Pagan Hymns

This page, still very much under construction, will (I hope) eventually cover all the pagan hymns of Greco-Roman antiquity, with brief descriptions and (in the future) information about editions, translations, and scholarship. Secondarily, I intend to do the same for later texts modelled on classical hymns. To what extent I will ever include non-Greco-Roman texts, or the hymns of the medieval magical traditions, I don't know yet.

General Bibliography
Bernand, Inscriptions métriques de l'Égypte gréco-romaine, 1969, esp. p. 631-652
Bortolani, Magical Hymns from Roman Egypt. A Study of Greek and Egyptian Traditions of Divinity, 2016
Cassio & Cerri, L'inno tra rituale e letteratura nel mondo antico. Atti di un colloquio Napoli, 21-24 ottobre 1991, 1991
Danielewicz, De elementis hymnicis in Sapphus Alcaei Anacreontisque carminibus obviis quaestiones selectae, 1974
Engelmann, Die delische Sarapisaretalogie, 1964
Engelmann, The Delian Aretalogy of Sarapis, 1975
Faraone & Obbink, Magika Hiera. Ancient Greek Magic and Religion, 1991
Furley, Praise and Persuasion in Greek hymns, 1995
Furley & Bremer, Greek Hymns. Selected Cult Songs from the Archaic to the Hellenistic period, 2 vols., 2001
Grandjean, Une nouvelle arétalogie d' Isis à Maronée, 1975
Kiley, Prayer from Alexander to Constantine. A Critical Anthology, 1997
Merkelbach & Stauber, Steinepigramme aus dem griechischen Osten, vol. 2, 2001, no. 09/01/02
Nilsson, Die Geschichte der griechischen Religion, 1955, vol. II, p. 216-7
Peek, Der Isishymnos von Andros und verwandte Texte, 1930


1. Archaic to Hellenistic period
A) complete hymns in manuscript transmission

Homeric Hymns
Although the most well-known set of ancient hymns today, the Homeric Hymns are not typical of the genre, as they were not intended for use at sacred rites. Instead, they were prooimia or introductory songs preceding epic recitation, or in the case of some of the longer pieces, were the center pieces of such recitation. Although attributed to Homer in antiquity, they are later than the Iliad and Odyssey and manifestly composed by several different poets.

The hymns are addressed to Dionysus (1; 7; 26), Demeter (2), Apollon (3; 21), Hermes (4; 18), Aphrodite (5; 6; 10), [Ares (8),] Artemis (9; 27), Athena (11; 28), Hera (12), Demeter (13), Meter Theon (14), Heracles (15), Asclepius (16), the Dioscuri (17; 33), Pan (19), Hephaestus (20), Poseidon (22), Zeus Cronides (23), Hestia (24; 29), the Muses and Apollon (25), Earth Mother of All (30), Helios (31), Selene (32). There's also one non-hymnic poem in the corpus.

Alcaeus' hymns
...  paean to Apollon (fr. 307c Voigt), hymn to the Dioscuri (fr. 34 Lobel & Page), hymn to Hera, Zeus and Dionysus (fr. 129 Voigt) ... (etc.)
Anacreon's hymns
... request to Dionysos (Poetae Melici Graeci 357), bow to Artemis (fr. 358) ... (etc.)
Attic skolia
... to Athena (PGM 884), to Demeter and Persephone (885), to Leto, Apollon and Artemis (886), to Pan (887), ...

Orphic Hymn to Zeus
Unrelated to the much later set of Orphic Hymns, the various versions of this startling hymn must be regarded as having played an important role both in the popularization of Near Eastern ideas and in shaping the philosophical understanding of the nature of Zeus and the world.

Aristotle's Hymn to Virtue
Arguably the first allegorical hymn, Aristotle composed this in honor of a deceased friend, Hermias. It seems to me inconsistent with Aristotle's metaphysics to think that he meant it as an address to a living deity, and so it might be regarded as really a "praise of virtue" rather than a "praise of Virtue".

(Nevertheless, Aristotle was still a polytheist, and most ancient hymns to "personifications" are really not that; i.e., they were not addressed to personalized conceptions of abstract entities, but to entities which have since been depersonalized.)

Cleanthes' Hymn to Zeus
This famous philosophical hymn, unlike that of Aristotle, is not allegorical, although it is often said to be. But against these interpretations, the text does not speak about the "god of the philosophers" in terms of the "traditional god" Zeus, but instead gives a philosophically grounded description of Zeus. The Stoic World God is in many ways a development of earlier ideas about the king of the gods, and not born of a "natural religion" opposed to "traditional religion" - that is a narrative of Christian apologetics.

Callimachus' Hymns
Written partly on the model of the Homeric Hymns, these are some of the most artful representatives of the genre. Unlike their Homeric models, these pieces present themselves as part of communal ritual, but they do not seem to actually be intended for use in public cult.

