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Hesiod’s Life and Works

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Source: Introduction to Hesiod's The Poems and Fragments done into English Prose with Introduction and Appendices by A.W. Mair M.A. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1908).



1. ‘Poetry is earlier than Prose’ is a familiar dictum of historical literary criticism, and the dictum is a true one when rightly understood. It has been a difficulty with some that prose—prosa oratio, or direct speech—the speech which, like Mark Antony, ‘only speaks right on,’ should be later in literature than verse. But all that is meant is merely this: that before the invention of some form of writing, of a mechanical means in some shape or other of recording the spoken word, the only kind of literature that can exist is a memorial literature. And a memorial literature can only be developed with the help of metre.

Aristotle finds the origin of poetry in two deepseated human instincts: ‘the instinct for Imitation and the instinct for Harmony and Rhythm, metres being clearly sections of rhythm. Persons, therefore, starting with this natural gift developed by degrees their special aptitudes, till their rude improvisations gave birth to Poetry’ (Poet. iv). What Aristotle says of Tragedy (Poet., l. c.) is true of poetry in general, that ‘it advanced by slow degrees; each new element that showed itself was in turn developed’, and everywhere ‘Nature herself discovered the appropriate measure’.

Poetry, then, for primitive man, was the only vehicle of literature, the only means by which the greatest experiences, the deepest feelings and aspirations of humanity could find an enduring record. ‘In one way only,’ says Pindar, Nem. vii. 14 sq., ‘know we a mirror for glorious deeds—if by grace of bright-crowned Mnemosyne a recompense of toils is found in glorious folds of verse.’ What in Pindar is a claim and a vaunt is for the primitive man literally true. Not for nothing was Mnemosyne or Memory the mother of the Muses: and not for nothing was Number, ‘by which all things are defined,’ the handmaiden of Memory. Number and Memory are significantly coupled by Aeschylus in the Prometheus Vinctus, 459 sqq., where Prometheus, among other benefits he conferred on men, boasts, ‘I found for them Number, most excellent of arts, and the putting together of letters, and Memory (Mneme), the muse-mother, artificer of all things.’

Poetry, accordingly, in the earliest times counted nothing common or unclean, but embraced the whole range of experience. Yet the poet was from the first regarded with a peculiar reverence. He stood apart from his fellow men, in a closer relation to the gods from whom he derived his inspiration. Generally he was not merely the singer of things past—

  • ‘of old unhappy far off things
  • And battles long ago’—

but also he was the prophet of things to come, and the wise man in whom was enshrined the wisdom of the ages, the highest adviser in things present, whether material or spiritual. With the development of a prose literature which was adequate to record the more ordinary things of life, the poet more and more confined himself to the higher levels of experience, or he dealt with common things in an uncommon way. Hence, as it were by an accident, there was developed the quality which, however hard to define, we each of us think ourselves able to recognize as poetic. But it still remains true that the one distinctive essential of poetry as compared with prose is that it is marked by ‘metres, which are sections (τμήματα) of rhythm’.

2. Before the invention of writing, then, there existed a vast body of popular poetry, handed down memorially. For the most part doubtless it consisted of comparatively short poems. But, even without the aid of writing, memory of itself was adequate to the composition and tradition of poems of considerable length. The old argument against the antiquity of the Homeric poems which was founded on the alleged impossibility of composing or preserving poems of such length by means of memory alone, has long since, on other grounds, become obsolete. It is difficult to understand how it could ever have been seriously advanced. So far as mere length goes I should not think that a good Greek scholar would find much difficulty in composing a poem as long as the Iliad, and certainly in committing it to memory he should find none. But in any case poetry in earlier days occupied a much more intimate part in the popular life than it does now or is ever likely to do again. In camp and in bower, in the labour of the field, in the shepherd’s hut on the hill, in the farmer’s hall on the long winter evenings at the season when ‘the Boneless One gnaweth his own foot within his fireless home and cheerless dwelling’, poetry and song formed the delight and solace of life, enshrining as they alone did the traditions and the wisdom of the race. Pennicuick’s picture of a farmer’s hall in old Scotland would apply, mutatis mutandis, to a farmer’s hall in ancient Greece:

  • ‘On a winter’s night my granny spinnin’
  • To mak a web of guid Scots linen;
  • Her stool being placed next to the chimley
  • (For she was auld and saw right dimly):
  • My lucky dad, an honest Whig,
  • Was telling tales of Bothwell-brig;
  • He could not miss to mind the attempt,
  • For he was sitting puing hemp;
  • My aunt whom nane dare say has no grace,
  • Was reading in the Pilgrim’s Progress;
  • The meikle tasker, Davie Dallas,
  • Was telling blads of William Wallace;
  • My mither bade her second son say
  • What he’d by heart of Davie Lindsay:
  • . . . . . . . . .
  • The bairns and oyes were all within doors;
  • The youngest of us chewing cinders,
  • And all the auld anes telling wonders.’

3. All the great types of later poetry are found in germ or prototype in the early popular poetry. One by one they are taken up, so to speak, and carried to their full perfection on the stage of literature. Nowhere is this process of development more simple or natural than in the literature of ancient Greece which, little influenced by external models, runs parallel at every stage and corresponds to the course of the national life. The rustic song and dance in honour of Dionysus gives birth to the magnificent creations of Aeschylus and Sophocles: the rustic harvest-home with its rude and boisterous mirth, when

  • ‘The harvest swains and wenches bound
  • For joy, to see the hockcart crowned.
  • About the cart hear how the rout
  • Of rural youngling raise the shout,
  • Pressing before, some coming after,
  • Those with a shout, and these with laughter.
  • Some bless the cart, some kiss the sheaves,
  • Some prank them up with oaken leaves;
  • Some cross the fill-horse, some with great
  • Devotion stroke the home-borne wheat,
  • While other rustics, less attent
  • To prayers than to merriment,
  • Run after with their breaches rent’

is the progenitor of the Aristophanic comedy. And so with other forms of literature.

