an apostrophe that answers the one that earlier at line 120 marked his birth:
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δή, Φοῖβε, κατέβρως ἄμβροτον εἶδαρ,
οὔ σέ γ᾽ ἔπειτ᾽ ἴσχον χρύσεοι στρόφοι ἀσπαίροντα,
οὐδ᾽ ἔτι δέσματ᾽ ἔρυκε, λύοντο δὲ πείρατα πάντα.

But when indeed, Phoebus, having tasted immortal food,
then you, to be sure, golden bands did not hold, as you struggled,
nor did the fetters still restrain, but all the bonds were released.
Homeric Hymn to Apollo 127–129
Thus unbound, the god avers:
εἴη μοι κίθαρίς τε φίλη καὶ καμπύλα τόξα,
χρήσω δ᾽ ἀνθρώποισι Διὸς νημερτέα βουλήν.

May the dear lyre and the curved bow be mine,
and I shall unerringly repeat to humankind the unerring plan of Zeus
Homeric Hymn to Apollo 131–132
Apollo’s words identify him as the divine counter-part of the power displayed by the hymnic voice. If he may possess the lyre and the bow, Apollo will re-present to humankind the oracles of Zeus. The basis of this reciprocity is evident in the structure common to the lyre, the bow, and the oracle. As we see in the simile in the Odyssey by which Odysseus’ testing of the bow is likened to the test of a lyre (xxi 404–410), and as may be implied in Heraclitus’ perception of the “palintropic harmony” of the two instruments (Heraclitus [22] B51 DK), archaic Greek thought perceives in the bow and the lyre the capacity of attaining an exact mark of sound or space, if the string is plucked properly. That such attainment is also the property of the βουλὴ Διός “plan of Zeus” is implied by the metaphor in νημερτέα “unerring,” an alpha-privative compound of νη– “not” + the root of ἁμαρτάνω “miss the mark.” The “plan of Zeus” is an arrow that never misses its mark, is never sharp or flat. And so, moreover, is the re-presentation of it by Apollo, for the verb χρήσω “I shall unerringly repeat”—a cognate of χρή “it must be” and χρεών “that which must be”—implies the accuracy of cosmic necessity. Zeus is the primary archer of the mind, and Apollo, by virtue of his skill with lyre and bow, is his unerring porte-parole. To hymn Apollo, therefore, the hymnic voice must re-present the god’s straight arrow, his ideal re-presentation of Zeus’ similarly unerring will. Like Apollo, the hymnist must be ἕκατος “he who works from afar” or more precisely, ἑκατηβόλος “he who can cast from afar” the straight shaft of speech that hits the present mark.
Accordingly, the hymn responds to Apollo’s voice with a sequence in which apostrophe, doubling, and the thematization of poetic re–presentation are no longer intermittent but in fact take over the text. The poet’s first “cast” is the next apostrophe, the five-word, line-filling invocation of Apollo:
αὐτὸς δ᾽, ἀργυρότοξε, ἄναξ ἑκατηβόλ᾽ Ἄπολλον.

And you yourself, of the silver bow, lord Apollo who can cast from afar.
Homeric Hymn to Apollo 140
A five-word, line-long apostrophe occurs earlier as well, when the island of Delos addresses Leto: Λητοῖ, κυδίστη θύγατερ μεγάλου Κοίοιο “Leto, most glorious daughter of great Koios” (62). But here the device calls attention to itself by the four word-initial alphas (αὐτὸς, ργυρότοξε, ναξ, πολλον) and by its placement of the two parallel epithets, ἀργυρότοξε “of the silver bow” and ἑκατηβόλ᾿ “he who can cast from afar” on either side of ἄναξ “lord” and surrounding them, the two defining terms, the pronoun αὐτός “you yourself” and the proper noun Ἄπολλον. Then, as in the opening priamel, the invocation of presence is answered by a description of geographic omni-presence (141–145 ~ 21–24), a doubling marked by the repetition in lines 144–145 of lines 22–23. Such rings conventionally signal closure, but here, in a repetition of the opening manipulation of invocation and dismissal, the closed subject is at once re-opened with a second apostrophe and the selection once again of Delos out of the god’s spatial range:
ἀλλὰ σὺ Δήλῳ, Φοῖβε, μάλιστ᾽ ἐπιτέρπεαι ἦτορ.

But you, Phoebus, in Delos especially delight your heart.
Homeric Hymn to Apollo 146
In this new end/beginning, however, the hymn becomes completely self-referential, as the subject of this hymn to Apollo now becomes its very performance at the Delian panêguris by the hymnist who identifies himself as “Homer.”
At this Delian festival, all parties reflect one another. Like the voice of the hymn in its first line, the Ionians remember Apollo with the contests in which he delights:
οἱ δέ σε πυγμαχίῃ τε καὶ ὀρχηθμῷ καὶ ἀοιδῇ
μνησάμενοι τέρπουσιν, ὅτ᾽ ἄν στήσωνται ἀγῶνα.

By remembering you with boxing and dancing and epic song
they delight you, whenever they mount their contest.
Homeric Hymn to Apollo 149–150
In the eyes of one beholding them, the Ionian celebrants assume the god’s attributes, ἀθανάτους “immortal” and ἀγήρως “ageless,” such is their χάριν “grace” (151–153). Their gathering includes a great θαῦμα “wonder,” endlessly re-presented through a κλέος “fame” that never dies, that of the Delian Maidens:
πρὸς δὲ τόδε μέγα θαῦμα, ὅου κλέος οὔποτ᾽ ὀλεῖται,
κοῦραι Δηλιάδες, ἑκατηβελέταο θεράπναι· [20]
αἵ τ᾽ ἐπεὶ ἂρ πρῶτον μὲν Ἀπόλλων᾽ ὑμνήσωσιν,
αὖτις δ᾽ αὖ Λητώ τε καὶ Ἄρτεμιν ἰοχέαιραν,
μνησάμεναι ἀνδρῶν τε παλαιῶν ἠδὲ γυναικῶν
ὕμνον ἀείδουσιν, θέλγουσι δὲ φῦλ᾽ ἀνθρώπων.

