1902 Encyclopedia > Hesiod

Greek poet
(c. 8th century BC)

HESIOD, the father of didactic poetry in Greece, is placed by Herodotus after Homer, but not more than 400 years before his own epoch ; and, though the settlement of the question must depend on the internal evidence of the Hesiodic poems, this testimony is corroborated by the Parian marble and the historian Ephorus. He probably flourished about nine centuries before Christ. His father had mi-grated from Cyme in ^Eolia to Bceotia, exchanging there a seafaring life for agriculture; and Hesiod and his brother, a scapegrace named Perses, were born at Ascra, near the base of Helicon and under the mountains which encircle Bceotia. Of this locality—whose claim to be his birth-place was disputed by the city Orchomenus on the score of possession of his relics—Hesiod's description differs from that of modern topographers in pronouncing the climate un-genial, with alternations of excessive heat and cold; but the poet's prejudice may have been influenced by the injustice of Boeotian law-courts, and it was at any rate here, as he fed his father's flocks beside Helicon, that he received his commission from the Muses to be their prophet and poet—a commission which he recognized by dedicating to them an eared tripod won by him in a contest of song at funeral games in Eubcea, and extant at Helicon iu the age of Pausanias (Theog., 20-34; Pausan., ix. 31, § 3). But to this call were linked, no doubt, literary antecedents in .ZEolia, as well as local associations of music and poetry in Hellas. His earliest poem, the famous Works and Days, embodies the experiences of his life afield, and, interwoven with episodes of fable, allegory, and personal history, forms a sort of Boeotian shepherd's calendar. The first portion is an ethical enforcement of honest labour and dissuasive of strife and idleness (1-383); the second consists of hints and rules as to husbandry (384-764); and the third is a religious calendar of the months, with remarks on the days most lucky or the contrary for rural or nautical employ-ments. The connecting link of the whole poem is the author's advice to his brother, who appears to have bribed the corrupt judges to deprive Hesiod of his already scantier inheritance, and to whom, as he wasted his substance lounging in the agora, the poet more than once returned good for evil, though he tells him there will be a limit to this unmerited kindness. In the Works and Days the episodes which rise above an even didactic level are the "Creation and Equipment of Pandora," the "Five Ages of the World," and the much-admired " Description of Winter " (by some critics judged post-Hesiodic). It is in the Works and Days especially that we glean indications of Hesiod's rank and condition in life, that of a stay-at-home farmer of the lower class, whose sole experience of the sea was a single voyage of 40 yards across the Euripus, and an old- fashioned bachelor whose misogynic views and prejudice against matrimony have been conjecturally traced to his brother Perses having a wife as extravagant as himself.

The other poem attributed to Hesiod or his school which has come down in great part to modern times is The Theo-gony, a work of grander scope, inspired alike by older traditions and abundant local associations. It seems that no more congenial task could have suggested itself to the Ascraean shepherd than to work into system, as none had essayed to do before, the floating legends of the gods and goddesses and their offspring. This task Herodotus attributes to him, and he is quoted by Plato in his Symposium (p. 178 B) as the author of the Theogony. The first to question his claim to this distinction was Pausanias, the geographer (200 A.D.). The Alexandrian grammarians had no doubt on the subject; and indications of the hand that wrote the Works and Days may be found in the severe strictures on women, in the high esteem for the wealth-givei Plutus, and in coincidences of verbal expression. If, too, as commentators assert, the proper beginning of the Works and Days is at verse 11—

OVK &pa fiovvov ki]v 'Epidatv ysvos, aX\' eTvl yaiav EiV: 5vw,

it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the poet there corrects a staterhent made in his Theogony (225), where he had described Eris, the daughter of Night, as one and indivisible. One thing is clear, that, as Mr Grote puts if, it was the aim of Hesiod, or the member of his school who composed the Theogony, " to cast the divine functions into a systematic sequence,"—so welding into intelligible co-herence the generations and genealogies of the deities of Hellas, whom Homer had dealt with in passing and scattered notices only. The Theogony consists of three divisions—(1) a cosmogony, or creation; (2) a theogony proper, recounting the history of the dynasties of Zeus and Cronus; and (3) a brief and abruptly terminated heroogony, or generation of heroes by immortal sires from mort il mothers; the starting-point not improbably of the Hesiodic poem, the Foiai, or " Catalogues of Women," of which all but a few fragments are lost. Prefaced by an account of the Muses' visit to their bard, the Theogony proceeds, from the spontaneous generation of Erebus and Night from Chaos, to detail a cosmogonic order at first corresponding with the Mosaic. The first ruler of creation, Uranus, is disabled and dethroned by Cronus, and Cronus in turn by his sixth son by Rhea, Zeus; but the chronicling of Titans and Cyclopes, of Nereids and Oceanids, divine rivers and water-nymphs, defies even the briefest enumera-tion. The poet has interwoven several episodes of rare merit, such as the contest of Zeus and the Olympian gods with the Titans, or the description of the prison-house in which the vanquished Titans are confined, with the Giants for keepers and Day and Night for janitors (735 seq.). Notable also is the version of the legend of Pandora given in the Theogony as compared with that in the Works and Days. The Theogony omits the part played in the earlier poem by Epimetheus in accepting Pandora at Jove's hands in spite of the counsel of Prometheus, as well as the mention of the casket of evils from which in the Works and Days Pandora lifts the lid with such woeful results.