Here we are concerned with Epic poetry only. First we have the unprofessional singer who sang unbidden and unbought: when ‘the Muse was not yet lover of gain nor hireling, and honey-tongued Terpsichore sold not her sweet and tender-voiced songs with silvered faces’ (Pindar, Isthm. ii. 6 sqq.). Next we have the professional minstrel, a wanderer from house to house, singing for his livelihood and a night’s shelter, or, at the top of his profession, the honoured and most trusted retainer of a royal household. The nearest analogy to the position of the latter type of minstrel would be perhaps the modern clergyman: only the early minstrel added to the privileges of the clergyman something of the responsibilities of the family lawyer. There are few more pleasing passages in Homer than those which introduce the honoured minstrel, such as Phemios in the palace of Odysseus and Demodokos in the palace of Alkinoos; of the latter, in Odyssey, viii. 62 sqq., we read how ‘the herald drew nigh, leading the trusty minstrel, whom the Muse loved with an exceeding love and gave him good and evil. She robbed him of his eyes, but she gave him sweet song. For him Pontonoos set a silver-studded chair in the midst of the banqueters, leaning it against a tall pillar. And from a peg he hung the shrill lyre just above his head and guided his hands to grasp it. And by him he set a basket and a table fair, and by him a cup of wine that he might drink when his spirit bade him. And they put forth their hands to the good cheer set ready before them. But when they had put from them desire of meat and drink, then the Muse stirred up the minstrel to sing the glories of men (κλέα ἀνδρωˆν), even that lay whose glory was then come unto the wide heaven, of the strife of Odysseus and Achilles, son of Peleus.’ And just as our Scottish farmer ‘was telling blads of William Wallace’, so in Homer, Iliad, ix. 186 sqq., when a deputation of chiefs came from Agamemnon to persuade Achilles to renounce his wrath, ‘they found him taking his delight in the shrill fair-carven lyre whereon was a bridge of gold: the lyre which he had taken from the spoils, when he sacked the city of Eetion. Therein he was taking his delight and was singing the glories of men (κλέα ἀνδρωˆν), while over against him, alone and in silence, sat Patroklos waiting till the son of Aiakos should end his lay.’

The direct descendant of this type of minstrelsy is the Homeric epic.

4. The first aim of the Homeric poet is to give pleasure: he is a teacher, but he is so indirectly. It is his privilege, nay, it is a condition of his art, to be imaginative, to prefer, in Aristotle’s phrase, ‘probable impossibilities to improbable possibilities,’ and the triumph of Homer is that he ‘chiefly has taught other poets to tell lies as they ought to be told’.

Now the Hesiodic epic is the antithesis of the Homeric. It is a didactic poetry, whose aim is not to please but to instruct. No less than the Homeric poet Hesiod claims divine inspiration, and he recognizes that the Muses are equally operative in both types of poetry. ‘We know,’ he makes the Muses say in Theogony, 27 sq., where he receives his call to poetry, ‘we know to speak full many things that wear the guise of truth (ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοɩ̂α): we know also when we will to utter truth.’ In other words, the aim of the Homeric epos is to please by the invention of artistic probabilities: the aim of the Hesiodic epos is to instruct men in the truth.

Leaving on one side the shield, which, whatever we may think about its authorship and date, belongs rather to the Homeric type of epos, and more particularly to the special type of Iliad xviii, and confining our attention to the Works and Days and the Theogony, we find perhaps the best and most illuminating parallel to the Hesiodic epos in the Wisdom (הסָבְחָ) of the Hebrews as represented by Job, Proverbs, and Koheleth among the canonical books of the Old Testament, and by the Wisdom of Solomon and the Wisdom of Jesus, the son of Sirach, among the Apocrypha. A full discussion of the points of comparison cannot be attempted here; but one or two things may be noticed.

First, both the Hebrew Wisdom and the Greek as represented by Hesiod are essentially practical. Both the one and the other have less metaphysical bent than the seventh-century sages of Greece. Thus, just as Hesiod includes within his scope not merely religious and ethical precepts, but also precepts of law and order, and precepts of husbandry and even of seafaring, so while Hebrew wisdom is mainly occupied with ethical observations, it does not despise the counsels of practical affairs: ‘I Wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions. . . . Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding: I have strength. By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth’ (Proverbs viii. 12 sqq.); ‘Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech. Doth the plowman plow all day to sow? doth he open and break the clods of his ground? When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rie in their place? For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him. For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart-wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod. Bread corn is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen. This also cometh forth from the Lord of Hosts, which is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working’ (Isaiah xxviii. 23 sqq.). So Hesiod (W. 660 sqq.) has no experience of ships, ‘yet will I declare the mind of Zeus, for the Muses have taught me to sing the wondrous hymn.’

Again, both the Hebrew Wisdom and the Greek offer their reward in this world: Hesiod, W. 225-47, contrasts the prosperity which attends the just man—peace, plenty, fruitful wife—with the afflictions of the unjust man—famine and plague and barren wife. So Proverbs viii. 18 sqq., ‘Riches and honour are with me; yea, durable riches and righteousness. . . . I lead in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of judgment: that I may cause those that love me to inherit substance, and I will fill their treasures’: Proverbs ii. 21 sq., ‘the upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it: but the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it.’ Hesiod tells how with the successive races of men old age followed faster and ever faster upon youth, until one day men shall be grey-haired at their birth. So Proverbs iii. 16 sqq., ‘Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her; and happy is every one that retaineth her.’

But most notable of all is that striking feature of the Wisdom literature which, for want of a better word, we may in general describe as parabolic. In the Book of Proverbs i. 6, we read: ‘to understand a proverb (םָשָׁל) and a riddle (םְלִיצָה); the words of the wise (חֲבָםִים דִבְדֵי) and their dark sayings’ (חִידֹח), and similarly in Habakkuk ii. 6 (םָשָׁל וםְלִיצָה חִידוֹח). The several terms here given seem to shade into one another in meaning, and cover the whole range of parable, proverb, byword, parallelistic poem, fable, allegory. The distinctions attempted to be drawn between these seem to me rather thin, and in any case are more of form than of essence, and need not concern us here. In Greek we have a similar variety of expressions, αἰ̂νος, αἴνιγμα, παραβολή, παροιμία (Ecclesiasticus xxxix. 1 sq. σοϕίαν πάντων ἀρχαίων ἐκζητήσει καὶ ἐν προϕητείαις ἀσχοληθήσεται· διήγησιν ἀνδρωˆν ὀνομαστωˆν συντηρήσει καὶ ἐν στροϕαɩ̂ς παραβολωˆν συνεισελεύσεται· ἀπόκρυϕα παροιμιωˆν ἐκζητήσει καὶ ἐν αἰνίγμασι παραβολωˆν ἀναστραϕήσεται), γρɩ̂ϕος, κέρτομα, and I venture to add σκόλιον, which was properly in its origin a ‘crooked’ or cryptic ‘sentiment’, like the Hebrew m’lîça. Very close in meaning also is εἰκών, imago and similitudo. The use of the fable, parable, &c., in the Bible need not be illustrated here. In Hesiod we find the same characteristic. Thus we have the fable (αἰ̂νος) of the hawk and the nightingale in W. 202 sqq., the proverb in W. 345 sqq. and passim, cryptic expressions like εὕει ἄτερ δαλονˆ, W. 705, &c.

