ALTHOUGH other poets of the early period also wrote epics Presenting Thebes, or Pelops' line, Or the tale of Troy divine,
not one of them seems to have shown the greatness of Iliad and Odyssey, and only a few fragments remain. Like the civilization of its birthplace Ionia, on the western edge of Asia Minor where life was softer than in the Greek motherland, the Homeric epic was a spring-flower; first to bloom and first to fade. Yet in its decline this Homeric tradition could still produce most of the so-called 'Homeric Hymns.' They are not comparable with Iliad or Odyssey. Mortals are usually better subjects for poetry than gods. But the six best of these poems deserve far more readers than they have found.
In all, our collection of 'Homeric Hymns' contains thirty-four pieces. Four of them -- those to Apollo, Aphrodite, Demeter, and Hermes -- are of some length (290-580 lines); two -- those to Pan and Dionysus -- are briefer (49 and 59 lines); the rest are very short (3-22 lines) and presumably mere preludes to longer recitals.
The four longest seem the oldest. Indeed the Hymn to Apollo is assigned to Homer himself by Thucydides, who quotes its old poet's final farewell to the daughters of Dēlos. All, however, must be later than Iliad and Odyssey. Aphrodite and the Dēlian section of Apollo seem perhaps as old as the eighth century; Demeter and Hermes probably seventh-century; and the rest younger.
The first half of the Hymn to Apollo, here translated, seems composed 1 for the God's festival on Dēlos. We have to imagine ourselves on a little islet of yellow sand and granite, three miles long, with, in its midst, the low granite hill (370 feet) of sacred Cynthus. It is crowded with pilgrims for the festival; as they still crowd to the neighbouring isle of Tēnos for the festival of the Virgin, during which the Italians treacherously torpedoed the Greek cruiser Helle in 1940. Round the horizon of Mediterranean blue____________________