The Homeric Hymns are a collection of thirty three poems designed to be recited before a piece of epic poetry in formal situations and at competitions. The Hymns were primarily dedicated to various Greek Immortals but three were written for mortal men who later attained immortality, i.e. Herakles, Asklepios and the Dioskuri, i.e. the "Sons of God," Kastor and Polydeukes.
The Homeric Hymns have come down to us from manuscripts dating to the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries CE with several fragments from papyrus dating to the third century CE. The collection of Hymns we have today is assumed to be a faithful representation of the Hymns as they appeared in the first century CE where they are mentioned as a collection by Diodorus Siculus and Philodemus, and are assumed to be a product of the scholars of Alexandria, Egypt.
The name "Homeric Hymns" is not as accurate as we might wish it to be. In the History of the Peloponnesian War [book 3.104.4], the historian Thukydides credited Homer as the author of the Hymns but it seems to have been common knowledge that the Hymns were written by a variety of different authors over a period of several hundred years. The earliest date generally ascribed to any of the Hymns is the late seventh century BCE and the last was composed sometime after the fifth century BCE. Later authors refer to the poems as Hymns and then started referring to the entire collection as the Hymns of Homer and the name, whether literally or historically accurate, seems to have become the accepted name for this collection of poems.
The authors of the Hymns referred to themselves as Homeridai, i.e. Sons of Homer. This assumed name was not intended to declare Homer as their literal father but more as a token of respect for the greatest epic poet of the Greek world. The Hymns were actually referred to as Prohoimia, i.e. that which proceeds the theme of the narrative. The Homeridai would recite a Hymn before they recited an epic poem or an episode from an epic.
One of the most notable aspects when comparing the Hymns to one another is the varied lengths of the poems. Several are hundreds of lines and many are less than ten lines. The following list presents the Hymns in their accepted order:
|Dionysos I||Demeter II||Apollon III||Hermes IV|
|21 lines||495 lines||556 lines||582 lines|
|Aphrodite V||Aphrodite VI||Dionysos VII||Ares VIII|
|293 lines||21 lines||59 lines||17 lines|
|Artemis IX||Aphrodite X||Athene XI||Hera XII|
|9 lines||6 lines||5 lines||5 lines|
|Demeter XIII||Mother of the Gods XIV||Herakles XV||Asklepios XVI|
|3 lines||6 lines||9 lines||5 lines|
|Dioskuri XVII||Hermes XVIII||Pan XIX||Hephaistos XX|
|5 lines||12 lines||49 lines||8 lines|
|Apollon XXI||Poseidon XXII||Son of Kronos XXIII||Histia XXIV|
|5 lines||7 lines||4 lines||5 lines|
|Muses and Apollon XXV||Dionysos XXVI||Artemis XXVII||Athene XXVIII|
|7 lines||13 lines||22 lines||18 lines|
|Histia XXIX||Gaia XXX||Helios XXXI||Selene XXXII|
|13 lines||19 lines||20 lines||20 lines|