The most curious form of this phenomenon in Hesiod is the use of the allusive or descriptive expression in place of the κύριον ὄνομα or ‘proper’ word. Thus we have ‘Athene’s servant’ = carpenter; ‘the three-footed man’ = old man with his staff (cf. the ‘three-footed ways’ of the old in Aesch. Agam.); ‘the boneless one’ = cuttlefish; ‘the house-carrier’ = the shell-snail; ‘the wise one’ = the ant; ‘the daysleeper’ = the burglar; ‘to cut the withered from the quick from the five-branched’ = to cut the nails of the hand.

Such expressions are sometimes described as ritualistic. But to label a phenomenon is not to explain it. The fact would seem to be that the use of the descriptive or allusive expression may be due to a variety of motives. In the first place, our ‘proper’ names are themselves very largely in their origin descriptive names: only the original meaning has become obscured and been forgotten, and they now merely denote, without being felt to describe. Thus, e.g., ‘squirrel’ is now merely a denotative label, but when first used and still felt to mean shadow-tail, or shady-tail, it was not simply denotative but also descriptive. Again, we feel ‘boneless one’ to be a significantly picturesque name for a cuttlefish, while polypus, which is just as picturesque in origin, is no longer felt to be so, except by one who knows Greek. So ἀνθεμουργός (Aeschylus), ‘flower-worker,’ we still feel to be an expressive name for a bee, whereas μέλισσα probably to most scarcely hints its original meaning, ‘the honey one.’

The phenomenon we have to do with is the deliberate choice of the allusive in preference to the ‘proper’ word, when it lay ready to hand. Among the motives are the desire for picturesqueness and variety (thus ‘the croucher’ for Mr. G. L. Jessop); the desire of euphemism—ἀποπατεɩ̂ν, ‘cover the feet’; of poetical dignity—‘the chalice of the grapes of God’ (Tennyson) = the Communion cup. Often, again, the allusive term is half-humorously meant; this is especially common in rustic or popular speech: thus ‘clear buttons’ for policeman; and the Aberdeen urchin still salutes the guardian of the peace as ‘Tarryhat’, though the headgear which occasioned the epithet has long been obsolete. Akin to this is the pet name; thus Scots ‘crummie’ = cow, means literally ‘crooked’ (Germ. krumm), i.e. with crooked horns, and thus corresponds to ἕλικες in Homer. In certain cases, again, there may be a superstitious motive: thus on the NE. coast of Scotland a fisherman when at sea must not mention a minister as such, but refer to him only as the ‘man with the black coat’. Sometimes, again, the turn of expression is definitely intended to be a riddle, a dark saying.

We need not discriminate these various motives too carefully, as they must often have worked together. That such turns of expression were characteristic of the early didactic poet is certain. He spoke in pregnant parables and memorable epigrams: as Pindar tells us, Pyth. ix. 77 βαιὰ δ’ ἐν μακροɩ̂σι ποικίλλειν ἀκοὰ σοϕοɩ̂ς. Thus also such language was characteristic of the oracles. Yet it seems a little misleading to dismiss such expressions wherever found as priestly, oracular, ritualistic. If they are ritualistic, then we must try to explain why. When we find in Pindar, Ol. xiii. 81 κραταίπους—‘the strong-footed,’ in the sense of ‘bull’, and when we read the scholiast’s note thereon: τὸν τανˆρον ϕησίν· οὕτω δὲ Δελϕοὶ ἰδίως ἐκάλουν, our remark would be (1) that the expression is one of those allusive terms characteristic of oracles; (2) it may, however, be an invention of Pindar’s own; (3) in any case we are familiar with the type, and it is utterly improbable that it was peculiar to Delphi. We find, in fact, an exact parallel in the Hebrew אַבִּיד, ‘strong,’ meaning ‘bull’, Ps. xxii. 13 (in Jeremiah = horse). So לְבָנָה, ‘pale,’ = the moon (cf. Phoebe).

The reader should be warned, however, from finding subtle meanings where none exists. Thus Professor Gilbert Murray’s remarks on Hesiod’s ox and Hesiod’s ploughman on p. 62 of his Rise of the Greek Epic have no obvious relation to the facts. Indeed he is refuted by himself when in a footnote on p. 63 he confesses, ‘v. 559 f. I do not understand.’ Nor do I think he is more fortunate with Homer’s ox, p. 64, when he writes: ‘Then as the bull is struck, “the daughters and the daughters-in-law and the august wife of Nestor all wailed aloud.” Exactly, you see, as the Todas wail.’ Unfortunately, Homer does not say that Nestor’s wife and daughters-in-law wailed.

In conclusion, I should like to suggest that the gloom which is supposed to characterize the Hesiodic epos is by no means so marked as is often said. You do not expect a sermon to be as cheerful as a ballad of adventure. And the political discontent of which so much is made is no more obvious than in Homer. When Professor Murray (Greek Literature) says that there is indeed a hope when one day the demos ‘arises and punishes’ the sins of the princes, he is merely mistranslating the lines in which Hesiod says that one day the people suffer for the sins of the princes—‘quidquid delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi’—which is a somewhat different thing.



It may be convenient for the reader if we here set out the most noteworthy of the ancient testimonia regarding Hesiod’s life—A. Internal evidence from the Hesiodic Poems. B. External evidence.

A. (1) Works and Days, 27 sqq. ‘O Perses, lay thou this to heart, nor let strife that exulteth in evil turn thy mind from work, to watch contention and to hearken in the market-place. Little time hath he for wrangling and contention, who hath not laid up at home store of food sufficient for the year, Demeter’s grain. When thou hast gotten thee enough thereof, then be contentious for the goods of others. But no more mayst thou do thus. Let us straightway judge between us with just judgement, even of Zeus, which is best. Already had we divided our inheritance, and much besides didst thou seize and carry away, for the great glory of the bribe-devouring princes, who are fain to judge this suit’ (τήνδε δίκην ἐθέλουσι δικάσσαι).