In addition there is a great wonder, whose fame will never perish,
the Delian Maidens, attendants of the one who can cast from afar:
when these have hymned Apollo first
and then both Leto and Artemis who delights in arrows,
remembering the men and women of old
they sing a hymn and enchant the races of men.
Homeric Hymn to Apollo 156–161
The Delian Maidens resemble Apollo: their name and title fills an entire line, as did the god’s (140, 157) and they are called his θεράπναι “attendants.” They also echo the hymnist, for after celebrating Apollo, Leto, and Artemis, they too turn to the subject of Homeric epic, the men and women of the past. The Maidens “enchant” their audience, and of what does their enchantment consist? The Delian Maidens enchant their audience through mimesis of the voice: πάντων δ᾽ ἀνθρώπων φωνὰς καὶ κρεμβαλιαστὺν μιμεῖσθ᾽ ἴσασιν “They know how to imitate the voices and melodic contour of all men” (162–163). Theirs is an ideal verisimilitude—φαίη δέ κεν αὐτὸς ἕκαστος φθέγγεσθ᾽ “for each man would say that he himself was speaking”—resulting from ideal harmony—οὕτω σφιν καλὴ συνάρηρεν ἀοιδή “thus was their beautiful song fitted together” (163–164). It is in this way, perhaps, that the Maidens are the θεράπναι “attendants” of Apollo: their song shares the quality he claimed for his repetition of the βουλή “plan” of Zeus, perfect accuracy. Accordingly, the hymnist couples a prayer to Apollo and Artemis with an invocation of the Maidens as well: χαίρετε δ᾿ ὑμεῖς πᾶσαι “farewell, all you Maidens” (165–166).
Like the earlier instances of the verb, this apostrophic χαίρετε “farewell” signals an ending, and this time the closure seems confirmed, since the vocative is followed by the imperatives of exchange between divinity and poet with which the hymns regularly conclude. Indeed, this exchange seems to complete the movement of the hymn toward self-reference through the harmony of its poetic and prophetic speakers:
χαίρετε δ᾽ ὑμεῖς πᾶσαι: ἐμεῖο δὲ καὶ μετόπισθεν
μνήσασθ᾽, ὁππότε κέν τις ἐπιχθονίων ἀνθρώπων
ἐνθάδ’ ἁνείρηται ξεῖνος ταλαπείριος ἐλθών·
ὦ κοῦραι, τίς δ᾽ ὔμμιν ἀνὴρ ἥδιστος ἀοιδῶν
ἐνθάδε πωλεῖται, καὶ τέῳ τέρπεσθε μάλιστα;
ὑμεῖς δ᾽ εὖ μάλα πᾶσαι ὑποκρίνασθαι ἀφήμως·
τυφλὸς ἀνήρ, οἰκεῖ δὲ Χίῳ ἔνι παιπαλοέσσῃ
τοῦ πᾶσαι μετόπισθεν ἀριστεύουσιν ἀοιδαί.
ἡμεῖς δ᾽ ὑμέτερον κλέος οἴσομεν, ὅσσον ἐπ᾽ αἶαν
ἀνθρώπων στρεφόμεσθα πόλεις εὖ ναιεταώσας·
οἳ δ᾽ ἐπὶ δὴ πείσονται, ἐπεὶ καὶ ἐτήτυμόν ἐστιν.

Farewell, all you Maidens, and also hereafter
remember me, whenever someone of the men upon the earth,
a stranger with many trials behind him, comes here and asks,
“O Maidens, who do you believe is the sweetest man of the singers
that come here, in whom do you most delight?”
Then answer, one and all of you, with a single voice,
“The blind man. He lives in rugged Chios.
All of his songs will be supreme hereafter.”
And in return I will carry the fame of you over the entire distance
I cover in my circuit of the well-placed cities of men.
And you may be sure they will believe me, since it is indeed accurate.
Homeric Hymn to Apollo 166–176
The content of the Hymn has become its performance. More precisely, the narration has become the appeal for the prize of poetic preeminence. As narration has become narrating, so the hymnist seeks perpetual victory in and through a display of the poetic and prophetic capacity he shares with Apollo and the Delian Maidens. As with Apollo and Zeus, this “son” describes his unique function as a re-presentation of the “father”—the “blind man from Chios,” “Homer” himself. Like Apollo’s oracle, the κλέος “fame” that he offers the Delian Maidens is ἐτήτυμόν “accurate.” His speech also resembles that of Apollo’s θεράπναι “attendants” and would be a fair recompense, therefore, for their words of praise. For he re-presents the speech of a man who comes to Delos, just as they re-present the voice of “each man” there, and he even re-presents the speech of the Delian Maidens themselves, the very words for which he asks. In this virtuoso performance, prize-winning re-presentation re-presents the prize-winning it seeks. After such a sign of completion, we expect an end to the hymn.
But no, the ending we expect after this elaborate, apparent ending is immediately revoked:
αὐτὰρ ἐγὼν οὐ λήξω ἑκηβόλον Ἀπόλλωνα
ὑμνέων ἀργυρότοξον, ὃν ἠύκομος τέκε Λητώ.