The only other approach to a poem of Hesiod is the so-called Shield of Nereides, a piece of patchwork with which interpolators have done their worst. The opening verses are attributed by a nameless grammarian to the fourth book of Eoiai. The theme of the piece is the expedition of Hercules and Iolaus against the robber Cycnus; but its main object apparently is to describe the shield of Hercules (141-317). C. O. Miiller deems this description worthy of a place beside Homer's shield of Achilles in II. xiii., and recognizes in it the genuine spirit of the Hesiod ic school. Titles and fragments of other lost poems of Hesiod have come down to us: didactic, as the Maxims of Chiron; genealogic, as the jEgimius; and mythic, as the Marriage of Ceyx and the Descent of Theseus to Hades.

A strong characteristic of Hesiod's style is his sententious and proverbial philosophy (as in Works and Days, 24-5, 40, 218, 345, 371). There is naturally less of this in the Theogony, yet there too not a few sentiments take the form of the saw or adage. With the poet's history, apart from the evidence of his poems, we have little acquaintance. There is reason to suppose that in later life he removed from Ascra to Orchomenus, where, ac-cording to Pausanias, were his sepulchre and epitaph. Tradition has assigned a tragical ending to a life seemingly placid and unemotional; but the story that he met a violent death near the Locrian Qineon in the territory of Naupactus, by reason of an intrigue with a sister of his host, or a guilty knowledge of such intrigue, is probably valueless except as evidence of the hero-worship of Hesiod in Locris and Boeotia (cf. Friedel, Die Sage vom Tode Hesiods, Leipsic, 1879). The poet will be remem-bered as the first of didactic poets, the accredited syste-matizer of Greek mythology, and the rough but not unpoetical sketcher of the lines on which Virgil wrought out his exquisitely finished Georgics.

Among the older editions of the Hesiodie poems may he mentioned those published at Venice in 1495 and 1537. and those of Heinsius (Leyd. 1622), Schrevelius (Leyd. 1650), Grsevius (Amst. 1701), Robinson (Oxf. 1737) ; and among those of modern date, Paley (Lond. 1861), Lehrs (Leips. 1840, new ed. 1868), Schbmann (Beii 1869), Kochly and Kinkel (Leip. 1870), Flach (Berl. 1874). The Works and Days has been edited apart by Spohn (Leip. 1819), Vollbehr (Kiel, 1844), Lennep (Amst. 1847); and the Theogony by F. A. Wolf (Halle, 1783), Lennep (Amst. 1843), Schomann (Berl. 1869), and Flach (Berl. 1873). The Fragments were col-lected by Markscheffel (Leip. 1840). The many disputed questions associated with the name of Hesiod have given rise to a vast critical and polemic literature. In regard to the language of the poems the student may consult W. Clemm, " Krit. Beitrage zur ;ehre vom Digamma" in Curtius, Studien, ix. ; Dr H. Flach, Das dialektisehe Digamma dcs Hesiodos (Berl. 1876) ; Alois Kzaeh, Der Dialekt des Hesiodus (Leip. 1876). The composition and system of the Theogony have been investigated by Kock (Breslau, 1842), Gerhard (Berl. 1856), Wolcker (Elberf. 1865), Leitschuh (Würzburg, 1867), Schümann (Berl. 1868), Flach (Leip. 1874), Fritz Ehlung (Clausthal, 1875); and special studies on the Works and Days have been contributed by Twesten (Kiel, 1815), Banke (Gotting. 1838), Steitz (Leip. 1869), Betke ^Minister, 1872), and Canna (Tur. 1874). Works of more general criticism are Creuzer and Hermann, Briefe über Homer und Hesiod (Heidelb. 1817); Thiersch, Ucber die Gedichte des Hesiods (Munich, 1813) ; J. P. Mahaffy, " Studies in Greek Literature " in Hermathena, iv. The MSS. are discussed by Flach, Die beiden ältesten Handschriften des Hesiod (Leip. 1877); Kinkel, Decodic. Hesiodeisnonnullis in Anglia asservatis (Heidelb. 1866); Wrobel, "Uber eine neue Hesiodhand-schrift" in Sitzungsber. of Vienna Academy, 1879. There are English translations of the Hesiodie poems by Cooke (Lond. 1728), Elton (Lond. 1815), and Banks (Lond. 1856) ; German translations by J. H. Voss (Heidelb. 1806) and Uschner (Berl. 1865) ; French translations by Leconte de Lisle (Par. 1869) and Patin (Par. 1872-3) ; and Italian by Chiodi (Cosenza, 1867) and Pozzuolo (Milan, 1873). (J. DA.)

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