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The World of Hesiod

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 July 2014

Diskin Clay*
Duke University


      Toute pensée de l'origine des choses n'est jamais qu'une revérie de leur disposition actuelle, une manière de dégénérescence du réel, une variation sur ce qui est.
      Paul Valéry in his Preface to Poe's Eureka.

The World of Hesiod is familiar as a title, but the world of Hesiod is difficult to locate in a single place. Indeed, it is a number of places. It seems to have its centre in Askra in Boiotia and to extend out in space as far as the high slopes of Mount Helikon. It is a land-locked world and its severe limitations are apparent from what the poet says about the sea and the short sea passage from the mainland at Aulis to Chalkis on Euboia. Even as he offers his advice to the seafarer, he admits that he has no experience in seafaring or ships himself (W&D 649). He had only made the trip across to the island of Euboia once to compete as a poet at the funeral games of Amphidamas (W&D 646-60). Hesiodic poetry, when it centres on Hesiod's home, seems to crowd into a very small and disagreeable patch of typical Greek countryside. But his Muses enlarge this world. They provide him with a knowledge that he cannot gain himself—both of seafaring and of the vast expanse of the physical world whose origins go beyond the very beginnings of human time. Hesiod's local Muses transport him from the springs of Permessos to the deep currents of Ocean and they disclose to him a universe vaster in its extent and deeper in time than that of the Homeric poems. A sign of these enlarged horizons is the fact that in the Theogony Hesiod begins to sing of the Muses of Helikon (1-4), but then shifts attention to the Muses of Olympos (36-80).

Research Article
Copyright © Aureal Publications 1992

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1. As a title, it is familiar from Burn, A.R.’s historical study (devoted mainly to the Works and Days), The World of Hesiod (London 1936)Google Scholar.

2. Another way of describing the shift from the Muses of Helikon to those of Olympos is to say, with Gregory Nagy, that Hesiod is leaving the local traditions and inspiration of Boiotia for the ‘pan-Hellenic’ perspective of Olympos. See Nagy, G., ‘Hesiod and the Poetics of Pan-Hellenism’, in Greek Mythobgy and Poetics (Ithaca and London 1990), 36–84Google Scholar; cf. also his contribution to this volume, pp. 119f and 128 n.8 above.

3. In the proem of the Theogony, we find two versions of the scope of the knowledge of the Muses. In the first (32), they are said to impart to the poet their knowledge of the future and the past. This would exclude their inspiration for a work devoted to the present like the Works & Days. But in the musicology of the second (38), the Muses of Olympos are said to know ‘the present, the future and the past’ (like Khalkas at Il.1.70).

4. Although Homer himself recognises the possibility of epic poetry concerning the gods in Demodokos’ ‘Lay of Ares and Aphrodite’ (Od. 8.266–366) and indeed in the scenes describing the divinities of Olympos in the Iliad and Odyssey; and likewise Hesiod recognises epic poetry that has men as its subject (Th. 99–101, W&D 161–65). For the range of early hexameter poetry, see Clay, Jenny Strauss, The Politics of Olympus: Form and Meaning in the Major Homeric Hymns (Princeton 1989), 4fGoogle Scholar.

5. The motivation of the goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite is only glanced at in Iliad 24.25–30, and the instability of Zeus’s rule on Olympos and the fate of Kronos are glancingly recalled in Iliad 1.396–406, 503f., and 586–94. Going further back in time, Homer recognises Typhoeus (Il. 2.782f.), in a simile reminiscent of the Theogony (cf. pp.146–49 below). The Titans called hypotartarioi (Th. 851) are invoked in Hera’s oath to Hypnos (Il. 14.271–79).

6. Theaetetus 154E; cf. Cratylus 402B and Aristotle Metaphysics A 3.983b27.

7. The reader can now turn to Keaney, J. J. and Lamberton, R., Homer’s Ancient Readers (Princeton 1992)Google Scholar, as well as Lamberton, , Homer the Theologian: Neoplatonist Allegorical Reading and the Growth of the Epic Tradition (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London 1986)Google Scholar, for an account of the major part of the history of Homer’s salvation as a serious poet in antiquity. The claim of Strabo that Homer was the first to enter his field of philosophical geography is made at the outset of his work (1.1–11).