But I myself shall not cease hymning far-casting Apollo
of the silver bow whom beautiful-haired Leto bore.
Homeric Hymn to Apollo 177–178
At once the hymnist makes good this hyperbole of a song without end by more apostrophe and doubling: first, by another apostrophe, ὦ ἄνα “O lord,” another expression of Apollo’s omni-presence, “you hold both Lycia and Maeonia and Miletus, lovely city by the sea,” another singling out of Delos “but you yourself rule in power over wave-girt Delos” (179–181), and then by the transformation of the apparently completed Delian hymn into only the first half of a double hymn, “the all-glorious son of Leto, goes to rocky Pytho, playing upon his hollow lyre, clad in ambrosial, perfumed garments” (182–183). [21] For it is, of course, in its overall “Delian-plus-Pythian” structure that the text most overtly manifests its duple form. To the omni-presence of Apollo corresponds this formal attempt at limitless re-presentation.
The Pythian hymn carries out this double framework both in its apostrophe, in its confirmation of Apollo’s original claim to the lyre, the bow, and the oracle, and in the resulting augmentation of the god’s proper name. The invocation at the start of the Delian hymn—“How then shall I hymn you, when you are in every way well-hymned?”—opens the Pythian as well (207 = 19). Here, the figure achieves an almost egregious prominence, as this opening apostrophe is extended over the next seventy-three lines through twenty second-person singular verbs. The narrative, too, reflects its Delian half by recounting how Apollo realized his first words: “May the dear lyre and curved bow be mine and I shall unerringly repeat to humankind the unerring plan of Zeus” (131–132). At the start of the Pythian hymn, the lyre indeed belongs to Apollo, as he plays for the Muses on Olympus. Then, after the opening apostrophe, the hymn selects as its subject, via another priamel, none other than the founding of Apollo’s oracle, a founding that depends, as in the god’s original utterance, upon his possession of the bow and the lyre. For he slays the dragoness with his κρατεροῖο βιοῖο “mighty bow” (301), kindles the fire in his ἄδυτον “sanctuary” by showing forth the gleam of his arrows (443–445), plays the lyre to lead his paean-singing priests to the temple (514–519), and characterizes his oracular speech as ἐμὴν ἰθύν “my straight direction” (539).
In this conquest that proves his claim to the bow, the god adds through his power of speech two epithets to his proper name. As the dragoness breathes her last, Apollo exults, “Now rot (πύθευ) there on the man-nourishing earth” (363). As if in sympathetic harmony, “the holy strength of Helios made her rot (κατέπυσ᾿) there. As a result now the place is called Pytho, and they call the lord ‘Pythian’ as an epithet, because there on that spot the strength of piercing Helios made the monster rot (πῦσε)” (371–374). The god commands a natural transformation, nature obeys, and at once the transformation becomes the name of the place and of the god. The property of the place is now the property of Apollo. In the same way, Apollo acquires the name of the spring Telphousa, who had tried to restrict the “name” of her property to her own proper name. She at first persuaded Apollo to build his temple elsewhere, “so that the fame (κλέος) upon the land might belong to Telphousa herself and not to him who works from afar” (275–276). Once Apollo sees through her ruse, however, he charges, “Telphousa, so you were not destined to possess this lovely place by tricking my mind and to pour down beautifully-flowing water. Here indeed there will be my fame (κλέος) as well and not yours only” (379–381). With that, he buries her streams under a crag and builds an altar nearby, where “all pray to the lord with the epithet ‘Telphusian,’ because he shamed (ᾔσχυνε) the streams of holy Telphousa” (382–387). Apollo’s oracular “straight direction” thus proves itself preeminently in the case of Apollo himself: his words to Pytho and Telphousa are an efficacious prophecy of his property and proper names.
In the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, therefore, the harmonious lyre, the straight arrow, accurate speech, and proper naming all embody the power of unerring re-presentation. This mode is claimed for the voice of the god, for the voice of his surrogates, the Delian Maidens, and for the voice of the hymnist who re-presents the voice of the “blind man from Chios.” But in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, this “straight arrow” of ideal invocation is deflected by the competing and completing mode of imitation, the mode, that is, of writing.

IV. Homeric Hymn to Hermes: The Deflection of Writing

In our collection, the Homeric Hymn to Apollo is followed by the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, a text that rivals and adds to its mate. [22] There, the younger, belated god (re-)invents what “always already” existed as the property of another, in particular, the lyre, the possession of which Apollo claimed in the earlier Hymn as a condition of his oracular accuracy. In this (re-)invention of the lyre—with its repercussions in the theft of Apollo’s cattle, the exchange of the lyre for the cattle, and the subsequent character of Apollo’s oracular speech—the relation between Hermes and Apollo shows the effect of imitation through writing upon re-presentation through speech. This effect may be traced by looking at the three mediums of exchange in the hymn—the lyre, the cattle, and oracular speech—somewhat outside of chronological order: first, at the lyre, from its (re-)invention up to the point when Hermes is about to exchange it for the stolen cattle; second, at the theft for which the lyre is supposed to pay; and then, again, at the exchange of the lyre for the cattle and how that exchange affects the status of oracular speech. [23]


Right after his birth, at the point when Apollo spoke and said that his oracular power depended upon his ownership of the lyre and the bow, Hermes invents the lyre his older brother has already appropriated. He encounters it upon his threshold in the form of a living tortoise. He then apostrophizes it with the hymnal χαῖρε “hail” as χοροιτύπε “struck for the dance” and as one who “would sing very beautifully,” when dead (31, 37–38). The hymnist then calls the lyre an ἄθυρμα “plaything” (40). These terms parallel attributes of writing as analyzed by Derrida: a τύπος “struck mark,” a dead shell of the sound it reflects, living speech (λόγος ζῶν καὶ ἔμψυχος “speech living and breathing,” Plato Phaedrus 276a8), [24] a frivolous substitute, like the gardens of Adonis, for serious dialectic and the agriculture of Demeter. [25] But the analogy goes much further.
In the invention and subsequent exchange of the lyre, Hermes and Apollo themselves enact the relation between writing and speech. Hermes gives to Apollo that which Apollo originally had, that of which he is the origin, his “original” meaning, but in so doing, Hermes belies any stable, originary attribution. Here in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, this double origin of the lyre is not like the controlled pairings of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, where presence and absence, memory and oblivion, Delian and Pythian are clearly defined. It is the mobile doubling of inebriation, the doubling of deceptive imitation, in which the mind’s eye cannot logically separate the two origins, or at least not without calling one false and the other true. That sort of control by true/false opposition is, in fact, attempted in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, but without total success.
When Apollo first hears the sound of the lyre, his reaction is to insist on the absolute worth and originality of the instrument. After Hermes sings him a “Theogony” of the “deathless gods and the dark earth, how they first came into being and how each one received a portion” (427–428), Apollo declares the lyre worth fifty cattle (437) and asks about its source by posing two alternatives: was it yours “from birth” (ἐκ γενετῆς) or was it a gift from a god or a mortal? (440–442). “For,” he adds, “I hear this marvelous new-spoken voice (νεήφατον ὄσσαν), which I declare that no one ever yet has learned (δαήμεναι), neither of men nor of the immortals with homes on Olympus, except you, you thief, son of Zeus and Maia. What is this technique (τέχνη), what is this music (μοῦσα) of irremediable cares, what is this worn path (τρίβος)?” (443–448). “For although I am an attendant of the Olympian Muses,” he adds, “never have I cared for any of the clever accomplishments (ἐνδέξια ἔργα) at young men’s feasts as I care in my heart for this” (450, 453–454). So, to elicit the lyre for himself, he swears:
ἷζε, πέπον, καὶ μῦθον ἐπαίνει πρεσβυτέροισι:
νῦν γάρ τοι κλέος ἔσται ἐν ἀθανάτοισι θεοῖσι
σοί τ᾽ αὐτῷ καὶ μητρί: τὸ δ᾽ ἀτρεκέως ἀγορεύσω:
ναὶ μὰ τόδε κρανέινον ἀκόντιον, ἦ μὲν ἐγώ σε
κυδρὸν ἐν ἀθανάτοισι καὶ ὄλβιον ἡγεμόν᾽ ἕσσω [26]
δώσω τ᾽ ἀγλαὰ δῶρα καὶ ἐς τέλος οὐκ ἀπατήσω.

