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Lecture 2

CLA160H1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 2: Dactylic Hexameter, Theogony, Traditional Chinese Characters

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Timothy Perry

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Week Two - Hesiod: Theogony, Works and Days
Monday, January 11, 2010
5:53 PM
o Don't know very much about the life of Hesiod (typical of the early authors)
o Probably DID exist
o Portrait we have is based on speculation
Serious, older man (same way Homer is depicted)
o Dates of his poems are 750 BC
o Ancient Biographies of Hesiod
Unreliable and most are anonymous
Written much later than the time Hesiod lived
Most information about Hesiod comes from his poems themselves and then embellish and invent
Almost always stress a rivalry between Hesiod and Homer (later tradition)
Usually Hesiod who wins in literary tradition
Homer is the greatest poet BUT Hesiod is always depicted as having won
Therefore he was very highly regarded by later ancient Greeks
May also be based upon a short passage in Hesiod's Works and Days when he takes place
in a contest and wins a tripod, although there is no mention of Homer there
o Hesiod, in his poems, is not an unbiased source of himself
Increasingly argued in the modern scholarship that the poet of Theogony and Works and days invents
a "poet persona", came up with Hesiod as a character
Difficult to tell how much is invented and how much is autobiographical
o Reconstruction of Hesiod's life: What we KNOW according to Hesiod
Father moved from Cyme (Eastern side of the Aegean, Asia Minor) to Asera to escape poverty
Not a fan of Asera during ANY season
Father was presumably successful as Hesiod and his brother Perses engage in a dispute over
their inheritance (Works and Days)
Perses wins the greater share apparently through bribing the local aristocracy but is later
reduced to poverty
Hesiod presents himself as a small-time farmer, however, in his youth turned to poetry (Theogony)
o What is a "theogony"?
Theos (god) - gonia (begetting)
Account of the origin of the gods
Is also a cosmology meaning it tells how the ordered world came into being
Hesiod's gods make up the comos, particularly true of the earliest gods when he is telling
of the genealogy
Increasingly the gods become anthropomorphic in depiction
Gaea IS the earth in addition to having anthropomorphic attributes
Hesiod's is not the only theogony and/or cosmology in the ancient Greek world
Homer, for example, never gives a unified account of how the gods came into being or how the
universe came into the being (because that's not he point of his epics) BUT he does allude to a
His account is different than Hesiod putting different gods in the beginning
Some religious cults had different ideas of how the universe came into being
o Hesiod's theogony/cosmology is the most influential -- WHY?
Writes very early and therefore authoritatively
Lot of interest in divine epic around this time (8th Century BC), especially writing divine epic
Later poetry of the Archaic Age focuses on the Heroic Age as Hesiod was viewed as an authority
on divine epic

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o Treated as an epic poem in ancient times (meets ancient criteria for epic)
Language is written in the epic dialect
Written in the correct meter (dactylic hexameter)
o Epic in context as well (meets modern criteria)
Serious treatment of the mythical deeds of the gods
o Non-epic aspects
Not solely narrative in structure, doesn't tell a unified story (broken up)
Largely an explanatory story, is to give information of the genealogy of the gods
Particularly explains and justifies the rise of Zeus
Similar to Greek hymns, hymnic in structure as well as epic
o Originality of Hesiod's Account
Very hard to gage how original Hesiod was as he was working within an oral tradition
Using traditional characters and stories that had built up through centuries
However, oral tradition developed through poet's innovation
Unknown how much Hesiod innovated as we don't have any earlier versions before
Hesiod's account
Assumed that Hesiod's version contains substantial original contributions in both content and the
arrangement of the material
o The Prologue
Three-part invocation of the Muses (three beginnings)
First Innovation: Lines 1-35, Second Invocation: Lines 36-103, Third Invocation: Lines 104-115
Accretion of different prologues, have them being stuck together by Hesiod?
This is unlikely
Three arguments for the integrity of the prologue (that Hesiod MEANT to have three
There is very little overlap between the function of the three invocations to
the Muses
Three is a very significant number in the poem
e.g.) three generations of the gods, various groups of three deities
or monsters described (3 Muses, 3 Heads, etc...)
Hesiod's epiphany (when he meets with the Muses)
Lines 22-31
Speaks of poetry as a gift, as being breathed into him
Hesiod can only become a poet through divine gift
Muses are problematic vision of poetry
Can say both true things and false things
"…we know how to tell many lies that sound like truth, but we know to sing reality,
when we will…"
Therefore poetry, like the Muses, can tell truth or lies
Muses claim they sometimes tell lies that sound like truth
General reflection on the nature of poetry?
Poet as inventor who could easily deceive
Deception is not at odds with the main goal of poetry to divert humans from their
daily lives and troubles
o The Theogony Proper
When Hesiod describes where the gods came from
Takes the form of a succession myth
Goes through generations of gods, how each generation took over from the succeeding
generation, how each generation's ruler was produced and succeeded
Starts with four original deities:
Chaos - disputed term, here means "gap" or "chasm" likely of the earth and the sky
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