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PBP: Hymn of the Kouretes

May 31, 2012

I found an interesting paper by Mark Alonge that discusses the fallacy of  a “Cretan Zeus”.  To sum it up for you, as I understand it anyway, Janet Harrison interpreted the word “kouros” to mean youth in the popularly titled “Hymn of the Kouretes”.  Scholars then associated Zeus to the pre-Hellenic Cretan God, Welchanos (Velkhanos) who they claimed to be Zeus in “name only” based upon the idea that they were both youths.   Welchanos is described as a youthful, vegetative deity that “dies” yearly.  This is about the extent of the knowledge on this Cretan deity.  (Now Mr. Alonge’s reasoning for them to NOT be the same deity seems rather weak to me but I do agree that basing their association on one word of a hymn is poorly done.)

In reality according to Mr. Alonge, kouros means son of or baby.  So the hymn is meant to remind Zeus of his birth and upbringing, giving him a reason to bless his worshipers with his presence.  This is standard in hymns to identify a connection between a god and his devotees.  You were born and raised here so you should return and remember your glorious youth!  The missing stanzas most like like described the positive results of his birth and birthright for the area.  The hymn then ends with a hopeful plea for a continuation of these benefits.  This hymn was most likely performed by devotees circling the alter of Zeus in much the same way that the myths say the kouretes danced around baby Zeus to protect him from being heard by Kronos.  Not to protect him but to remind him of the protection he received so that he could grow up to become the King of the Gods.

Below I give you Mr. Alonge’s version of the Hymn of Kouretes.  I encourage to read the complete article as it is a very interesting  piece of scholarship.

O supreme son of Kronos, salutations! All-powerful over refreshment, you stand
at the head of the gods. Come to Dicte at the turn of the year and take pleasure in
our song.

We weave it for you with lyres, having blended it with pipes, and we sing having
taken our places around your well-walled altar.

O supreme son of Kronos, salutations! All-powerful over refreshment, you stand
at the head of the gods. Come to Dicte at the turn of the year and take pleasure in
our song.

For on this very spot, your shield-bearing guardians received you, an immortal
child, from Rhea and beating their foot, kept you hidden.

O supreme son of Kronos, salutations! All-powerful over refreshment, you stand
at the head of the gods. Come to Dicte at the turn of the year and take pleasure in
our song.

[two verses missing]…of the beautiful dawn.

O supreme son of Kronos, salutations! All-powerful over refreshment, you stand
at the head of the gods. Come to Dicte at the turn of the year and take pleasure in
our song.

The Seasons teemed year by year and Justice held mortals in her power, and
Peace, who loves prosperity, governed all creatures.

O supreme son of Kronos, salutations! All-powerful over refreshment, you stand
at the head of the gods. Come to Dicte at the turn of the year and take pleasure in
our song.

But, lord, leap to our wine jars, and leap to our fleecy flocks, and to our fields of
fruit leap, and to our homes made thereby productive.

O supreme son of Kronos, salutations! All-powerful over refreshment, you stand
at the head of the gods. Come to Dicte at the turn of the year and take pleasure in
our song.

And leap to our cities and leap to our seafaring ships, and leap to our new citizens
and leap to fair Themis.

O supreme son of Kronos, salutations! All-powerful over refreshment, you stand
at the head of the gods. Come to Dicte at the turn of the year and take pleasure in
our song.

“a year of exploring the Pagan world through blogging”

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. heraqles permalink
    May 31, 2012 11:00 PM

    The so called experts can go on about the meanings and all that jazz but to me it is a glorious hymn to Zeus. I read it with joy in my heart.

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  2. henadology permalink
    June 1, 2012 9:07 AM

    It’s a pretty solid article. I’m not sure that he needs to lean so hard on certain distinctions. Naturally Zeus has a special significance on Crete, because he was/is “born” there, and his cult will have had special characteristics there on account of this. This is not inconsistent with a special significance of the beardless, but non-infant, Zeus in Cretan iconography, as the entry in the Etymologicum Magnum cited on p. 14 attests, or with some special association of Zeus with Cretan kouroi, in the sense of youths and symbolic Kouretes. The business about a “Cretan Zeus” being a “dying God” associated with the seasons is, of course, strictly a relic of Frazerian 19th century anthropological theories, and has nothing to do with any actual Minoan evidence. All that the Minoan evidence shows is that at that time we frequently see images of a youthful male God or hero closely associated with one or more Goddesses who seem, loosely speaking, to be in charge.

    As for Welchanos being the “Cretan Zeus” per se, I’ve never had the impression that this was a very widely held opinion. We have no evidence that Welchanos was even known in the Bronze Age; the name does not appear in Linear A, as far as I am aware. Homer already knew Crete as a land where numerous different languages were spoken, and this continued to be true later on, so Welchanos cannot simply be identified straightaway with any or all of the youthful male Gods we see depicted in Minoan iconography. This identification seems to depend virtually entirely on the little note from Hesychius about Welchanos being “Zeus among the Cretans”. Some have sought to relate the name “Welchanos” to the Latin “Vulcan”, which is at least superficially attractive.

    There are also distinctively Cretan forms of the name Zeus, if I recall correctly; and I am not necessarily persuaded that his name is solely of Indo-European origin, due to the divergent form of the accusative Zên. So the “Cretan Zeus” could simply be Zeus, after all. Hellenic civilization is really by no means exclusively Indo-European; the Greek language has a major contribution from one or more “substrate” languages that haven’t been securely identified, and may never be. We see this even in very common words like thalassa, “sea”, which is not I-E.

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    • June 1, 2012 9:20 AM

      Thanks for chiming in! I had hoped you would as my grasp on such scholarly topics is very small. I do think I may change part of the name of my Facebook group to from Velkhanos to Kouros though.

      Like

      • henadology permalink
        June 1, 2012 3:43 PM

        There’s a good discussion of the evidence around Welkhanos in “Cretan Cults and Festivals” by R. F. Willetts—a great book, by the way. One interesting theory about the name Welkhanos is that it is “of the willow tree”; apparently the coins show Welkhanos as a beardless youth with a rooster in a tree, possibly a willow. This might depict a characteristic epiphany, i.e., if you see a rooster in a willow tree, it’s Welkhanos. Also, regarding what I said above about the accusative form of Zeus’s name, take a look at the Cretan forms here: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3D*zeu%2Fs. Note how the weird Cretan nominative forms like Ttênos look like the mainstream Greek accusative form Zên—and also resemble the word “Titan”, which doesn’t have an agreed etymology. It’s almost as though the “Cretan Zeus” is right there in the accusative form of the Greek. Anyhow, that’s a crazy theory of mine, take with a grain of salt.

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        • June 4, 2012 9:11 PM

          Gee I’d like to say something intelligent but …you went over my head. Ego-checked again. 😉

          Like

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