Sit down, dear brother, and agree to this speech of your elders,
for there will be fame for you among the immortal gods,
for you and your mother. This I will declare accurately.
I swear by this shaft of cornel wood, truly I myself shall seat you as
a leader renowned and blessed among the immortals
and I will give you shining gifts and to the end I will not deceive you.
Homeric Hymn to Hermes 457–462
By this solemn oath, he guarantees his “speech.”
Hermes responds to this μῦθος of the elder with a κερδαλέος μῦθος “gainful speech” (463) in which he describes Apollo and the lyre in a way that would seem appropriate to the god. Just as Apollo had insisted on the originality of the lyre, so Hermes first insists on Apollo’s complete “knowledge” of divine utterance:
καὶ τιμάς σέ γέ φασι δαήμεναι ἐκ Διὸς ὀμφῆς
μαντείας θ᾽ Ἐκάεργε, Διὸς παρά, θέσφατα πάντα.

And they say that from the voice of Zeus you indeed have learned the gods’ honors
and the oracles, O Far-Worker, from Zeus, all the divine decrees.
Homeric Hymn to Hermes 471–472
Then, as Apollo had called it a νεήφατος ὄσσα “new-spoken voice,” so Hermes casts the lyre as a sort of oracular voice, an instrument that accurately reflects the presence or absence of “knowledge” in its player:
ὅς τις ἂν αὐτὴν
τέχνῃ καὶ σοφίῃ δεδαημένος ἐξερεείνῃ,
φθεγγομένη παντοῖα νόῳ χαρίεντα διδάσκει
ῥεῖα συνηθείῃσιν ἀθυρομένη μαλακῇσιν,
ἐργασίην φεύγουσα δυήπαθον· ὃς δέ κεν αὐτὴν
νῆις ἐὼν τὸ πρῶτον ἐπιζαφελῶς ἐρεείνῃ,
μὰψ αὔτως κεν ἔπειτα μετήορά τε θρυλλίζοι.
σοὶ δ᾽ αὐτάγρετόν ἐστι δαήμεναι, ὅττι μενοινᾷς.

through knowledge inquires of it with technique and skill,
speaking it teaches all sorts of things pleasing to the mind,
since it is played easily with gentle familiarities,
for it flees miserable labor. Whoever
in ignorance for the first time inquires of it violently,
then just at random and off-pitch it would make a false note.
But you have only to choose to know whatever you have a mind to.
Homeric Hymn to Hermes 482–489
Such an oracular instrument would appear an appropriate λιγύφονος ἑταίρη “clear-voiced companion” (478) for Apollo, a curved shell for the arrow of knowledge and straight speech. The voice of the lyre will accurately repeat the “knowledge” of its questioner, Apollo, just as Apollo’s oracular voice will accurately repeat his “knowledge” of the βουλὴ Ζηνός “plan of Zeus” (538), the knowledge that in turn repeats Διὸς ὀμφή “the voice of Zeus” (471). The doubling here seems stable and proper, therefore, to Apollo: the lyre first belonged to Hermes and it now belongs to Apollo; to knowledgeable questioning the lyre responds harmoniously and to ignorant questioning it returns dissonance.
These doublets befit the Apollo of the double hymn. They make the lyre a proper possession for him and thus promise an even exchange for the cattle that were his property. But as soon as the exchange is made, the earlier, ambivalent character of the lyre reasserts itself. A look at the intervening theft of the cattle makes clear why. After retracing the theft for which this lyre is supposed to pay, we see that no exchange of property is even.

Cattle Exchange/Theft

When Hermes first plays the lyre, he “names his own famous-named birth” (54–59): he plays the poet of his own origin, that is, the poet of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. This “auto-tropic” naming is not satisfactory to the polytropic god, however, for it is during this song that Hermes conceives the desire for meat (κρειῶν ἐρατίζων “having eros for meat,” 64). To satisfy this craving, he initiates the exchange that is also a theft of the cattle of the gods, through the technique that is also the trick of writing. He makes the cattle walk backward and disguises his own tracks by attaching branches to his feet. As a result, the connection here between cattle and signs is more than the homologous exchange of cattle, women, and words noted by Lévi-Strauss and exemplified in the Greek meta-poetic tradition when Archilochus is said to trade his cattle for the Muses’ “gift” of poetry. [27] Here, the cattle are literally signs, or rather, it is their imprints or τύποι “struck marks” in the sand that signify. For this trick, the cattle are driven πλανοδίας (75), as the gloss of Hesychius puts it, “askew of the straight path,” by reversing the direction of their hoofs, so that these signs, like those of writing, reverse the apparent direction of the exchange and reverse also the apparent difference between owner and thief. When the hoofs are straight, they, like speech, signify their proper owner. But when they are reversed by Hermes, they are like writing, since their tracks seem to lead to Apollo, just as writing seems to signify the signified, but they in fact move away from Apollo toward the home of Hermes. Like the written sign, a secondary sign of a sign, the tracks in fact belong to or signify not the signified, but another signifier, namely, Hermes, the disguised owner, the thief who signifies the absent owner. As such, this writing is another of Hermes’ non-original originations, just as Hermes’ sacrifice will be a parodic αἴτιον “aetiological myth” of sacrifice.
Hermes’ writing is another non-original origin, this time of language, the exchange of words. Before Hermes’ theft, all the cattle were the property of the gods. Like le nom propre, they signified their “proper,” unique owner and thus could not be exchanged. But now by turning their cattle into writing signs, Hermes steals them from their proper owner and puts them into circulation. Now the cattle/signs are the property of a thief, who with his bushy sandals disguises his own footprints as those of an unidentified creature, a creature with no proper name. [28] Now the cattle/signs are like common nouns, the noun “kleenex,” for example: they can be the property of any thief, of any referent who happens to possess them. [29]
Thus the threat posed by the writing of Hermes to the speech of Apollo is the loss of original, proper identity. Unlike invocation, which takes the name in order to re-present the god, this writing attempts to appropriate Apollo’s property, to create a double with the same property as the signified. Unlike apostrophe, in which doubling is re-presentation in a different place and not an imitation, the appropriation of writing attempts to imitate the original. Hermes makes himself a double with the same property as Apollo. He disguises his own identity and takes on Apollo’s “proper name.”
Hermes’ exchange/theft is not, however, without evidence, for the path of the cattle’s tracks can be back-tracked by Apollo. Nor is Hermes’ appropriation of the stolen property totally successful, for in the parodic αἴτιον “aetiological myth” of sacrifice, the ritual that defines humans and gods, Hermes plays the role of both the god who eats and the human who craves to do so. [30] Instead of being eaten—a consummation that would separate the new owner of the cattle forever from the gods—the fat and the flesh, the leftovers of the original goods, are put up on a shelf to be the σῆμα νέης φωρῆς “sign of the recent theft” (136). The theft is not without evidence, but Apollo’s desire to re-appropriate his property is deflected by an eros for the lyre (434), just as eros for meat drives Hermes to rustle the cattle. Apollo proposes an exchange of the lyre for his cattle, and indeed, as we have seen, Hermes offers the instrument as one that would in its structure of distinct presence and absence be a suitable substitute for Apollo’s property, a gift Apollo could own. But this gift of the lyre, too, turns out to be an imperfect theft, for the lyre is revealed to retain the property of its non-original/original owner.

