Helaine L. Smith. Homer and the Homeric Hymns: Mythology for Reading and Composition

By Mason, Henry | Style, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

Helaine L. Smith. Homer and the Homeric Hymns: Mythology for Reading and Composition


Mason, Henry, Style


Helaine L. Smith. Homer and the Homeric Hymns: Mythology for Reading and Composition. Lanham-Boulder-New York-Toronto-Plymouth, UK: University Press of America, 2011. xxvi + 220 pp.

The main events of the Trojan War or Odysseus' wanderings are easy to find out. But reading the Homeric epics themselves can be a daunting prospect for the uninitiated: Greek poets did not need to explain the social customs of their own society, nor was it necessary for them to supply the mythological or religious background to the stories they told. There exist concise "companions" to English translations of the Iliad and Odyssey which will elucidate many of the resultant obscurities, but these companions tend towards empirical detail at the expense of literary appreciation. In any case, even with the limited help of the companions there remains the problem of selection: how is the student supposed to locate the most significant and interesting passages from among the 28,000-odd verses that make up the Iliad and Odyssey?

This textbook, intended for Reading and Composition classes in high school and the early stages of college, is designed to meet this need. A brief survey of Homeric gods and poetry is followed by fifteen chapters which justify and substantiate the conclusions advanced in the Introduction. Rather than dryly summarizing the attributes of and myths relating to each divinity and hero, the author offers excerpts from the Iliad, Odyssey, and Homeric Hymns themselves. The inclusion of the Homeric Hymns is particularly welcome, since these attractive poems are frequently passed over in surveys of Greek literature, even though they are chronologically not far removed from the Iliad and Odyssey and belong to the same poetic tradition as the longer epics. The translated passages are furnished with supplementary information sufficiently concise not to overwhelm the reader. Each chapter is rounded off with questions for class discussion and a choice of creative and analytical exercises (together with sample answers). The book has three useful indexes but, regrettably, no guide to further reading.

Smith concentrates on episodes in which gods and humans interact with one another, as it is in these scenes that the contrasts between the divine and mortal worlds are most sharply and poignantly expressed. On this peg the author successfully hangs many wider observations about the mythology, thought, and poetic technique of the Greeks. In her modest compass Smith finds space for the majority of the Homeric pantheon, and, more importantly, her choice of passages captures the emotional range of the Greek gods: we are given Apollo's enraged descent from Olympus, Athena's wry sense of humor, Demeter's maternal anguish, and much else besides. Smith introduces the reader to some of the finest and most memorable scenes in Homeric poetry.

The excerpts from the poems themselves are interspersed with background material and summaries of intervening developments in the plot. Running footnotes are used to convey a variety of material, including vocabulary, literary-critical terminology, antiquarian details, and literary comment. The comments on literary aspects are the most substantial contribution and are full of pertinent observations, particularly on characterization. Aristotle in the Poetics praises Homer for making such extensive use of direct speech and exercising restraint in narratorial comment. For students of English literature, accustomed as they are to novelists' extended descriptions of individuals' inner workings, this reticence can be disconcerting. Smith, however, is alive to the subtleties of what is said and left unsaid, and by probing between the lines she is able to offer insights into the characters' psychology and hidden intentions.

Equally perceptive are the comments on modifications of "type scenes' conventional narrative sequences that describe activities such as feasting or the reception of a guest. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Helaine L. Smith. Homer and the Homeric Hymns: Mythology for Reading and Composition
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.