We gather from this that Hesiod’s father must have been a man of considerable estate. Otherwise there would have been no possibility of Perses giving great glory to the bribe-devouring princes. On the death of their father the two sons had divided his estate—on what principle we do not know. But Perses, not content with his due share, carried off much besides. The case was about to come before the bribe-devouring princes, who were only too glad to decide the case. Hesiod, however, invites Perses to an equitable agreement—‘with just judgement, even of Zeus, which is best.’ The ‘emendation’ adopted by Fick and others —ἐθέλουσι δίκασσαν—‘gave this verdict with our consent,’ implies that the trial had already taken place. An assumption at once more gratuitous and more at variance with the context can hardly be imagined. Hesiod does not say that Perses got more than his share by bribing the judges. ‘Didst seize and carry away’ would not be the natural language to apply to his action in that case. What he does say is that Perses took more than his share, and the subsequently necessary lawsuit was calculated to bring great glory to the bribe-devouring princes who would be glad to decide the case: instead of which Hesiod proposes an equitable arrangement, which would not require the intervention of the ‘princes’.

(2) W. 299, Πέρση, δɩ̂ον γένος: ‘noble Perses.’ This might at first sight argue noble birth: but the epithet is only a convention, applied as it is in Homer to the swineherd Eumaios (Od. passim), who of course as the son of prince Ktesios was, indeed, of noble birth—only I do not think it is in virtue of his birth that the epithet is applied to him.

(3) W. 633: ‘Even as thy father and mine, foolish Perses, was wont to sail in ships, seeking a goodly livelihood: who also on a time came hither, traversing great space of sea in his black ship from Aiolian Kyme: not fleeing from abundance, nor from riches and weal, but from evil penury, which Zeus giveth unto men. And he made his dwelling near Helikon in a sorry township, even Askra, bad in winter, hard in summer, never good.’ According to this Hesiod’s father was an inhabitant of Kyme in Aiolis on the coast of Asia Minor, who earned his livelihood as a merchant, and ultimately came across to Greece and settled at Askra in Boiotia. Fick is not justified in saying that ‘came hither’ cannot refer to an inland town like Askra, but must refer to a coast town—i.e. Naupaktos in the district of the Western Lokrians. Still less convincing is Fick’s argument that the Works and Days, or that portion of it which Fick calls the ‘Rügelied’, could not have been written at Askra, or at any rate not published there, because the poet would not in that case have spoken so disparagingly of the princes of Thespiai!

(4) W. 648: ‘I will show thee the measures of the surging sea, though I have no skill of seafaring or of ships. For never yet have I sailed over the sea in a ship save only to Euboia from Aulis, where of old the Achaians abode a storm, when they had assembled a mighty host that should go from sacred Hellas unto Troy, the land of fair women. Thither even unto Chalkis I crossed to the games of wise Amphidamas. And the prizes full many did his great-hearted sons offer and set forth, where I avow that I was victorious with my hymn and carried off an eared tripod: which I offered up to the Muses of Helikon, where first they set me on the path of sweet song. Such is all the experience I have of dowelled ships.’

The first inference from this is that Hesiod was born subsequent to his father’s settling at Askra. Again we have here a clear reference to Hesiod’s account in the Theogony prooemium of the Muses’ visit to him on Mount Helikon. The date of the Amphidamas referred to is unfortunately unknown, the earlier chronologists fixing his date by Hesiod’s, not Hesiod’s by his.

In this passage for the words (v. 656-7) ἔνθά μέ ϕημι | ὕμνῳ νικήσαντα ϕέρειν τρίποδ’ ὠτώεντα, there was a variant, Proclus tells us, ἔνθά μέ ϕημι | ὕμνῳ νικήσαντ’ ἐν Χαλκίδι θεɩ̂ον Ὅμηρον. There need be no doubt whatever that the first is the correct reading, but the legend of the contest between Hesiod and Homer obtained much currency in later times. The scholiast on Pind. Nem. ii. 1 attributes to Hesiod the lines:

  • ἐν Δήλῳ τότε πρωˆτον ἐγὼ καὶ Ὅμηρος ἀοιδοὶ
  • μέλπομεν, ἐν νεαροɩ̂ς ὕμνοις ῥάψαντες ἀοιδήν,
  • Φοɩ̂βον Ἀπόλλωνα, χρυσάορον, ὃν τέκε Λητώ,

and we have a poem entitled ‘Of Homer and Hesiod, their lineage and their contest’, generally known as the Contest or Agon of Homer and Hesiod. But as it mentions the Emperor Hadrian (a.d. 76-138, emperor a.d. 117-38) it cannot be earlier than the second century after Christ.

The tripod which Hesiod won in this contest was still shown in the time of Pausanias (a.d. 138-81), who writes in his Description of Greece, ix. 31. 3: ‘On Helikon, among other tripods erected, the most ancient is that which Hesiod is said to have won at Chalkis on the Euripos, as victor in a poetic contest.’ Pausanias says nothing of the inscription on the vase. In the Agon it is given as follows:

  • Ἡσίοδος Μούσαις Ἑλικωνίσι τόνδ’ ἀνέθηκεν
  • ὕμνῳ νικήσας ἐν Χαλκιδι θεɩ̂ον Ὅμηρον,

and so it is given in Proclus’s Life of Homer, and in A. Gellius, 3. 11.

(5) Theogony, 22-35: ‘(the Muses) which also of old taught Hesiod sweet song what time he tended his sheep under holy Helikon. These words first spake to me the goddess Muses of Olympos, the daughters of Zeus the Lord of the Aigis: “Shepherds of the fields, evil things of shame, bellies only! We know to speak full many things that wear the guise of truth, and know also when we will to utter truth.” So spake the eloquent daughters of mighty Zeus. And they gave me a staff, even a branch of lusty olive, wondrous to pluck, and breathed in me a voice divine that I might celebrate the things that shall be and the things that were aforetime. They bade me sing the race of the Blessed Ones which are for ever, but always to sing their own selves first and last. But wherefore this tale of stock or stone?’

The incident here mentioned is clearly that referred to in the previous quotation from the Works and Days: ‘where first they set me on the path of sweet song.’

B. Of external sources of information about Hesiod’s life we may take first the Agon and the Life by Ioannes Tzetzes (twelfth century a.d.).