Oracular Voice

No sooner have Apollo and Hermes concluded the deal than Hermes invents another instrument, the voice (ἐνοπή) of the pipes, which, like “far-working” Apollo, is “heard from afar” (τηλόθ᾿ ἀκουστήν, 512). At once Apollo fears for his property, this time for both the bow and the lyre: “Son of Maia, leader, you of dazzling intelligence, I fear that you will steal from me the lyre and the bow together. For you have as your sphere of honor (τιμὴν) from Zeus to establish works of exchange (ἐπαμοίβια ἔργα θήσειν) among men throughout the fruitful earth” (514–517). In response to this fear, Apollo tries to control the movement of Hermes’ ἐπαμοίβια ἔργα, first by exacting from Hermes what he himself gave earlier to seal his word: the “swearing of a great oath” (μέγαν ὅρκον ὀμόσσαι, 518), an utterance that aims, like Apollo’s oracle, at the status of necessity, a speech that would regulate the action of writing by re-establishing proper ownership. [31] To Hermes’ promise not to steal from his possessions, Apollo promises his friendship (521–526), sealing the bond with the additional pledge to give Hermes an identifying instrument of his own:
αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα
ὄλβου καὶ πλούτου δώσω περικαλλέα ῥάβδον,
χρυσείην, τριπέτηλον, ἀκήριον ἥ σε φυλάξει
πάντας ἐπικραίνους᾽ θεμοὺς ἐπέων τε καὶ ἔργων
τῶν ἀγαθῶν, ὅσα φημὶ δαήμεναι ἐκ Διὸς ὀμφῆς.

I will give you the exceedingly beautiful wand of wealth and riches,
golden, with three branches, which will keep you unharmed,
accomplishing all the laws of both words and deeds that are
good, as many as I declare I have learned from the voice of Zeus.
Homeric Hymn to Hermes 528–532
The exchange would seem even: in return for being allowed to keep his “property,” his bow and his lyre, Apollo will give to Hermes the “property” of Hermes, his ῥάβδος “wand.” And in relation to oracular authority, Hermes would remain properly distinct from Apollo. The ῥάβδος “wand” may effect what Apollo has “learned,” but the μαντεία itself, the “oracular voice” Hermes “mentioned” before (471)—this, Apollo insists, must remain his own. Again he seeks the support of an oath, this time by appealing to the one he once swore to retain exclusive possession of oracular knowledge.
αὐτὰρ ἐγώ γε
πιστωθεὶς κατένευσα καὶ ὤμοσα καρτερὸν ὅρκον,
μή τινα νόσφιν ἐμεῖο θεῶν αἰειγενετάων
ἄλλον γ᾽ εἴσεσθαι Ζηνὸς πυκινόφρονα βουλήν.
καὶ σύ, κασίγνητε χρυσόρραπι, μή με κέλευε
θέσφατα πιφαύσκειν, ὅσα μήδεται εὐρύοπα Ζεύς.

Moreover I myself
gave a pledge and vowed and swore a strong oath,
that no other apart from me of the everlasting gods
would know the wise-witted plan of Zeus.
And so you, my brother of the golden wand, do not bid me
declare those divine decrees, as many as wide-seeing Zeus intends.
Homeric Hymn to Hermes 535–540
But here the distinction between the two gods breaks down. For the oracular speech that Apollo retains is no longer the unerring re-presentation he appropriated in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo.
Apollo is now “peritropaic” himself, “greatly bewildering (περιτροπέων) the tribes of unenviable men” (542). For the mantic god will not simply re-present his knowledge of the “plan of Zeus,” but will present to humans two sorts of signs, a double in which the true cannot be distinguished from its imitation:
ὅς τις ἂν ἔλθῃ
φωνῇ καὶ πτερύγεσσι τεληέντων οἰωνῶν:
οὗτος ἐμῆς ὀμφῆς ἀπονήσεται, οὐδ᾽ ἀπατήσω.
ὃς δέ κε μαψιλόγοισι πιθήσας οἰωνοῖσι
μαντείην ἐθέλῃσι παρὲκ νόον ἐξερεείνειν
ἡμετέρην, νοέειν δὲ θεῶν πλέον αἰὲν ἐόντων,
φήμ᾽, ἁλίην ὁδὸν εἶσιν. ἐγὼ δέ κε δῶρα δεχοίμην.

