Order of the Shining Helmet of Athena: Hymns of Athena

The Classic Hymns of Athena

Compiled by Linda Iles

The Homeric Hymns

The Homeric Hymns consist of thirty-three works that are traditionally ascribed to Homer, though some argue that there is a distinct influence in diction and literary style which points to Hesiod. They are the last major collection of poetry that is classified as part of the ancient Greek ‘Epic School.’ The time of their creation seems to be a bit later than the Iliad and the Odyssey, though exact dating of this collection of classic literature has so far been unsuccessful. Diodorus is the first to mention the existence of such a body of work. The ‘Hymn to Apollo’ is mentioned by Thucydides and some scholars feel it is conceivable that the Homeric collection was arranged in the Alexandrine era.

Thucydides refers to the ‘Hymn to Apollo’ as a ‘proimion’- a type of prelude chanted by a rhapsode before recitation of a lay from Homer. Some of the other Homeric Hymns, such as no. 6, no. 31, and no. 32 serve as good illustrations of this concept. There are two Homeric Hymns written about the Goddess Athena, one extolling her virtues (hymn no. 11) and the other recounting her birth (hymn no. 28).

To Athena (Homeric Hymn, no. 11)

I begin to sing of Pallas Athena, the dread Protectress of the city,

who with Ares looks after matters of war,

the plundering of cities, the battle-cry and the fray.

It is She who protects the people, wherever they might come or go.

Hail, Goddess, and give us good spirits and blessed favor!

Hymn to Athena (Homeric Hymn, no. 28)

I begin to sing of Pallas Athena, the glorious Goddess, bright-eyed,

inventive, unbending of heart,

pure virgin, saviour of cities,

courageous, Tritogeneia. Wise Zeus himself bare her

from his awful head, arrayed in warlike arms

of flashing gold, and awe seized all the gods as they gazed.

But Athena sprang quickly from the immortal head

and stood before Zeus who holds the aegis,

shaking a sharp spear: great Olympus began to reel horribly

at the might of the bright-eyed Goddess,

and earth round about cried fearfully,

and the sea was moved and tossed with dark waves,

while foam burst forth suddenly:

the bright Son of Hyperion stopped his swift-footed horses a long while,

until the maiden Pallas Athena had stripped the heavenly armour

from her immortal shoulders.

And wise Zeus was glad.

And so hail to you, daughter of Zeus who holds the aegis!

Now I will remember you and another song as well.

The Orphic Hymn to Athena

The Orphic Hymns consist of eighty-seven ritual invocations which were used by initiates of the Orphic mystery cult. The dates of their composition have been determined as between 100 and 150 BCE.

Orphism is a mystic cult of Hellenic religion in the Greco-Roman era, drawn from the creative works of the poet and musician Orpheus of ancient legend. Passages from these works, in the form of inscriptions on gold tablets, have been found in the graves of Orphic followers from the 6th century BCE. These fragmentary writings indicate that Orphic Mysteries were centered around stories of the God Dionysus Zagreus, the son of Zeus and Persephone.

Zeus wished to make his son Dionysus Zagreus ruler of the universe, which the Titans refused to allow. In a rage they fell upon the young God and dismembered and devoured him. But Athena was able to rescue his heart, which she then brought to Zeus. From it, he was able to create a new Dionysus. After this Zeus destroyed the Titans with lightning and from their ashes created the human race. As a result, humans had a dual nature. Their earthly body was the heritage of the earth-born Titans, while their soul came from the divine essence or nature of the original Dionysus whose remains had been interspersed within the bodies of the Titans.

The belief system of the Orphic Mysteries stated people should strive to rid themselves of the Titanic or gross elements in their nature and preserve the divine Dionysiac nature of their being. The Orphic rites centered around acts of purification and a life of asceticism. Through a long series of reincarnations, people would prepare for a final glorious afterlife. Once they were able to live in complete holiness, their souls would be completely liberated from the gross Titanic elements of their being and would go to live with the gods and goddesses, reunited with their own original Dionysiac divinity. This Orphic Hymn celebrates Athena as the Goddess of Divine Wisdom, Who is able to rescue the hidden divinity of the human soul found within the heart.

