The Gods Rich in Praise

I’ve been reading and, I confess, occasionally skimming Christopher Metcalf’s The Gods Rich in Praise: Early Greek and Mesopotamian Religious Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). This publication is a revised version of Metcalf’s Balliol College (Oxford) PhD dissertation. I found it abnormally interesting. So much so that I’m now going back to look more carefully at what I skimmed.

Metcalf focuses tightly on the possible influence of Mesopotamian literature, primarily hymns of praise, on early Greek poetry. He primarily considers Sumerian and Old Babylonian hymns with considerable discussion of the relevant Hittite material. One might quibble about a few details but his three conclusions are well supported.

  1. “. . . on the basis of the material presented here, the case for pervasive Near Eastern influence is likely to have been over stated.” (226-7)
  2. “. . . if the arguments that have been made here are accepted, the Near Eastern material can help to achieve a more accurate understanding of certain passages in early Greek poetry, especially where enough sources are available to exploit the advantages of the cuneiform documentation as fully as possible.” (227)
  3. “Third, a more balanced appreciation of the relationship between early Greek and ancient Near Eastern poetry should eventually enable us to perceive elements that were never taken over in the first place because they were rooted in Greece. . . “(227)

Except for possible increased influence that may be the result of direct contact, one could say almost the same three things about studies, including mine, concerning the relationship between Mesopotamian literature and the Hebrew Bible.

Oh yeah, Metcalf cites my 2013 paper on the Mesopotamian origin of Homeric bird-divination, page 206, note 1. Only a “see also” citation but I am grateful!

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