Whoever comes
by the sound and flight of significant birds,
this man will profit from my voice, nor will I deceive.
But whoever trusts in empty-speaking birds
and wishes to question our oracular voice outside our purpose
and to know more than the immortal gods,
I declare, he will come on a vain journey. But I would accept the gifts.
Homeric Hymn to Hermes 543–549
Apollo’s oracular speech is now a double in which one sign, like writing, is the indistinguishable imitation of the other, meaningful sign of speech. It offers two kinds of signs—ones not unlike the two categories of the Muses’ speech in Hesiod or the two gates of dreams in the Odyssey—one of which is common, meaningless in itself, but indistinguishable by humans from proper, meaningful speech. These signs can be read only by those who know ahead of time whether their desire to know exceeds the divine desire to reveal, that is, whether their desire transgresses the division between divine and human knowledge. But this is an exclusively divine knowledge, as far as humans are concerned. For in yet another exchange/theft, Apollo, now the twin of his younger, mercantile brother, will, as he says, “take the gifts” in any case. Apollo’s signs bear no diacritical mark.
The μαντεία “oracular voice” of Apollo is now a deceptive double, an imitation of Hermes’ writing. But the proliferation of imitative doubles does not stop here. No sooner does Apollo swear to retain μαντεία as his exclusive property than he accords to Hermes the μαντεία of the Bee Maidens (552–564). [32] He attempts to differentiate their prophecy in time, space, and authority from his current prophetic charge: the Maidens were “teachers apart (ἀπάνευθε) of the μαντεία which I practiced when still a child. But my father paid no attention” (556–557). [33] Why did the father pay no attention? Why does Apollo say so? Why other than to stress that the Maidens do not re-present what Apollo swore that he alone would re-present, namely, the βουλὴ Διός “plan of Zeus” (538)? But Apollo then counteracts this differentiation by attributing to the Maidens’ μαντεία the structure and authority of his own oracular voice: when fed honey, the Maidens “are willing to speak truth” (ἐθέλουσιν ἀληθείην ἀγορεύειν), but when deprived, they “speak false things” (ψεύδονται) (560–563). [34] Both Apollo and the Maidens speak both truth and falsehood. The one repeats the βουλὴ Διός, but the others utter ἀλήθεια “truth.” Unless the βουλὴ Διός “plan of Zeus” can be distinguished from ἀλήθεια “truth,” the two oracles are cognate. The Maidens’ μαντεία now belongs to Hermes: “inquire of them accurately,” urges Apollo, and “if you should teach a mortal man to do so, often he will hear your own voice (σῆς ὀμφῆς)” (564–566). [35] Thus the “oracular voice” of Hermes is now the deceptive double of the “exclusive” μαντεία of Apollo.
This movement of distinct into indistinct doubles, of origin into shared originality, of proper into common property, of speech into speech with the structure of writing—this movement deflects the “straight arrow” of ideal re-presentation and blurs the target. This is the movement embodied by Hermes, by his theft of Apollo’s cattle, by his gift of Apollo’s lyre, and, finally, by Apollo too, whose prophetic speech now imitates Hermes’ writing. “Polytropic” Hermes has turned the “palintropic” harmony of Apollo’s instruments into a movement that literally “turns back” upon the god. What is the extent of this movement? Does it affect only the Apollo of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes or does it include the Apollo of the earlier hymn as well? Does the ideal re-presentation of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo remain intact?

V. The Epiphany of Apollo/Hermes

If we look at the two hymns together, their modes of doubling no longer appear distinct. As the Derridean analysis “deconstructs” the distinction between original, living logos and derivative, dead writing by showing that speech “always already” shared the origin-less structure of writing, so the operation of imitation in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes exposes Apollo’s re-presentation as an imitation itself. By depriving Apollo of original possession of the lyre, the Homeric Hymn to Hermes dispossesses the earlier hymn of all that depends upon (that) original possession: the epiphany of Apollo as unique(ness) in name, prior(ness) in time, ubiquitous(ness) in space and accurate(ness) in speech. In light of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, what Apollo re-presents is not a/the “real thing,” but its appearance; not reality, but its compelling illusion. The insistent hymnic apostrophe does not completely re-present the god, but rather attempts to persuade the judging audience that the re-presentation is complete. This effort is unmistakable once the Homeric Hymn to Hermes supplements the story, but even in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo alone, it was “always already” evident. Consider again the three poetic/prophetic speakers.
In establishing the prophetic authority of Apollo, the hymn ignores the contradiction between a unique, original, ubiquitous godhead and the non-original origin of his name and place of prophecy. The territorial epithets “Pythian” and “Telphusian” reflect not “proper” naming, but the taking of another’s “proper-ty.” Apollo’s name/place is stolen property, just as the cattle Hermes stole were Apollo’s “proper name.” By exposing his “own” as originally “other,” Apollo’s theft denies any stable, originary opposition between the terms: the opposition is imposed out of a desire for ownership, but all we can “own” is the property of another. The place of Apollo’s unique role, the original re-presentation of the father, is the place of his imitative appropriation of the property of the female/earth.
A similar contradiction marks the claim of the hymnic voice to poetic preeminence. The voice of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo asks to be awarded the status of “the best,” whenever the Delian Maidens are questioned, and to be awarded it by name. Yet the name he gives to the Delian Maidens is not his “own.” In its effort to demonstrate ideal re-presentation, the hymnic apostrophe imitates the voice of “Homer.” Like generations of bards before him, the “son” tries to win the prize for his own composition by taking the name of the “father.” But now such name-taking means more than claiming the composition just performed; it means posing as the author of the fixed epic about to be repeated. Taking the name of Homer means a Hermes-like “theft” of an older poet’s “property.” This appropriation of a product “made” through writing shares the imitative structure of writing and, ironically, it will also share the ambivalent fate of the fixed epic text. For through the Hermes-like operation of writing, the Homeric Hymn to Apollo is itself fixed and “stolen”/Panhellenized by such rhapsodes as Kynaithos of Chios who (we are told in the Pindaric skholion on the Homeridae) was said to have “written” the Homeric Hymn to Apollo and first performed it in Syracuse. [36]
And what of the Delian Maidens themselves, the θεράπναι “attendants” of Apollo? It is in their song that the indecidability of re-presentation and imitation is most clear. On the one hand, the presence of the original speaker, the “each man,” establishes the difference between original and copy. But “each man” is so enchanted by the Maidens’ song that he can no longer distinguish between himself and this repetition of himself: “each man would say that he himself was speaking” (163–164). By his own testimony, the subject both asserts and denies his unique, prior status. “Each man” attributes to the Delian Maidens a re-presentation so ideal that it is indistinguishable from imitation. Like the double origin of the lyre, the mode of the Maidens’ “enchanting verisimilitude” cannot be decided. They are the θεράπναι of Hermes no less than of Apollo.
But if the imitative structure of re-presentation in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo could be detected from the start, why not do so? Why first present the claims of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo as if they were successful, and demystify them only later, in light of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes? This is the traditional order of the hymns to these two gods, an order that facilitates their epiphany: to “see” Apollo/Hermes, we must experience the theft of what we thought we owned. The rhetoric of re-presentation must be felt in all its detail, insistence, and apparent disingenuity, if we are to realize the intensity of the will behind the rhetoric, the desire of the subject to name (itself) properly. [37] We must recognize this desire in our confident acceptance of the hymn’s apparently regulated repetition: ring-composition that seems to divide space and time into distinct presence and absence and thereby to formulate true definition, the return to the origin. We must empathize with the attempt to control difference: in the separation of unerring re-presentation from deceptive imitation in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo and in the claim of the Homeridae to a living Homeric speech in the Homeric hymn over against the declining genre of epic. [38] Without partaking in the power of Apollo, we cannot see the god epiphanized in its loss. For the epiphany of Hermes is the theft of the epiphany of Apollo, a theft in exchange for the epiphany of Apollo/Hermes. What the Homeric Hymn to Hermes reveals is the indecidability of the two gods: Apollo’s desire for unique identity is a desire for what belongs to Hermes, just as Hermes’ desire is for what belongs to Apollo. In the traditional conjunction of the hymns, we see the uneasy φιλότης “affection” (Homeric Hymn to Hermes 575) of the two brothers, the compelling ἔρως “desire” for original identity, and the deconstruction of originality as the imitative desire for the origin.