Hymn 1 is to Zeus, 2 to Apollon, 3 to Artemis, 4 to the island of Delos, 5 on the bath of Pallas, 6 to Demeter.

Hymns in Theocritus's Idylls
The famous bucolic poet also wrote a hymn to the Dioscuri (22), and a lament for Adonis in poem 15.

Melinno's Hymn to Rome
Carmen Arvale
Carmen Saliare

Bion's Lament for Adonis
Bion of Smyrna's poem 1 is not exactly a hymn, but a literary adaptation of the cultic genre of lamentation songs for Adonis.

1. Archaic to Hellenistic period
B) fragments and rediscovered texts
(?) Alcaeus

Ariphron's Paean to Hygieia
Ariphron of Sycion (fl. around 400 BCE) wrote a hymn to Health for cultic use that was still famous in the Roman imperial period. An inscription of it was found at Epidaurus.

The Erythraean Paean to Apollon
A very popular paean in antiquity, written ca. 380-360 BCE. First found at Erythrae, but there are now four known inscriptions carrying this text.

Aristonous' hymns
A 4th-century BCE Corinthian poet, Aristonous wrote a Paean to Apollon and a Hymn to Hestia for cultic use, found in an inscription at Delphi.

Philodamus' Paean to Dionysus
Written for cultic use in Athens, this might have been one of the earliest paeans - a genre originally devoted to Apollon - addressing a different god. It was rediscovered in an inscription.

Isyllus' hymns
Isyllus of Epidaurus wrote a paean and a hymn for the famous Asclepius cult of Epidaurus around 300 BCE. Found with an elaborate introduction as an inscription at Epidaurus.

Limenius and [Ath]enaeus' Paeans to Apollon
These poems, dated to 127 BCE and composed for cultic use, were found in the treasury of the Athenians at Delphi. Both poets' pieces are accompanied by musical notes in the rediscovered inscriptions.

Isidorus' Hymns to Isis
Written by Isidorus for a temple in the Egyptian Fayum in the early 1st century BCE, where they were also inscribed, these Greek-language hymns (to Hermouthis-Isis) show a strong continuity with older Egyptian traditions, but also the integration of this tradition into a wider Hellenistic world.

Vanderlip, The Four Greek Hymns of Isidorus and the Cult of Isis, 1972

Macedonicus of Amphipolis' Paean to Asclepius
This hymn was found combined with the Erythraean Paean (see above) in an Athenian inscription.

1. Archaic to Hellenistic period
C) Hymnic passages in texts of other genres


See under 1.A.

2. Roman period
A) Complete verse hymns in manuscript transmission

Catullus' hymn to Diana (carm. 34)

Horace's Carmen Saeculare
One of the few extant Latin hymns composed for cultic use, this poem was written for the Secular Games held by Augustus. Among the other sources about this occasion, there is the Sibylline oracle commanding the games to be held, with some quite specific instructions, preserved by Phlegon of Tralles.

Horace's literary hymns
Beside the Carmen Saeculare, Horace also wrote many literary hymns for his carmina or "Odes", including both 'real' hymns (1.10 to Mercury; 1.12 to a group of gods; 1.21 to Diana and Apollo; 1.30 to Venus; 1.35 to Fortuna; 2.19 and 3.25 to Bacchus; 3.18 to Faunus) and other pieces which use to the form (e.g. 1.32 to the lyre; also 3.13, 3.21). See also carm. 3.4 and 3.22.

(?) Priapea
Propertius 3.17
Seneca's translation of Cleanthes' Hymn to Zeus

Caesius Bassus' hymn to Liber (FPL 2)
Although Bassus was an accomplished Latin-language lyric poet, this rather simple hymn seems to be written to demonstrate a poetic metre. It is found in his treatise on metres.

Naassene hymns
The Naassenes, a heterodox early Christian group known from Hippolytus' Refutation of All Heresies, are not only the source of the so-called Naassene Psalm, a clearly Christian text, but also used a wonderful pagan Hymn to Attis, preserved in Hippolytus' polemical account.
Mesomedes' hymns
A large part of Mesomedes of Crete's output of Greek-language poetry seems to have been constituted by hymns (if modern attributions are all correct). He is most famous for the accident that the musical notation of four of his poems has survived, which suggests that there was a larger intermediary space between strictly cultic hymns (written for use at specific festivals) and purely literary ones (which would have been intended for reading, not for musical performance) than might otherwise be thought.

The hymns are addressed to Calliope and Apollon (1), Helios (2), Nemesis (3), Physis (4), Isis (5), the Adriatic (6), as well as a very fragmentary one to Apollon, as reconstructed by Annie Bélis.