The Life by Tzetzes may be shortly summarized as follows: ‘Hesiod and his brother Perses were the children of Dios [this name, which is regularly assigned to Hesiod’s father in later notices of the poet, seems to be derived from the variant reading Δίου γένος for δɩ̂ον γένος in W. 299; similarly from τύνη=σύ in W. 10, one Polyzelos invented Tynes as a King of Chalkis] and Pykimede, of Kyme in Aiolis, who owing to stress of poverty removed to Askra, a township near the foot of Helikon, in Boiotia. Owing to the poverty of his parents Hesiod became a shepherd of sheep on Helikon. Hesiod tells how nine women came to him and gave him to eat shoots of Heliconian bay, whereby he was inspired with wisdom and poetry (σοϕίας καὶ ποιητικη̂ς ἐμπεϕόρητο). So far the narrative is true—that Hesiod was the son of Dios and Pykimede, and that he was a shepherd on Helikon: the rest is mythical and allegorical. For either Hesiod, while shepherding upon Helikon, fell asleep, and in a dream beheld nine women who fed him with bays—the dream signifying that through partaking of the education of bitterness and toil he should produce evergreen poems. Hesiod then, having beheld these things in a dream, awoke from sleep and gave up shepherding and devoted himself to toil and study, and so accomplished the fulfilment of his dream. Or it may be that while shepherding on Helikon, awake and not asleep, having reflected in his heart and attained the appropriate mind, he eschewed the meanness and hardness of a shepherd’s life and applied himself to study and endured toil, and so attained great renown: and produced his many books which I know to be food of the Muses and of knowledge, vocal Heliconian bays, everywhere circling and blooming and proclaiming him who was erstwhile the poor and obscure shepherd of flocks, but now has attained repute through virtue and culture.

‘Some hold that Hesiod was contemporary with Homer; others maintain that he was earlier than Homer. Those who maintain the latter opinion say he lived at the beginning of the reign of Arxippos [King of Athens (according to Philochoros) 1029-994 b.c.], while Homer lived at the end of that reign. This Arxippos was the son of Akastos, and ruled Athens for thirty-five years. Those who hold that they [i.e. Homer and Hesiod] were contemporaries say that at the death of Amphidamas, King of Euboia, they contended, and Hesiod was victorious,’ &c. [Here follows an account of the contest, at which Paneides, brother of Amphidamas, was president and judge along with Ganyktor and the other sons of Amphidamas. The prize was finally awarded by Paneides to Hesiod on the ground that ‘he taught peace and agriculture, and not war and slaughter, like Homer’. Tzetzes himself dismisses the whole story as ‘the babble of a later day’, while he records his own opinion—‘or rather,’ he writes, ‘I know for certain’—that Homer was much earlier than Hesiod. He suggests that the Homer who competed with Hesiod may have been another Homer, a Phocian and son of Euphron, since there were various Homers, e.g. later than the Phocian Homer, there was Homer, son of Andromachos, a Byzantine, author of the Eurypyleia. The ancient Homer lived, according to Dionysios ὁ κυκλογράϕος, in the time of the Theban expeditions and the taking of Troy.] ‘Hence I conclude that he lived four hundred years before Hesiod. For Aristotle, the philosopher—or rather, I imagine, the author of the Peploi—in his Polity of the Orchomenians, says that Stesichoros, the lyric poet, was the son of Hesiod by Ktimene, sister of Amphiphanes and Ganyktor, and daughter of Phegeus. This Stesichoros was contemporary with Pythagoras, the philosopher, and Phalaris of Acragas. Others say he was four hundred years later than Homer, as Herodotos also says.

‘Hesiod wrote sixteen books, Homer thirteen.’

Tzetzes concludes with an account of the death of Hesiod, to which I shall refer later.

The Agon (which, as we have seen, cannot, in its present form at any rate, be earlier than the second century after Christ) opens with a genealogy of Homer, and then proceeds: ‘Some say that he (Homer) was earlier than Hesiod, others that he was younger and a kinsman. They give the genealogy thus:


‘Others say they were contemporaries, and competed together at Chalkis in Euboia.’ Then follows an account of the contest, which is introduced in the following words: ‘Homer having composed the Margites went about from city to city rhapsodizing. He went to Delphi also, where he inquired what was his mother’s native country. The Pythian priestess answered: “The Isle of Ios is thy mother’s fatherland which shall receive thee dead. But beware of the riddle of young children.” Homer, on hearing this, avoided going to Ios, and stayed in the district round about Delphi. About the same time Ganyktor, holding the funeral feast of his father, Amphidamas, King of Euboia, invited to the meeting, not merely all men who were distinguished for strength and speed, but those also who were distinguished for wisdom, honouring them with great rewards. So, as we are told, Homer and Hesiod met by accident at Chalkis. The judges of the contest were certain eminent Chalcidians, and, with them, Paneides, brother of the deceased.’ The procedure at the contest is a little ridiculous, and may be dismissed briefly. First Hesiod put single questions to Homer which Homer answered. Thus Hesiod: ‘Homer, son of Meles, who knowest wisdom from the gods, come tell me first of all, What is best for men?’ To this Homer replies: ‘Never to be born at all is best for mortal men, and if born to pass as soon as may be the gates of Hades.’ To a second and similar question by Hesiod Homer replies in the amous lines of Odyssey, ix. 6-11. This reply of Homer’s greatly delights the judges. Hesiod, chagrined at Homer’s success, next tries Homer with ‘indefinite’ questions: ‘Come, Muse, the things that are and the things that shall be and the things that were aforetime—thereof sing not, but mind thee of another song.’ Homer answers: ‘Never around the tomb of Zeus shall horses with clattering feet wreck the chariot, contending for victory.’ Homer having answered successfully, Hesiod has recourse to ‘ambiguous sentences’, i.e. Hesiod recites a line or lines, and Homer adds a line to complete the sense. Thus Hesiod: ‘Now when they had made libation and drunk—the wave of the sea—’. Homer:—‘they were to voyage over on their well-benched ships.’ Homer having successfully answered a number of questions of this type, Hesiod next propounds a problem: ‘How many Achaians went to Troy with the Atreidae?’ Homer answers by means of an arithmetical problem: ‘There were fifty hearths; in each hearth fifty spits (ὀβελοί); on each spit fifty pieces of flesh; round each piece of flesh thrice three hundred Achaians.’ This would give, as Tzetzes says, an incredible number: 50 × 50 × 50 × 900 = 112,500,000. Homer having got the better of him in all these questions, Hesiod, ‘being jealous,’ proposes some further questions, which are again so successfully answered that all the Greeks were for awarding the crown to Homer: but King Paneides ordered each of the poets to quote the best passage in their poems. Hesiod quotes W. 383-92—the passage commencing ‘What time the Pleiades, the daughters of Atlas, rise,’ &c. Homer quotes Iliad, xiii. 126-35, 339-44: ‘Around the two Aiantes,’ &c. Still the Greeks were for awarding the victory to Homer. But King Paneides crowned Hesiod, saying that the victory ought to go to the poet who incited to agriculture and peace, not to him who described wars and battles. So Hesiod won, and received a brazen tripod which he dedicated to the Muses with the inscription: ‘Hesiod dedicated this to the Heliconian Muses, having by his hymn at Chalkis conquered divine Homer.’