8. Bronze: Iliad 5.504, 17.425 and Odyssey 3.2; iron: Odyssey 15.329, 17.565. In Hesiod’s Theogony, Ouranos (or ouranos) is not bronze, but it is as we shall see solid. The Hebrew analogues to the Greek conception of heaven as a solid and metallic dome are adduced by Brown, John Pairman, ‘Cosmological Myth and the Tuna of Gibraltar’, TAPA 99 (1968), 37–46Google Scholar.

9. Iliad 18.167f. = Kirk, G.S., Raven, J.E. and Schofield, M., The Presocratic Philosophers2 (Cambridge 1983)Google Scholar, passage 4.

10. Perhaps by Krates of Mallos. The history of the ancient interpretations of the shield is ably written by Hardie, P.R., ‘Imago-Mundi: Cosmological and Ideological Aspects of the Shield of Achilles’, JHS 105 (1985), 11–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11. I cite Hesiod from Solmsen, Friedrich, Hesiodi Theogonia, Opera et Dies, Scutum (Oxford 1970)Google Scholar, and refer throughout to the commentaries of West, M.L., Hesiod: Theogony (Oxford 1966)Google Scholar and Hesiod: Works and Days (Oxford 1978)Google Scholar.

12. The stars and heaven are included in the program of the invocation to the Muses of Olympos in 105–110, but 108–110 are considered by some editors to be later interpolations.

13. The Iliad of Homer, edited by Mack, Maynard in The Twickenham Edition of the Poems of Alexander Pope, Volume VIII (New Haven and London 1967)Google Scholar, Plate 18. Another version is that of Willcock, Malcolm M., A Companion to the Iliad (Chicago 1976), 210Google Scholar (reproduced in Harley, J. B. and Woodward, D. [eds.], The History of Cartography 1 [Chicago and London 1987], 131Google Scholar, Fig. 8.1).

14. Illustrated by Borchhardt, Heide in Archaeologia Homerica: Frühe griechische Schildformen (Göttingen 1977), 40Google Scholar, Fig. d; similar is Flaxman’s shield of Achilles, illustrated in Fittschen, Klaus, Archaeologica Homerica: Der Shild des Achilleus (Göttingen 1973)Google Scholar, Table VI Fig. a.

15. ‘Heaven of layers of bronze’ as it is described in Iliad 5.504.

16. One possible illustration of the flat pinax on which a compass-drawn earth is incised is the fragment of the Babylonian map of the world (sixth to fourth century B.C.), shown by Kahn, Charles H. in Anaximander and the Origins of Greek Cosmology (New York and London 1960), 88Google Scholar Plate I, and Harley and Woodward (n. 13 above), 114 Fig. 6.10. See pp. 149–52 below.

17. In Hera’s infernal oath to Hypnos (Sleep) in Iliad 14.277–79 she swears by the gods beneath Tartaros who are called Titans, while Hypnos (271–76) mentions the gods ‘below’ who live with Kronos and the waters of Styx, described in Theogony 775–79.

18. Erbse, H., Scholia Graeca in Homeri Iliadem (Berlin 1969-), ii.301Google Scholar.

19. These are to be found in Buchholz, E., Die homerischen Realien, Vol. 1 (Leipzig 1871)Google Scholars.w. Himmel, Aether, Luft, Hades (Erebos), Tartaros and Okeanos. There are in fact drawings to illustrate this scheme in the scholia to A and T, and Figure 1 below is a composite of these.

