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Ancient bronze bust, the so-called Pseudo-Seneca, now conjectured to be an imaginative portrait of Hesiod[1]

Hesiod (Greek: Ἡσίοδος Hesiodos) was an early Greek poet and rhapsode, who presumably lived around 700 BC. Hesiod and Homer, with whom Hesiod is often paired, have been considered the earliest Greek poets whose work has survived since at least Herodotus's time (Histories, 2.53). Historians have debated which lived first, and some authors have even brought them together in an imagined poetic contest. Aristarchus first argued for Homer's priority, a claim that was generally accepted by later antiquity.[2] Modern scholars disagree as to which was earlier; because both lived centuries before recorded history (Herodotus admits that his date for the two is his own opinion), this question may never be resolved.

Hesiod's writings serve as a major source for knowledge of Greek mythology, farming techniques, archaic Greek astronomy and ancient time-keeping.



J. A. Symonds writes that "'Hesiod is also the immediate parent of gnomic verse, and the ancestor of those deep thinkers who speculated in the Attic Age upon the mysteries of human life".[3]

Some scholars have doubted whether Hesiod alone conceived and wrote the poems attributed to him. For example, Symonds writes that "the first ten verses of the Works and Days are spurious - borrowed probably from some Orphic hymn to Zeus and recognised as not the work of Hesiod by critics as ancient as Pausanias".[4]

As with Homer, legendary traditions have accumulated around Hesiod. Unlike the case of Homer, however, some biographical details have survived: a few details of Hesiod's life come from three references in Works and Days; some further inferences derive from his Theogony. His father came from Cyme in Aeolis, which lay between Ionia and the Troad in Northwestern Anatolia, but crossed the sea to settle at a hamlet near Thespiae in Boeotia named Ascra, "a cursed place, cruel in winter, hard in summer, never pleasant" (Works, l. 640). Hesiod's patrimony there, a small piece of ground at the foot of Mount Helicon, occasioned a pair of lawsuits with his brother Perses, who won both under the same judges.

Some scholars have seen Perses as a literary creation, a foil for the moralizing that Hesiod directed to him in Works and Days, but in the introduction to his translation of Hesiod's works, Hugh G. Evelyn-White provides several arguments against this theory.[5] Gregory Nagy, on the other hand, sees both Persēs ("the destroyer": πέρθω / perthō) and Hēsiodos ("he who emits the voice": ἵημι / hiēmi + αὐδή / audē) as fictious names for poetical personae.[6]

The Muses traditionally lived on Helicon, and, according to the account in Theogony (ll. 22-35), they gave Hesiod the gift of poetic inspiration one day while he tended sheep (compare the legend of Cædmon). In another biographical detail, Hesiod mentions a poetry contest at Chalcis in Euboea where the sons of one Amiphidamas awarded him a tripod (ll.654-662). Plutarch first cited this passage as an interpolation into Hesiod's original work, based on his identification of Amiphidamas with the hero of the Lelantine War between Chalcis and Eretria, which occurred around 705 BC. Plutarch assumed this date much too late for a contemporary of Homer, but most Homeric scholars would now accept it. The account of this contest, followed by an allusion to the Trojan War, inspired the later tales of a competition between Hesiod and Homer.

Two different -- yet early -- traditions record the site of Hesiod's grave. One, as early as Thucydides, reported in Plutarch, the Suda and John Tzetzes, states that the Delphic oracle warned Hesiod that he would die in Nemea, and so he fled to Locris, where he was killed at the local temple to Nemean Zeus, and buried there. This tradition follows a familiar ironic convention: the oracle that predicts accurately after all.

The other tradition, first mentioned in an epigram of Chersios of Orchomenus written in the 7th century BC (within a century or so of Hesiod's death) claims that Hesiod lies buried at Orchomenus, a town in Boeotia. According to Aristotle's Constitution of Orchomenus, when the Thespians ravaged Ascra, the villagers sought refuge at Orchomenus, where, following the advice of an oracle, they collected the ashes of Hesiod and placed them in a place of honour in their agora, beside the tomb of Minyas, their eponymous founder, and in the end came to regard Hesiod too as their "hearth-founder" (οἰκιστής / oikistēs).

Later writers attempted to harmonize these two accounts.

The legends that accumulated about Hesiod are recorded in several sources: the story "The poetic contest (Ἀγών / Agōn) of Homer and Hesiod";[7] a vita of Hesiod by the Byzantine grammarian John Tzetzes; the entry for Hesiod in the Suda; two passages and some scattered remarks in Pausanias (IX, 31.3–6 and 38.3–4); a passage in Plutarch Moralia (162b).


Of the many works attributed to Hesiod, three survive complete and many more in fragmentary state. Our witnesses include Alexandrian papyri, some dating from as early as the 1st century BC, and manuscripts written from the eleventh century forward. Demetrius Chalcondyles issued the first printed edition (editio princeps) of Works and Days, possibly at Milan, probably in 1493. In 1495 Aldus Manutius published the complete works at Venice.