The rest of the Agon, so far as concerns Hesiod, is the story of his death, and that is the only further circumstance of Hesiod’s biography which it is worth while to consider here. I give the chief accounts which have come down to us.

1. Thucydides, iii. 96: ‘[Demosthenes], having bivouacked with his army in the precincts of Nemean Zeus, in which Hesiod the poet is said to have been killed by the people of the country, an oracle having before declared that he should suffer this fate at Nemea, set out,’ &c., i.e. the oracle had foretold that Hesiod should die at Nemea, whereby he naturally understood Nemea in Argolis to be meant, not Nemea in Lokris.

2. Tzetzes’ Life: ‘Hesiod died in Lokris in the following manner: after his victory at the funeral feast of Amphidamas, he went to Delphi, where this oracle was given to him: “Happy is this man who visiteth my house, even Hesiod, honoured of the deathless Muses: his glory shall be wideflung as the dawn. But beware thou of the fair grove of Nemean Zeus: for there the end of death is foredoomed for thee.” Avoiding Nemea in Peloponnesos he was slain at Oinoe in Lokris by Amphiphanes and Ganyktor, the sons of Phegeus, and cast into the sea, as having ruined their sister Ktimene (mother of Stesichoros). Now Oinoe was called the temple of Nemean Zeus. Three days afterwards the body was carried ashore by dolphins between Lokris and Euboia [this seems to be a confusion of the Epicnemidian Locrians with the Ozolian Locrians, in whose country Oinoe was situated], and the Locrians buried him at Nemea in Oinoe. His murderers went on board a ship and endeavoured to escape, but perished in a storm. Afterwards, the people of Orchomenos, in obedience to an oracle, brought Hesiod’s bones and buried them in the middle of their market-place, and wrote over him this epitaph: “Askra of rich corn-land was the fatherland, but the knightly Minyan land holds the bones of Hesiod dead: Hesiod, whose glory is greatest among men, when men are tried by wisdom’s touchstones.’ [This epitaph is given in the Greek Anthology, vii. 54, as by Mnasalcas of Sikyon, third century b.c.] ‘Pindar also wrote an epitaph: “Hail, Hesiod! twice young, twice buried, who holdest the measure of wisdom for men”.’

3. The Agon: ‘After the meeting [at Chalkis] was dissolved Hesiod sailed across to Delphi to consult the oracle and to dedicate the fruits of victory to the god. As he approached the shrine, it is said, the priestess became inspired and said, “Happy is this man,” &c. [as in Tzetzes]. Hesiod having heard the oracle withdrew from the Peloponnesos, thinking that the god meant the Peloponnesian Nemea, and went to Oinoe in Lokris, where he stayed with Amphiphanes and Ganyktor, the sons of Phegeus—not understanding the oracle. For the whole of this place was called the temple of Nemean Zeus. Having stayed a considerable time in Oinoe, he was suspected by the young men of corrupting their sister. So they killed Hesiod and threw his body into the sea between Euboia and Lokris. On the third day the body was brought ashore by dolphins, while the people of the district were celebrating a local festival—the Ariadneia. All rushed to the shore, and recognizing the body, they buried it with mourning, and proceeded to seek out his murderers. They, fearing the anger of their fellow citizens, launched a fishing-vessel and sailed across to Crete. In the course of their voyage Zeus sank them with a thunderbolt—as Alkidamas says in his Museum. Eratosthenes, however, in his Hesiod says that when Ktimenos and Antiphos, the sons of Ganyktor, had slain Hesiod on the charge before-mentioned, they were sacrificed to the gods of Hospitality (θεοɩ̂ς ξενίοις) by the seer Eurykles. The maiden, sister of the aforesaid, after her ruin hanged herself: her ruin, however, was due, he says, to a stranger who was a fellow traveller of Hesiod, by name Demonides, who was killed by the brothers. Afterwards the people of Orchomenos, in obedience to an oracle, transferred Hesiod’s body to their own city, where they buried him, and inscribed on his tomb “Askra” ’, &c. [as in Tzetzes].

4. Plutarch, Septem Sap. Conviv. 19: ‘A Milesian with whom Hesiod shared hospitality in Lokris was discovered to have ruined their host’s daughter. Hesiod was suspected of having been cognisant of the crime and of having screened the guilty person. The brothers of the maiden laid an ambush and slew Hesiod and his attendant Troilos at the Locrian Nemeum. Their bodies were thrown into the sea—that of Troilos into the river Daphnos, where it was carried out to sea and landed on a reef which projected a little from the sea, and which is to this day called Troilos. Hesiod’s body, on the other hand, was at once taken up by a shoal of dolphins and carried to Rhium and Molykria. The Locrians happened to be holding the established festival and general assembly of the Rhians, which even at this day they manifestly hold at that place. When the body was seen coming ashore, the people, naturally surprised, ran down to the beach, and recognizing the corpse, which was not long dead, they postponed everything to an inquiry into the murder, on account of Hesiod’s fame. They speedily discovered the murderers, and threw them into the sea alive and razed their house to the ground. Hesiod was buried beside the Nemeum. Most strangers do not know his tomb, but it is kept concealed, being sought by the people of Orchomenos who wished, in obedience to an oracle, to take up his remains and inter them in their own country.’

5. Plutarch, De Animal. Sollert. 13. 10: ‘This wise Hesiod’s dog is said to have done—convicting the sons of Ganyktor of Naupaktos, by whom Hesiod was slain.’

6. Plutarch, op. cit. 36. 7: ‘Your mention of Hesiod is timely, my friend, “albeit the tale is incomplete”: mentioning the dog, you should not have omitted the dolphins. For blind had been the information of the dog, barking and crying as it bore down upon the murderers, had not his dead body, which was drifting in the sea near Nemeum, been taken up by dolphins, who eagerly took it up and in relays brought it ashore at Rhium and shown Hesiod slain.’