20. A striking parallel to these proportional schemes laid out along a vertical axis is the Egyptian triad of Nüt - Geb - Naunet, with Geb equidistant from the overarching goddess Nüt above and the waters of Naunet below. This is illustrated by Wilson, J.A. in H., and Frankfort, H.A., Wilson, J.A. and Jacobson, T., Before Philosophy: The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man (Harmondsworth 1949), 55Google Scholar. For the sky hieroglyph pet (Gardner’s N1), there are convenient illustrations in Wilkinson, Richard H., Reading Egyptian Art (London 1992), 126fGoogle Scholar. A version of this scheme is given in Figure 2 on page 145 below.

21. Strabo 3.6.

22. Here Ginn & Co, comes to serve with its ‘The Geography of Homer’ in its Classical Atlas (Boston 1886), 2fGoogle Scholar. (for which I thank my colleague John Younger).

23. That the poet has the vague neuter plural in mind is suggested by the phrase andrasin ēde theois (‘for gods and men’) in the added line (246a) known to Plutarch (De facie 938D). In this line the ambiguities of the neuter plural are resolved in a clear statement of just what originates in Okeanos.

24. Iliad 13.10–31; cf. Strabo 10.457. This is now Fengari and according to the Guide Bleu it is possible for a human to see even today the plain of Troy from its peak at 1,600m. above sea level.

25. Mondi, Robert, ‘Tradition and Innovation in Hesiod’s Titanomachy’, TAPA 116 (1986), 25–48Google Scholar, provides a convenient conspectus of some of the similarities between the Titanomachy of Theogony 617–720 and battle scenes from the Iliad.

26. Codified by Nestle, Wilhelm in Vom Mythos zum Logos2 (Stuttgart 1975), 21–52Google Scholar.

27. Iliad 14.201 = 14.302 = Kirk, Raven & Schofield (n.9 above), passage 10; cf. Theaetetus 152E. Sokrates’ historical construction makes Protagoras a philosopher who shares the views not only of Herakleitos (DK 22 B12 and B91) and Empedokles (DK 31 B26.10–11), but also of the representatives of the two main genres of dramatic poetry—Epicharmos of comedy (DK 23 B2—an argument developed in the Hellenistic period as the ‘growing argument’: Long, A.A. and Sedley, D., The Hellenistic Philosophers [Cambridge 1987], passage 28A)Google Scholar and Homer for tragedy.

28. Metaphysics A 3.983b27–984a. His allusion—despite the plural—is clearly to Plato and Sokrates’ sweeping gesture in Theaetetus 152E; cf. McDiarmid, J.B., ‘Theophrastos and Presocratic Causes’, HSCP 61 (1953), 85–156Google Scholar.

29. Phaidros quotes Theogony 116–18 and 120. He also brings the cosmologist Akousilaos into agreement with both Hesiod and Parmenides on the antiquity of Eros in the formation of the world; cf. Parmenides DK 28 B11 (with Aristotle Metaphysics A 4.984b23) and Akousilaos DK 9 B2. Hesiod and Parmenides are once again paired in Symposium 195C.

30. He has in mind Theogony 123f. and 748–57 for the distinction between day and night, and for lucky and unlucky days, Works and Days 765–828.

31. Diogenes Laertius 10.2 and 38.

32. It will be clear that I accept the interpretation of Chaos proposed by Cornford, F.M., ‘A Ritual Basis for Hesiod’s Theogony’, in The Unwritten Philosophy (Cambridge 1950), 98Google Scholar, endorsed by Kirk in Kirk, Raven and Schofield (n.9 above), 36–39.

33. Plato Theaetetus 152E, Aristotle Physics 208b30 and Sextus 9.8 all cite the text without line 118.

34. West Theogony (n.11 above) has a number of telling observations about these proleptic epithets, especially on on the phrase ‘through the plans of great Zeus’ to describe the fate of Kronos even before Zeus had been born.