Hesiod's works, especially Works and Days, are from the view of the small independent farmer, while Homer's view is from nobility or the rich. Even with these differences, they share some of the same beliefs as far as work ethic, justice, and consideration of material items.

Works and Days

Main articles: Works and Days, and [[{{{2}}}]], and [[{{{3}}}]], and [[{{{4}}}]], and [[{{{5}}}]]

Hesiod wrote a poem of some 800 verses, the Works and Days, which revolves around two general truths: labour is the universal lot of Man, but he who is willing to work will get by. Scholars have interpreted this work against a background of agrarian crisis in mainland Greece, which inspired a wave of documented colonisations in search of new land.

This work lays out the five Ages of Man, as well as containing advice and wisdom, prescribing a life of honest labour and attacking idleness and unjust judges (like those who decided in favour of Perses) as well as the practice of usury. It describes immortals who roam the earth watching over justice and injustice.[8] The poem regards labor as the source of all good, in that both gods and men hate the idle, who resemble drones in a hive.[9]


Main articles: Theogony, and [[{{{2}}}]], and [[{{{3}}}]], and [[{{{4}}}]], and [[{{{5}}}]]

Tradition also attributes the Theogony, a poem which uses the same epic verse-form as the Works and Days, to Hesiod. Despite the different subject-matter most scholars, with some notable exceptions like Evelyn-White, believe both works were written by the same man. As M.L. West writes, "Both bear the marks of a distinct personality: a surly, conservative countryman, given to reflection, no lover of women or life, who felt the gods' presence heavy about him."[10]

The Theogony concerns the origins of the world (cosmogony) and of the gods (theogony), beginning with Gaia, Nyx and Eros, and shows a special interest in genealogy. Embedded in Greek myth there remain fragments of quite variant tales, hinting at the rich variety of myth that once existed, city by city; but Hesiod's retelling of the old stories became, according to the fifth century historian Herodotus, the accepted version that linked all Hellenes.

Other writings

A short poem traditionally attributed to Hesiod is The Shield of Heracles (Ἀσπὶς Ἡρακλέους / Aspis Hêrakleous). This survives complete; the other works discussed in this section survive only in quotations or papyri copies which are often damaged.

Classical authors also attributed to Hesiod a lengthy genealogical poem known as Catalogue of Women or Eoiae (because sections began with the Greek words e oie 'Or like the one who ...'). It was a mythological catalogue of the mortal women who had mated with gods, and of the offspring and descendants of these unions.

Several additional poems were sometimes ascribed to Hesiod:

  • Aegimius
  • Astrice
  • Chironis Hypothecae
  • Idaei Dactyli
  • Wedding of Ceyx
  • Great Works (presumably an expanded Works and Days)
  • Great Eoiae (presumably an expanded Catalogue of Women)
  • Melampodia
  • Ornithomantia

Scholars generally classify all these as later examples of the poetic tradition to which Hesiod belonged, not as the work of Hesiod himself. The Shield, in particular, appears to be an expansion of one of the genealogical poems, taking its cue from Homer's description of the Shield of Achilles.

The "portrait" bust

The Roman bronze bust of the late first century BC found at Herculaneum, the so-called Pseudo-Seneca was first reidentitified as a fictitious portrait meant for Hesiod by Gisela Richter, though it had been recognized that the bust was not in fact Seneca since 1813, when an inscribed herm portrait with quite different features was discovered. Most scholars now follow her identification.


  1. Template:Cite book
  2. M.L. West, "Hesiod", in Oxford Classical Dictionary, second edition (Oxford: University Press, 1970), p.510.
  3. J. A. Symonds, Studies of the Greek Poets, p. 166
  4. J. A. Symonds, p. 167
  5. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica (Cambridge: Harvard Press, 1964) Volume 57 of the Loeb Classical Library, pp. xivf.
  6. Gregry Nagy, Greek Mythology and Poetics (Cornell 1990), pp. 36-82.
  7. Translated in Evelyn-White, Hesiod, pp. 565-597.
  8. Hesiod, Works and Days, line 250: "Verily upon the earth are thrice ten thousand immortals of the host of Zeus, guardians of mortal man. They watch both justice and injustice, robed in mist, roaming abroad upon the earth". (Compare J. A. Symonds, p. 179)
  9. Works and Days, line 300: "Both gods and men are angry with a man who lives idle, for in nature he is like the stingless drones who waste the labor of the bees, eating without working."
  10. West, "Hesiod", p. 521.


  • Philip Wentworth Buckham, Theatre of the Greeks, 1827.
  • Erwin Rohde, Psyche, 1925.
  • J. A. Symonds, Studies of the Greek Poets, 1873.
  • Thomas Taylor, A Dissertation on the Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries, 1791.

External links

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