7. Pollux, v. 42: ‘Hesiod’s dogs, remaining beside him when slain, by their barking convicted his murderers.’

8. Pausanias, Descript. of Greece, ix. 31. 6(5): ‘Contradictory accounts are given also of Hesiod’s death. All are agreed that Ganyktor’s sons, Ktimenos and Antiphos, fled from Naupaktos to Molykria owing to the murder of Hesiod, and there committed impiety towards Apollo and received their punishment at Molykria: but some say the young men’s sister was shamed by another person, and that Hesiod wrongly got the blame for another’s sin: others say that Hesiod himself was the guilty person.’

9. Pausanias, op. cit. ix. 38. 3: ‘[At Orchomenos] are tombs of Minyas and Hesiod. They say they received Hesiod’s bones in this way. A plague seizing both man and beast, they sent an embassy to the god [i.e. to Apollo at Delphi], and the answer they received from the Pythian priestess was that their one remedy was to bring the bones of Hesiod to the land of Orchomenos. They next asked, where in the land of Naupaktos they should find his bones, and the priestess replied that a raven should indicate to them the place. Accordingly the men landed at Naupaktos, and not far from the road they saw a rock and the bird sitting on it: and in a cleft of the rock they found Hesiod’s bones. And on his tomb is inscribed “Askra” ’, &c. [the epitaph in Tzetzes, &c.].

10. Suidas, Lex.: ‘Hesiod died as the guest of Antiphos and Ktimenos, who by night slew him unawares, thinking they were slaying the betrayer of their sister.’

11. Proclus on W. 631. ‘Plutarch says Askra was uninhabited even then, the Thespians having destroyed the inhabitants, those who escaped being received by the Orchomenians. Hence also the god bade the Orchomenians take the remains of Hesiod and inter them in their own land: as also Aristotle says in the polity of the Orchomenians.’

12. Anthology, vii. 55, epigram by Alkaios of Messene: ‘In the shady grove of Lokris the nymphs washed Hesiod’s corpse from their own springs, and built high his tomb. And the goatherds sprinkled it with milk kneaded with yellow honey. For even as honey was the speech the old man breathed, when he had tasted the fountains undefiled of the Muses nine.’ Cf. vii. 52.



We shall next consider the most noticeable of the ancient references to the nature, titles, and contents of the Hesiodic Poems.

1. Xenophanes of Kolophon (circa 570-480 b.c.), ap. Sext. Empir. Adv. Mathem. ix. 193: ‘Homer and Hesiod ascribed to the gods all things that among men are a shame and a reproach (ὀνείδεα καὶ ψόγος)—to steal and to commit adultery and to deceive one another.’

2. id. ap Sext. Empir. Adv. Mathem. i. 289: Homer and Hesiod, according to Xenophanes of Kolophon, ‘who told full many lawless deeds of the gods—to steal and to commit adultery and to deceive one another.’

3. id. ap. Aul. Gellius, N. A. iii. 11: ‘Some have written that Homer was older than Hesiod—among them Philochoros and Xenophanes: others that he was younger.’ Karsten, ad loc., thinks it probable that Gellius took his remark about Xenophanes from Philochoros, whom he mentions first.

4. Heraclitos of Ephesos (circa 535-475 b.c.), ap. Diogen. Laert. ix. 1: ‘Much learning (πολυμαθίη) does not teach sense: else it would have taught Hesiod and Pythagoras, and again Xenophanes and Hekataios.’

5. Pindar, Isthm. v. 95: ‘Lampon, in that he bestoweth diligence on works (μελέταν ἔργοις ὀπάζων), verily honours this precept of Hesiod,’ i.e. he remembers Hesiod’s saying in W. 412, ‘Diligence prospereth work.’ We have already quoted the epigram on Hesiod, ‘Hail,’ &c., attributed to Pindar.

6. Bacchylides (circa 507-428 b.c.), v. 191 sqq.: ‘Thus spake the Boeotian, Hesiod, servant of the sweet Muses, “Whomsoever the immortals honour, the good report of men goes with him also.” ’ Cf. Hesiod, Theog. 80 sqq.

7. Herodotos, ii. 53: ‘Whence each of the gods sprang, or if they all were from all eternity, and what were their attributes men knew not till, so to say, yesterday or the day before. For I consider that Hesiod and Homer were earlier in date than myself by four hundred years and no more. And they it was who created the Theogony of the Hellenes, and who assigned to the gods their names and defined their honours and their arts, and declared their attributes. The earlier poets of whom we hear were, I believe, later than these. The first of these accounts is that given by the priestesses of Dodona; the latter account of Hesiod and Homer is what I hold myself.’

8. Aristophanes, Frogs, 1030 sqq.: ‘For consider from the beginning how useful the noble poets have been. Orpheus showed us mysteries (τελετάς) and to abstain from murder: Musaios the healing of diseases and oracles: Hesiod the culture of the soil, the seasons of fruits, ploughings (γη̂ς ἐργασίας, καρπωˆν ὥρας, ἀρότους). Divine Homer—whence got he honour and glory save from this, that he taught good things (or “useful things”), dispositions, deeds of prowess, armings of men? (τάξεις, ἀρετάς, ὁπλίσεις ἀνδρωˆν).’

9. Pausanias, Descript. Graeciae, ix. 31. 4-5: ‘Those of the Boeotians who dwell round Helikon record it as the traditional opinion that Hesiod composed no other poem save the Works, and of that they take away the Prooemium to the Muses [i.e. W. 1-10], saying that the poem began with the passage about the Strifes (Εριδες); and they showed me a leaden tablet where the fountain is [i.e. Hippokrene], for the most part destroyed by lapse of time: on it is inscribed the Works. There is a second opinion different from the first, to the effect that Hesiod composed a large number of poems, on women, and what they call the Great Eoiai (Μεγάλαι Ηοɩ̂αι), and the Theogony, and on the seer Melampos, and an account of the descent to Hades of Theseus with Peirithoos, and the Advices of Chiron for the instruction of Achilles, and all that is embraced by [otherwise translated “all that follows”] the Works and Days. These, too, maintain that Hesiod was taught the art of the seer by the Acarnanians; and there exist oracular verses—which I read myself—and explanations of portents.’

10. id. op. cit. viii. 18. 1: ‘There are those who think the Theogony Hesiod’s.’

11. id. op. cit. ix. 27. 2: ‘I am aware that Hesiod, or he who foisted the Theogony on Hesiod, wrote that Chaos,’ &c.

12. Suidas (circa a.d. 900): ‘His [Hesiod’s] poems are these: Theogony, Works and Days, Shield, Catalogue of Women in five books, Dirge for one Batrachos beloved of him, On the Daktyloi Idaioi, and many others.’