35. Iliad 5.360, 8.456.

36. Cf. Timaeus 29E-30C and Genesis 1.4.

37. From Morceaux choisis: Prose & Poésie (Paris 1930), 123Google Scholar.

38. Friedrich Solmsen has successfully attempted to remedy the tenuousness of the connections that have often been made between khaos in Hesiod, and Anaximandros, apeiron in ‘Chaos and Apeiron’, SIFC 24 (1950), 235–48Google Scholar (repr. in his Kleine Schriften 1 [Hildesheim 1968], 68–81Google Scholar).

39. Theophrastos is preserved in Simplicius’ commentary to Aristotle’s Physics 24.13 = DK 12 A9. The elemental theories denied in Theophrastos’ version of Anaximandros’ thought are broken up in the prism of Aristotle’s history of the physiologoi in Metaphysics A, as is clear from McDiarmid (n.28 above); see too Kahn (n.16 above), 32f.

40. As in the cosmology of Diodorus Siculus 1.7.1; Aristophanes Birds 694; Euripides fr. 484 Nauck2; Apollonios of Rhodes Argonautica 1.496–500.

41. ante mare et terras et quod tegit omnia caelum unus erat toto naturae vultus in orbe, quern dixere Chaos, rudis indigestaque moles. Before sea and lands and heaven which covers all, nature had but one face in the whole orb, which they called Chaos, an unwrought and unseparated mass.

42. This epithet (from the passage cited below) has caused much perplexity. Despite the explicit reference to khthōn two lines before, West Theogony (n.34 above, ad 697) and Mondi (n.25 above, 41–47) take the word to indicate that the Titans are beneath the earth, not on it.

43. But he made no argument: Mnemosyne 4 (1855), 207Google Scholar. Cf. West’s apparatus, here quoted: Theogony (n.11 above), 137.

44. Illustrated perhaps by the recreation of the world map of Hekataios of Abdera in Gray, Dorothea’s article, Seewesen in Archaeologia Homerka I G (Göttingen 1974), 3Google Scholar.

45. DK 21 B28 = Kirk, Raven and Schofield (n.9 above), passage 180. According to the doxography, Anaximandros calculated that the depth of the earth was 1/3 its diameter, op. cit. passage 122 A (DK 12 A25) and B (Hippol. Ref. 1.6.3 from DK 12 A11) and Kirk, Raven and Schofield are probably right in bringing Anaximandros within Xenophanes’ sights, especially since Xenophanes invokes the term apeiron to express his scepticism about attempts to state the limits of the world. For references see op. cit. passages 175, 179, and 186–189.

46. Kahn (n.16 above), 82.

47. Hesiod The Homeric Hymns, and Homerka (Cambridge MA and London 1914)Google Scholar.

48. As Robert Mondi (n.25 above, 43) has named the theme.

49. West Theogony (n.11 above), ad 381–83, gives a useful conspectus of the arguments against its being organic to the Theogony, as well as his own strong reasons for treating it as organic and necessary.

50. As West suggests in Theogony (n.11 above), ad 505. Mt Aitna is sighted in the periodos ges of the Boreades in Hesiod fr. 120.25 MW.

51. Particularly by Vlastos, Gregory, ‘Equality and Justice in Early Greek Cosmologies’, CPh 42 (1947), 156–78Google Scholar, repr. in Furley, D.J. and Allen, R.E. (eds.), Studies in Presocratic Philosophy I (London 1970), 59–61Google Scholar; cf. esp. 75 and n.101.

52. Theogony 187 and 878; cf. Works and Days 160.

53. Cf. n.13 above. For the map itself, see Meissner, B., ‘Babylonische und griechische Landkarten’, Klio 19 (1925), 97ff.CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Unger, Eckhard, ‘From Cosmos Picture to World Picture’, Imago Mundi 2 (1937), 1–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar. There might possibly be a parallel to the triangles radiating out from the Babylonian Map of the World in the eight triangles radiating out from Ocean in the Star Fresco from Teleilat Ghassul, Jordan, in Harley and Woodward (n.l3 above), 106 Plate 1.

54. The point is made by Romm, James R., The Edges of the Earth in Ancient Thought (Princeton 1992), 15Google Scholar.

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