To Pallas Athena, with an Incense of Aromatic Herbs

(An Orphic Hymn)

Pallas, you only-begotten One, born of mighty Zeus, awesome you are, and divine:

Goddess so blessed, lifting high the turmoil of the fray,

Mighty One unspeakable yet so well spoken of!

Great-named One at home in a vault of stone,

Caught up in haughty hills and wandering the shaded mountain's ridge,

You who put a dance in the heart and glory in embattlements,

You can put the sting of mania into a mortal soul!

Athletic Maiden with a heart sublime,

Slayer of the Gorgon, fugitive of the bridal bed,

Mother of Art in all your abundance, catalyst of progress!

You bring folly to the corrupt and a sense of purpose to the pure!

Indeed, you are male and female in one,

Patron of war and wisdom,

You are fluid of form, a dragon,

Infused with inspiration of the Gods!

Rightly-honored One, who brought Phlegran giants down to defeat,

You driver of steeds, Tritogeneia, save us from evil, bearing Victory in your arms!

Day and night, eternally, in even the loneliest hours,

Hear my prayer, and grant us an abundant peace, fulfillment, good health.

Make prosperous the hour, gray-eyed One, inventor of Art,

The object of the people's ceaseless prayers--

My Queen!

Proclus' Hymn to Athena

Harleian MSS, British Museum

translated by Thomas Taylor

Daughter of aegis-bearing Jove, divine,

Propitious to thy vot'ries prayer incline;

From thy great father's fount supremely bright,

Like fire resounding, leaping into light.

Shield-bearing goddess, hear, to whom belong

A manly mind, and power to tame the strong!

Oh, sprung from matchless might, with joyful mind

Accept this hymn; benevolent and kind!

The holy gates of wisdom by thy hand

Are wide unfolded; and the daring band

Of earth-born giants, that in impious fight

Strove with thy sire, were vanquish'd by thy might.

Once by thy care, as sacred poets sing,

The heart of Bacchus, swiftly-slaughter'd king,

Was sav'd in aether, when, with fury fir'd,

The Titans fell against his life conspir'd;

And with relentless rage and thirst for gore,

Their hands his members into fragments tore:

But ever watchful of thy father's will,

Thy pow'r preserv'd him from succeeding ill,

Till from the secret counsels of his sire,

And born from Semele through heav'nly fire,

Great Dionysius to the world at length

Again appear'd with renovated strength.

Once, too, thy warlike axe, with matchless sway,

Lopp'd from their savage necks the heads away

Of furious beasts, and thus the pests destroy'd

Which long all-seeing Hecate annoy'd.

By thee benevolent great Juno's might

Was rous'd, to furnish mortals with delight:

And through life's wide and various range 'tis thine

Each part to beautify with arts divine:

Invigorated hence by thee, we find

A demiurgic impulse in the mind.

Towers proudly rais'd, and for protection strong,

To thee, dread guardian, deity belong,

As proper symbols of th'exalted height

Thy series claims amidst the courts of light.

Lands are belov'd by thee to learning prone,

And Athens, O Athena, is thy own!

Great goddess, hear! and on my dark'ned mind

Pour thy pure light in measure unconfin'd;

- That sacred light, O all-protecting queen,

Which beams eternal from thy face serene:

My soul, while wand'ring on the earth, inspire

With thy own blessed and impulsive fire;

And from thy fables, mystic and divine,

Give all her powers with holy light to shine.

Give love, give wisdom, and a power to love,

Incessant tending to the realms above;

Such as, unconscious of base earth's control,

Gently attracts the vice-subduing soul;

From night's dark region aids her to retire,

And once more gain the palace of her sire:

And if on me some just misfortune press,

Remove th'affliction, and thy suppliant bless.

All-Saving goddess, to my prayer incline!

Nor let those horrid punishments be mine

Which guilty souls in Tartarus confine,

With fetters fast'ned to its brazen floors,

And lock'd by hell's tremendous iron doors.

Hear me, and save (for power is all thy own)

A soul desirous to be thine alone.

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