Hymns 1-3 in English

Regenauer, Mesomedes. Übersetzung und Kommentar, 2016

Septimius Serenus' Hymn to Janus (FPL 23)
A very brief text (I presume because it is fragmentary), this Latin hymn calls Janus "the beginning of the gods". It is extant as a quotation in Terentius Maurus.

Orphic Hymns
The Orphic Hymns are interesting for three main reasons: 1. they preserve some unusual lore, most intriguingly about deities indigenous to Asia Minor; 2. they were written as a set, and so preserve something like a complete cosmology of a writer or community in the 3rd century CE which is neither philosophical nor entirely based in canonical myth; 3. they have a long history of use in Western Esotericism, beginning with Marsilio Ficino, who advocated their use in his Three Books on Life.

One should not overestimate the eccentricity of their contents, however. Apart from some ("Orphic"?) idiosyncracies and local particularities, they seem to be quite representative of the paganism of the period. The same is not true of the literary form, however, which is out of the ordinary.

The hymns are to: 0. Hecate (in the final part of the proem), 1. Prothyraia(-Eileithyia-Artemis), 2. Nyx, 3. Uranos, 4. Aether, 5. Protogonus, 6. the Stars, 7. Helios, 8. Selene, 9. Physis, 10. Pan, 11. Heracles, 12. Kronos, 13. Rhea, 14. Zeus, 15. Hera, 16. Poseidon, 17. Plouton, 18. Zeus Keraunos, 19. Zeus Astrapaeus, 20. the Clouds, 21. Thalassa/Tethys, 22. Nereus, 23. the Nereids, 24. Proteus, 25. Gaea, 26. Meter Theon, 27. Hermes, 28. Persephone, 29. Dionysus, 30. the Curetes, 31. Athena, 32. Nike, 33. Apollon, 34. Leto, 35. Artemis, 36. the Titans, 37. the Curetes, 38. Corybas, 39. Demeter Eleusinia, 40. Meter Antaia (=Demeter), 41. Misa(-Dionysus), 42. Horai, 43. Semele, 44. Dionysus Bassareus Trieterikos, 45. Liknitos Dionysus, 46. Dionysus Perikionios (=Dionysus), 47. Sabazius, 48. Hippa, 49. Lysius Lenaeus (=Dionysus), 50. the Nymphs, 51. Triterikos (=Dionysus), 52. Amphietos Bacchus (=Dionysus), 53. Silenus, Satyrus and the Bacchae, 54. Aphrodite, 55. Adonis, 56. Hermes Chthonius, 57. Eros, 58. Moirai, 59. Charites, 60. Nemesis, 61. Dike, 62. Dikaiosyne, 63. Nomos, 64. Ares, 65. Hephaestus, 66. Asclepius, 67. Hygeia, 68. Erinyes, 69. Eumenides, 70. Melinoe(-Persephone), 71. Tyche, 72. Daemon, 73. Leucothea, 74. Palaemon, 75. Muses, 76. Mnemosyne, 77. Eos, 78. Themis, 79. Boreas, 80. Zephyrus, 81. Notus, 82. Oceanus, 83. Hestia, 84. Hypnos (Sleep), 85. the Dreams, 86. Thanatos.

Synesius' Hymns
While Synesius was a Christian bishop, his thought generally has an ecumenical quality, so these highly original free verse poems, while primarily at home in the tradition of Christian hymnography, also have a place in the history of pagan hymn-writing. (Unlike, say, the heavily Neoplatonizing but more distinctly Christian hymns of Gaius Marius Victorinus.)

Tiberianus' Platonic hymn
While he is often described as a Neoplatonist, Tiberianus' Latin hymn to the Platonic demiurge (poem 4) really seems to be based mostly on the poet's own reading of the Timaeus rather than on a detailed study of ancient exegetes. He may well have read some Middle Platonic writers, but there is no hint of Neoplatonism.

Anonymous Laudes Solis
This hymn to the sun is one of the more original compositions in ancient hymnography, on the other hand a fairly representative witness to Greco-Roman ideas about the sun as natural object, mythological figure and deity.

Anthologia Palatina 9.524 & 525
These hymns, one To Dionysus and one To Apollon, have apparently never been dated. They are conventional in contents, and consist of a list of attributes and titles.

Pseudo-Homeric Hymn to Ares
Transmitted as the eighth piece of the Homeric Hymns, this poem is rather from around the time of Proclus, and describes Ares in planetary terms (i.e. as the planet Mars).

Proclus' Hymns
What would have been his most interesting hymns, to Marna of Gaza, Asclepius Leontuchus of Ascalon, the Arabian god Theandrites, and Isis, are lost, but the seven extant hymns of Proclus show the degree to which his philosophy informed his devotion (and vice versa).