[ back ] 1. An earlier version of this essay appeared in Arethusa 15 (American Classical Studies in Honor of Jean-Pierre Vernant), edited by A. Bergren and F. Zeitlin (1982) 83–108. It is a pleasure to thank David Blank, Rebecca Bushnell, Judith Engle, Bernard Frischer, and Bruce Rosenstock for invaluable assistance with that text.
[ back ] 2. See Stanford 1961:1.344–345 on ix 499 for the difficulties of the construction.
[ back ] 3. For the evidence on the archaic προοίμιον, see Koller 1956.
[ back ] 4. Fehling (1979) argues that the notion of a clan of rhapsodes from Chios named “Homeridae” may be explained as a conflation of two traditions invented independently, (1) of rhapsodes as Homeridae, an invention of Pindar to honor the rhapsodes, and (2) of a γένος in Chios called Homeridae, an invention by the genealogists on the basis of Homeric Hymn to Apollo 172, since the sources of (1) do not mention (2) and vice versa. It is the first of the two traditions that is germane to this essay.
[ back ] 5. On this process, see Nagy 1979:5–9. My argument in this essay accords with Nagy’s demonstration of the traditional character of archaic Greek poetry. In particular, I accept his theory that the names “Homer” and “Hesiod” originally denoted a traditional bardic function, rather than a single individual. The term “Homeridae” in that case would mean “sons of those poets who compose in the Homeric manner.” It is true, however, that if Homer and Hesiod were individual poets, my analysis of the connection between Homeric epic and the Homeric hymn would remain essentially the same. The issues that govern the relation between Homer and the Homeridae do not depend upon whether the “father” was one man or a whole tradition. On the sources of the Contest Between Homer and Hesiod, see Richardson 1981.
[ back ] 6. The relation between Homeric epic and the Homeric hymn would thus be a complex version of what Guillen (1971:135–58) calls genre and “counter-genre.”
[ back ] 7. For the rarity and function of apostrophe in epic, see Parry 1973.
[ back ] 8. Compare Svenbro (1976:16–34) who analyzes the Muses in epic as the embodiment of the audience’s control over the content of the poet’s song: in order to receive payment or support for his composition, the poet must express what the audience wants to hear, the local traditions of their heritage, values, and beliefs. In the case of both Homeric genres, it is the audience who would actually supply or determine what the poet attributes to the god invoked.
[ back ] 9. The complex beginning/end status of the Homeric hymn vis-à-vis Homeric epic is reflected here in the conventional diction of the genre.
[ back ] 10. On the “motivated” or “natural” signifier, see Todorov 1977:14–33. For an example, see Jakobson 1971 on “Mama” and “Papa” and the analysis of the pa/ma structure by Fineman 1980.
[ back ] 11. See above, n. 4.
[ back ] 12. Compare Svenbro 1976:42–45.
[ back ] 13. The difference between re-presentation and imitation in language is parallel to the distinction drawn by Vernant in the realm of plastic art between “symbol” and “image.” See Vernant 1975 and 1975–1976, in particular 1976:23: “The symbol supposes two levels, the natural and the supernatural, levels opposed but between which, by a play of correspondences, communication sometimes is established, the supernatural bursting into nature in order to ‘epiphanize’ there in the form of those double entities one of whose faces is visible, while the other face remains turned toward the invisible. The image is not of the order of an epiphany; it is a semblance, a simple appearance. Product of an imitation, it has no other reality than a similarity with that which it is not. Its semblance is a false-semblance. Over against the dualities, nature–supernature and visible–invisible, it establishes a new dimension, another domain: the fictive, the illusory, that indeed which defines the nature of muthos in the eyes of the Greeks, when they wish to devalue it by opposing it to the true discourse of proofs, to the logos: a fiction” (translation mine). Vernant locates the “symbol” in the archaic period and sees the “image” as a product of the post-Parmenidean experience of Attic drama (1977–1978:454). In archaic poetry, however, we find “imitation” when Helen imitates the voices of the Greek wives (Odyssey iv 278–279; see “Helen’s ‘Good Drug’” in this collection) and in the visual sphere when Apollo makes an εἴδωλον “image” of Aeneas around which the Greeks and the Trojans fight (Iliad V 449–52).
[ back ] 14. On the dating of the hymns by linguistic criteria, see Janko 1982, and on their arrangement in our corpus, Van der Valk 1976.
[ back ] 15. Page (1955:244) notes: “The first book of Alcaeus in the Alexandrian edition began with two hymns, the first addressed to Apollo, the second to Hermes.” Compare the frequent depiction of Apollo and Hermes together in vase painting, in particular the late 6th century bce skyphos with Apollo playing the lyre on one side and Hermes playing the pipes on the other (Zanker 1965:56–58, 71–76, plates 1 and 2).
[ back ] 16. Derrida 1972a, esp. 95–107.
[ back ] 17. This manipulation of the signals of close and opening depends upon the conventional linkage of these two critical points in a Homeric hymn via the same phraseology: the opening (apostrophe or “I will remember . . .”) matching the close (apostrophe and “I will remember . . .”).
[ back ] 18. The reading here of νoμοὶ follows Cassola 1975. In his Oxford text, Allen reads νομός, adjusting the accent from the manuscript’s νόμος. On the question of whether the noun should be singular or plural here and whether νομοί from νομός “place of pasturage, field, range” or νόμοι from νόμος “melody, type of song” should be read, see AHS:204 on 20.
