Authors: Hesiod

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Greek poet

Author Works


Theogonia, c. 700 B.C.E. (Theogony, 1728)

Erga kai Emerai, c. 700 B.C.E. (Works and Days, 1618)


One of the chief sources about the mythology of the early Greeks is the poem Theogony, ascribed to a man about whom very little is known for certain. One of the earliest known Greek poets, Hesiod (HEE-see-uhd) personified the Boeotian school of poetry. Works and Days, while marking a high point in Greek didactic poetry, with its precepts, fables, and allegories, provides a portrait of its author as a placid but hard-working Boeotian farmer whose merchant father came from the Aeolic Cyme in Asia Minor at a time when the writer was very young, or shortly before his birth.{$I[AN]9810000482}{$I[A]Hesiod}{$I[geo]GREECE;Hesiod}{$I[tim]0700 b.c.e.;Hesiod}

Most scholars agree that Hesiod lived just before or after 700 b.c.e. According to what Hesiod tells of himself in his poems, the Muses called to him, while he was tending sheep on Mount Helicon, to sing of the gods in poetry. He once won a prize in a poetic contest at Chalcis. There is an ancient story that Hesiod once met Homer, another famous representative of early Greek poetry (of the Ionic school) and that they engaged in a contest of poetic skills. There is no historical evidence that this occurred.

After his father’s death, Hesiod, a bachelor, and his brother Perses disputed the inheritance. Apparently the brother connived with corrupt judges and other political powers to deprive Hesiod of his share after having wasted his own. According to Plutarch, Thucydides, and others, Hesiod went to Orchomenus and Naupactus and was finally murdered in the sacred enclosure of the Nemean Zeus in Ozolian Locris, by relatives of a woman in whose seduction he had some part. By command of the Delphic Oracle, his remains were removed to Orchomenus, where Aristotle places his grave.

Hesiod founded and typified the second of two great ancient poetic traditions. His Boeotian school of epic poetry is often contrasted with the Ionic style of his predecessor, Homer. Two of Hesiod’s major poems survive. Theogony traces the genealogy of the gods of ancient Greece. Works and Days, apparently composed after Theogony, provides maxims for living an honest life (aimed at his brother). Deriving in large measure from his own experiences, it also gives much practical advice on agriculture and seafaring and discusses other more encompassing themes, such as the parable of Pandora’s box and the digressive ages of human history. It is known that he wrote other works, but they have not survived. Two works that have survived, at least partially–the Shield and Catalogue of Women–were traditionally attributed to Hesiod. Scholars no longer accept them as authentically Hesiod’s, but they still are frequently included in collections of his works.

Further Reading:Brown, Norman O. Introduction to Theogony, by Hesiod. New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1953. A detailed, interpretive introduction that contains perceptive commentary on the poem’s meaning accompanies a reliable translation.Burn, Andrew Robert. The World of Hesiod: A Study of the Greek Middle Ages. 2d ed. New York: B. Blom, 1966. An early study that examines the poet in his historical context. Includes much basic background information.Clay, Jenny Strauss. Hesiod’s Cosmos. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. A scholarly study of Hesiod’s works and their expression of early Greek religious thought.Evelyn-White, Hugh G., ed. and trans. Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns, and Homerica. 1914. Reprint. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982. The translation considered standard through most of the twentieth century.Gotshalk, Richard. Homer and Hesiod: Myth and Philosophy. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2000. A study of the nature and function of the poetry of Homer and Hesiod when their work is considered in historical context as developments of poetry as a distinctive voice for truth beyond religion and myth.Havelock, Eric. Preface to Plato. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982. An excellent discussion of “oral acoustic intelligence,” the tradition in which Hesiod composed.Hesiod. “Theogony,” “Works and Days,” “Shield.” Translated by Apostolos N. Athanassakis. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983. An imaginative modern translation, combined with lucid, thorough notes and an incisive introduction. The translator’s familiarity with historic and contemporary Greece enables him to offer many relevant details from folk culture. Includes bibliography.Janko, R. Homer, Hesiod, and the Hymns: Diachronic Development in Epic Diction. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1982. Solid scholarship and interesting speculation about the development of the hexameter tradition, with many theoretical assertions about dates and origins.Lamberton, Robert. Hesiod. Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: Hermes Books, 1988. An accessible introduction to Hesiod’s works. Historical background of the poems and problems of dating them are discussed. Major subsidiary works are analyzed.Marsilio, Maria S. Farming and Poetry in Hesiod’s “Works and Days.” Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2000. Demonstrates how Hesiod and Vergil viewed the farming lifestyle as a system of belief unto itself. Includes a translation of Works and Days by esteemed translator David Grene.Nelson, Stephanie A. God and the Land: The Metaphysics of Farming in Hesiod and Vergil. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Shows how Hesiod as well as Vergil viewed the farming lifestyle as a religion unto itself.Penglase, Charles. Greek Myths and Mesopotamia: Parallels and Influence in the Homeric Hymns and Hesiod. New York: Routledge, 1997. Examines how Mesopotamian ideas and themes influenced Greek religious mythological works, including the Homeric hymns to the gods and the works of Hesiod.Pucci, Pietro. Hesiod and the Language of Poetry. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977. An extremely detailed examination of the meaning of words in Hesiod. Primarily for the specialist but clear in presentation.Thalmann, William G. Conventions of Form and Thought in Early Greek Epic Poetry. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984. A comprehensive, carefully annotated examination of the form and structure of the poetry of Homer and Hesiod, illuminating parallel approaches in the work of both poets and providing many incisive comments on the meanings of their poems. An impressive assimilation and extension of much previous scholarship on the subject.West, M. L. The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women: Its Nature, Structure, and Origins. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985. A definitive study of a work previously attributed to Hesiod.
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