Pseudo-Gregory's Hymn to God
Tentatively assigned to Proclus or the Christian Proclian, Pseudo-Dionysius, this Neoplatonic hymn was cited by Olympiodorus as a pagan text, but also transmitted in a Christian corpus, that of Gragory of Nazianzus.

2. Roman period
B) Complete prose hymns in manuscript transmission

Aelius Aristides' prose hymns
Aelius Aristides, the great orator of his time, was deeply devoted to the gods, and on several occasions (sometimes at the direction of the gods) wrote prose hymns (or. 37-46), which give a good idea of the mainstream religious ideas among educated Roman citizens.

The hymns concern Athena (37), the sons of Asclepius (38; 42), the well in the sanctuary of Asclepius (39), Heracles (40), Dionysus (41), Zeus (43), the Aegean Sea (44), Sarapis (45), Poseidon (46).

Menander Rhetor on hymns
Bremer, Menander Rhetor on Hymns, 1995
Julian's philosophical prose hymns
Libanius' prose hymn To Artemis

2. Roman period
C) fragments and rediscovered texts

Hymns in the Greek Magical Papyri


Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, 2nd edition, 1996
Bortolani, Magical Hymns from Roman Egypt. A Study of Greek and Egyptian Traditions of Divinity, 2016
Faraone, A hymn to Selene-Hecate-Artemis from a Greek magical handbook, 1997

Fauth, Helios Megistos. Zur synkretistischen Theologie der Spätantike, 1995
Riesenfeld, Remarques sur les hymnes magiques, 1946
Szepes, Magic Elements in the Prayers of the Hellenistic Magic Papyri, 1976

(?) Hymns in the Demotic Magical Papyri
(?) Hymns in the Nag Hammadi corpus
(?) Hymns in Coptic magic

2. Roman period
D) Aretalogies

Priapea 85

2. Roman period
E) Hymnic/aretalogic passages in texts of other genres

The hymnic opening of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura
The invocation of Venus, one of the most famous passages of Lucretius' poem, begins rather conventionally, but leads into a more Epicurean description of divinity.

Vergil's works - the bucolic Eclogues, the didactic Georgica, and the epic Aeneid - contain a number of hymns and prayers, including a "Salian" hymn (Aen. 8.293-302), a proem invoking Liber (Georg. 2.1-8),


Ovid (Fasti 2.119-144; 5.663-692; etc.)
Petronius 133
Statius (Theb. 1.696-720, 2.715-752; etc.)

Apuleius' Metamorphoses 11.2;5;25

The hymnic prologue of Avienius' Phaenomena
Another text which, like Tiberianus' hymn (see under 2.A), has been claimed to be Neoplatonic is Avenius' praise of Jupiter in the proem of his translation of Aratus' Phaenomena. Yet the text is not only not Neoplatonist, it is not specifically Platonist at all, but rather shows a non-sectarian use of philosophical terminology.

Hymns in Martianus Capella
Martianus' first hymn, to Hymnenaeus, serves as a verse proem to the Marriage of Philology and Mercury - written in prose with interspersed poetry - is largely allegorical (although it cannot be excluded that this marriage god was also a real deity for the Neoplatonist Martianus).

In addition, the work contains hymnic invocations, in Philology's voice, of Sol (in verse) and Juno (in prose), both showing Martianus' like for philosophy and obscure lore about the gods, and one to Minerva in the author's own voice.

3. Islamicate and Christian Middle Ages


4. Renaissance to Victorian era

Plethon's hymn cycle
Plethon, who died just before the fall of the Byzantine empire, developed a philosophical system of Greek paganism, which he thought could be used to resurrect the greatness of the Ancient Greeks. While not all details of his idiosyncratic liturgical calendar have survived, the complete set of hymns he wrote for it is extant.
Michael Marullus' Hymni Naturales (1497)


Fantazzi, Michael Marullus. Poems, 2012

Pierre Ronsard's Innes (1555-1556)


Julius Caesar Scaliger's Poetices libri septem (1561)


Deitz & Vogt-Spira, Julius Caesar Scaliger. Poetices libri septem. Sieben Bücher über die Dichtkunst, 6 vols., 1994-2011

Thomas Taylor's translations and original hymns
Taylor (1759-1835) ...


Friedrich Hölderlin's hymns
Hölderlin (1770-1843) ...


5. Contemporary Paganism

Hellenion's Hymnodia Project
An online compendium of hymns and prayers written by Hellenic polytheists.

Neos Alexandria
There are hymns by contemporary polytheists in many of Neos Alexandria's publications, and a few on their website.

The Neos Alexandria website

The Covenant of Hekate's hymns & invocations


The Covenant of Hekates "Devoted" webpage

Keine Kommentare:

Kommentar veröffentlichen