[ back ] 19. On the formal, unifying function of ring-composition in the Delian hymn, see Niles 1979.
[ back ] 20. For the translation of θεράπνη and θεράπων as “ritual substitute” on the basis of cognate usage in Hittite, see Nagy 1979:33 with bibliography.
[ back ] 21. On the basis of close analysis of archaic hymnic conventions, especially the diction of opening, transition, and closing, Miller (1979) argues convincingly for the unity of the Delian and Pythian hymn(s) against the “Ruhnkenite” separatists. He shows how “both the epilogic force of 165–176 and the proemial force of 177–178 make perfect sense . . . if the passage as a whole is understood as transitional rather than final, effecting a return to the main subject from a subsidiary topic of merely temporary interest” (181), and attributes the appeal of the separatist view to an “a priori skepticism that automatically denies rhetorical sophistication to ‘primitive’ poets and rejects its imputation by others as rampant subjectivism” (184). My analysis is based upon the assumption of just such “rhetorical sophistication,” insofar as I am trying to prove that Miller’s “unity of two parts” is both a persistent formal feature and also an overt theme of the text.
[ back ] 22. The entire Homeric Hymn to Hermes is studied by Kahn 1978 in an example of the interpretive potential of lexicologie structurale. Each critical term, every important theme is analyzed both in the hymn itself and throughout Greek literature according to structuralist principles; the result is a dazzling network of insights.
[ back ] 23. Applying the semiology of Roland Barthes, Klein (1980) establishes a homology between poetry and cattle exchange in the hymn.
[ back ] 24. Compare Derrida 1972a.
[ back ] 25. For the relation between the gardens of Adonis and writing in the Phaedrus, see Toubeau 1972, a review of Derrida 1972a and Detienne 1972a.
[ back ] 26. For the reading, see Cassola 1975:538–539 on 461.
[ back ] 27. On the exchange of women and signs, see Lévi-Strauss 1967:548–570 = 1969:478–497. For the “Life of Archilochus” preserved in the Mnesiepes inscription from Paros, see Treu 1959:40–45. Compare Nagy 1979:303.
[ back ] 28. When he sees the tracks, Apollo himself declares he cannot name the maker of the second set: “Oh, oh! Truly a great marvel (θαῦμα) is this I behold with my eyes. These, indeed, are the tracks of straight-horned cattle, but they have been turned back toward the flowery meadow. But these others are not the footprints of either man or woman or grey wolves or bears or lions, nor do I expect that they are those of a shaggy-necked Centaur—whoever makes such monstrous footprints with swift feet” (Homeric Hymn to Hermes 219–225).
[ back ] 29. The example of “kleenex,” now a common noun meaning “tissue” and before the proper name of “Kleenex tissue,” is offered by Bruce Rosenstock.
[ back ] 30. Kahn 1978:43–47. Kahn makes an astute point about the temporal status of Hermes’ sacrifice: in the world of the hymn, sacrifice as the mark of human/divine definition already exists before Hermes’ slaughter of the cattle, for his conversation with the old vine worker (87–93) proves that the human world of agriculture is already constituted apart from the world of the gods. Hermes’ sacrifice is thus not a true “first,” but an aition of what “always already” existed.
[ back ] 31. Apollo’s trust in a μέγαν ὅρκον “great oath” from Hermes here would seem to forget his earlier offer to swear a μέγαν ὅρκον that he had not stolen Apollo’s cattle, “whatever cattle may be” (274–277). Perhaps Apollo’s confidence stems from the fact that this is to be a “great oath of the gods” sworn either “by nodding with your head or by the mighty water of the river Styx” (518–519). Compare AHS:264 on 518.
[ back ] 32. On the identity and connotations of the Bee Maidens, see Scheinberg 1979.
[ back ] 33. On the possible senses of ἀπάνευθε “apart” here, see Scheinberg 1979:10.
[ back ] 34. These two categories of the Bee Maidens’ speech parallel those of the Muses who speak ψεύδεα ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα “false things like to real things” and ἀληθέα “true things” εὖτ’ ἐθέλωμεν “whenever they wish” (Hesiod Theogony 26–28). Compare Scheinberg 1979:11 and “Language and the Female in Early Greek Thought” in this collection.
[ back ] 35. For the linkage of the oracular power of Apollo to repeat the voice of Zeus with that of the Bee Maidens and Hermes through the use of the noun ὀμφή “voice” and the common property of uttering both truth and falsehood, see Scheinberg 1979:11, 27–28.
[ back ] 36. On Kynaithos, see Wade-Gery 1967.
[ back ] 37. This will to unique identity seems no less inevitable than its deconstruction. Compare de Man (1979:111) apropos of the critique of metaphysics in Nietzsche: “the idea of individuation, of the human subject as a privileged viewpoint, is a mere metaphor by means of which man projects himself from his insignificance by forcing his own interpretation of the world upon the entire universe, substituting a human-centered set of meanings that is reassuring to his vanity for a set of meanings that reduces him to a mere transitory accident in the cosmic order. The metaphorical substitution is aberrant but no human self could come into being without this error. Faced with the truth of its nonexistence, the self would be consumed as an insect is consumed by the flame that attracts it.”
[ back ] 38. In its effort to control difference the Homeric Hymn to Apollo anticipates the text of Plato, where the problem of repetition is also treated through attempted regulation of its two forms: the two kinds of εἴδωλα, the εἰκών and the φάντασμα (Sophist 236a–c, 241e3); the two kinds of memory, μνήμη and ὑπόμνησις (Phaedrus 275a); and the two forms of linguistic signification, the living logos and the written word (Phaedrus 274c–277a).