What the Heart Shall Never Lose: The Role of Divine Emotions in the Homeric Hymns

Woram, Sidney, Classics - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Petrovic, Ivana, University of Virginia

This dissertation employs approaches and methodologies from the field of emotion studies to transform our current understanding of ancient Greek religion. I examine the gods’ emotions in the long Homeric Hymns and the role they play in enabling the poet to fulfill the purposes of the hymnic genre: namely, to define, praise, and gratify the gods. This dissertation argues that the wide range of divine emotions expressed throughout the long Hymns constitutes a crucial element in the poet’s portrayal of each divinity’s nature, spheres of influence, and mode of interaction with mortal worshippers. I also examine the way in which divine emotions instruct mortals, both those in the Hymns and those in the external audience, about how to properly form a reciprocal relationship with the divine.
Chapters One and Two provide the theoretical foundation for my study. In Chapter One, I survey the topics of greatest significance to emotion studies in general and to classics, in particular. I address the complex issue of the definition of ‘emotion’ and likewise explore questions about the roles of cognition and culture in the elicitation of emotions. In Chapter Two, I position myself in relation to current work being done on ancient emotions and study those emotions most frequently felt in the long Homeric Hymns (anger, desire, love, surprise and wonder, grief, and joy). By means of this analysis, I develop a working sense of these emotions and their ‘scripts’—that is, the prototypical series of actions, experiences, and thoughts that constitute any given emotion.
In subsequent chapters, I apply the theoretical frameworks developed in Chapters One and Two to the long Homeric Hymns. In Chapter Three, I examine the Hymn to Demeter and find that grief serves to distance the eponymous goddess from her immortality and anchor her in the experience of mortal suffering. Anger, however, restores Demeter to her divinity and transforms her into a true threat to Zeus and Olympian stability. The poet of Demeter also portrays Demeter’s emotions as responding to Persephone’s own, thus using emotions as a means of fleshing out the goddesses’ relationship.
In Chapter Four, I show that the emotions of the Hymn to Apollo are inextricably linked to questions of genealogy and order, as well as Apollo’s relationship to mankind. The hymn presents the joyful gift of music as one that enables mortals to transcend their humanity and experience the divine. Throughout the hymn, however, Apollo himself remains strikingly impassive, suggesting to the audience that Apollo’s identity is defined by a lack of emotion. In Chapter Five, we see that the Hymn to Hermes deliberately and systematically challenges this presentation of Apollo. Hermes’s hymnist plucks out and inverts key emotional patterns from the Hymn to Apollo to transform Apollo from an impassive divinity into a highly emotional god. This change enables the hymnist to exult Hermes and his greatest invention: a peaceful and affectionate reconciliation with a historically violent opponent. Finally, Chapter Six examines the way in which divine emotions in the Hymn to Aphrodite emphasize the overwhelming nature of Aphrodite’s abilities while also revealing the hymn’s deep irony. As the hymn draws to a close, emotions illustrate that intimacy between Aphrodite and mortals results in joy for the latter but grief for the former.
The project concludes with the realization that the Hymns exhibit significantly greater interest in the aims of the gods’ emotions, and their implications for the structure of the Olympian hierarchy, than they do in whether a god’s emotion is justified in its origin or its appearance consistent with its script. Moreover, the narrative of each of the long Hymns presents joy as the paradigmatic emotion that engenders relationships between gods and men and bridges the gap between mortality and immortality.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
emotions, Homeric Hymns, Ancient Greek religion
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