The Hymn is hard to date. Hermes’ lyre has seven strings and the invention of the seven-stringed lyre is ascribed to Terpander (flor. 676 B.C.). The hymn must therefore be later than that date, though Terpander, according to Weir Smyth , may have only modified the scale of the lyre; yet while the burlesque character precludes an early date, this feature is far removed, as Allen and Sikes remark, from the silliness of the “Battle of the Frogs and Mice”, so that a date in the earlier part of the sixth century is most probable.
The “Hymn to Aphrodite” is not the least remarkable, from a literary point of view, of the whole collection, exhibiting as it does in a masterly manner a divine being as the unwilling victim of an irresistible force. It tells how all creatures, and even the gods themselves, are subject to the will of Aphrodite, saving only Artemis, Athena, and Hestia; how Zeus to humble her pride of power caused her to love a mortal, Anchises; and how the goddess visited the hero upon Mt. Ida. A comparison of this work with the Lay of Demodocus (“Odyssey” viii, 266 ff.), which is superficially similar, will show how far superior is the former in which the goddess is but a victim to forces stronger than herself. The lines (247-255) in which Aphrodite tells of her humiliation and grief are specially noteworthy.
There are only general indications of date. The influence of Hesiod is clear, and the hymn has almost certainly been used by the author of the “Hymn to Demeter”, so that the date must lie between these two periods, and the seventh century seems to be the latest date possible.
The “Hymn to Dionysus” relates how the god was seized by pirates and how with many manifestations of power he avenged himself on them by turning them into dolphins. The date is widely disputed, for while Ludwich believes it to be a work of the fourth or third century, Allen and Sikes consider a sixth or seventh century date to be possible. The story is figured in a different form on the reliefs from the choragic monument of Lysicrates, now in the British Museum .
Very different in character is the “Hymn to Ares”, which is Orphic in character. The writer, after lauding the god by detailing his attributes, prays to be delivered from feebleness and weakness of soul, as also from impulses to wanton and brutal violence.
The only other considerable hymn is that to “Pan”, which describes how he roams hunting among the mountains and thickets and streams, how he makes music at dusk while returning from the chase, and how he joins in dancing with the nymphs who sing the story of his birth. This, beyond most works of Greek literature, is remarkable for its fresh and spontaneous love of wild natural scenes.
The remaining hymns are mostly of the briefest compass, merely hailing the god to be celebrated and mentioning his chief attributes. The Hymns to “Hermes” (xviii), to the “Dioscuri” (xvii), and to “Demeter” (xiii) are mere abstracts of the longer hymns iv, xxxiii, and ii.