13. Argument prefixed to Shield: ‘The beginning of the Shield, as far as verse 56, is contained in the Fourth Catalogue. Wherefore Aristophanes [“not the comic poet but some other, a grammarian,” add some MSS.] suspect it not to be Hesiod’s, but the work of some other whose design was to imitate the Homeric Shield [i.e. Il. xviii]. But Megakles [Megakleides, Schomann] the Athenian recognizes the poem as genuine, but finds fault with Hesiod on other grounds. For it is unreasonable, he says, that Hephaistos should make arms for his mother’s foes. Apollonios of Rhodes in his third book says the poem is Hesiod’s, both on the ground of style (χαρακτήρ) and from the fact that he found Iolaos again in the Catalogue acting as charioteer to Herakles. Stesichoros also says the poem is Hesiod’s.’

Reserving for the moment the Works and Days, Theogony, and Shield, we may very briefly consider the poems other than those which we find in one author or another ascribed to Hesiod.

1. The Great Works (Μεγάλα Ἔργα): An anonymous commentator on Aristotle, Eth. Nic. v. 8, and Proclus on Hesiod, W. 126, refer to Hesiod ἐν τοɩ̂ς Μεγάλοις Ἔργοις, and some later writers (esp. Pliny, N. H. xv. 1, xxi. 17, &c., &c.) quote Hesiod as their authority for various statements which are not found, and on topics which are not treated in the extant works. It is reasonably concluded that there was a poem passing under Hesiod’s name which had a wider scope than our Works, and which, it would appear, discussed, among other things, the culture and use of plants.

2. The Catalogue (κατάλογος) and the Eoiai (Ἠοɩ̂αι). These seem to have been two distinct works of a genealogical type. The latter poem is supposed to have taken its name from the catch-phrase ἢ οἵη = ‘or such as she’, with which each now heroine is introduced. The first fifty-six lines of the Shield, which commences with that phrase, is said, in the old argument already quoted, to have been contained ‘in the Fourth Catalogue’. Hence it is argued that in some editions the Eoiai formed the fourth book of a work which, as a whole, bore the name of Catalogue. Suidas says the Catalogue of Women was in five books.

3. The Marriage of Keyx (Κήυκος Γάμος). Whether this was an independent work or an episode in the Catalogue or the Eoiai we cannot determine. Plutarch regarded it as spurious; Athenaios, while recording that the γραμματικωˆν παɩ̂δες consider it spurious, asserts his own belief that it is ancient.

4. Marriage Hymn (ἐπιθαλάμιον) for Peleus and Thetis. Of this practically nothing is known.

5. The Descent of Theseus to Hades.

6. Aigimios. Possibly on the war of Aigimios with the Lapithai.

7. Melampodia. Attributed to Hesiod by Athenaios.

8. On the Daktyloi Idaioi. This poem, of which nothing survives, dealt with the Daktyloi of Ida, who brought up the infant Zeus.

9. Astronomia or Astrologia: attributed to Hesiod by Pliny and Plutarch, regarded as spurious by Athenaios.

10. The Advices (ὑποθη̂και) of Chiron. Quintilian tells us, i. 1. 15, that Aristophanes of Byzantium was the first to deny the genuineness of this.

11. The Great Eoiai. This poem, mentioned by Pausanias and others, apparently stood in the same relation to the Eoiai as the Great Works to the Works.

Other works attributed to Hesiod, such as the Epicedium on Batrachos and the Γη̂ς περίοδος, need only be mentioned.

A critical opinion on the date and authenticity of the Works, Theogony, and the Shield, cannot be attempted here, and I have no desire to imitate the easy dogmatism which moves so lightly in slippery places. Comparatively little assault has been made upon the first two poems, though they have been subject to a good deal of very reckless and unskilful dissection, and a later date has sometimes been assigned to them than I think they are entitled to claim. In the case of the Shield the verdict has been mostly unfavourable. But the grounds on which that verdict has been pronounced have not been so convincing as to justify the certainty with which the question is generally dismissed. In any case, here I merely imitate Athenaios and say that ‘to me they appear ancient’: cetera alii aut nos alio loco.


1-10 Invocation to the Muses and to Zeus. Hesiod will ‘speak true things’ to Perses.

11-26 The two sorts of Strife—good and bad. 27-41 Perses is exhorted to put from him Strife which rejoices in evil; how Perses took an unjust proportion of their father’s estate, ‘for the great glory of the bribe-devouring princes . . . who know not how much more is the half than the whole, nor what blessedness there is in mallow and asphodel’; 42-52 Toil now needed to earn a livelihood; how Zeus, having been deceived by Prometheus, took away fire from mankind, until Prometheus stole it back again in a hollow fennel-stalk. 53-89 Zeus in anger caused Hephaistos to create Pandora, the first woman, to be the bane of men; 90-105 Hitherto mankind had been immune from all ills, disease, and toil. But the woman ‘took off the great lid of the Jar and scattered the contents, and devised woe for men’. Only Hope remained in the Jar, Pandora having by the devising of Zeus replaced the lid before Hope escaped; from that time the earth and the sea are full of evil, and diseases assail men by night and day. 105-201 The Five Races of Men: (1) The Golden Race, who lived in the time of Kronos. (2) The Silver Race. (3) The Brazen Race. (4) The Heroic Race, or Race of Demigods. (5) The Iron Race, which is Hesiod’s own. 202-212 The parable of the hawk and the nightingale. 213-297 Exhortation to pursue justice and to avoid insolence and sin. 298-319 Exhortation to work. 320-334 Thou shalt not steal: thou shalt not wrong the suppliant nor the stranger within thy gates: thou shalt not enter thy brother’s bed. Thou shalt not wrong the fatherless: thou shalt honour thy parents in their old age. 335-341 Exhortation to worship the gods with burnt-offerings, libations, and incense. 342-380 Certain practical proverbs. 381-382 If thou desirest wealth, act thus and do one work after another. 383-617 The Farmer’s Year, with sundry advices about farm implements. 618-694 Of seafaring. 695-705 Of marriage.

706-764 Certain social and religious precepts and taboos. 765-825 Calendar of lucky and unlucky days.

826-828 Happy is he who knowing all these things works his work blameless in the sight of the immortals, reading omens and avoiding sin.


1-115 Prooemium: 1-35 The Muses came on a time to Hesiod as he shepherded his sheep under Helikon and taught him sweet song. ‘Shepherds of the fields,’ they said, ‘evil things of reproach, bellies only! We know to speak full many things that wear the guise of truth, and know also when we will to utter truth.’ So saying, they gave to Hesiod a wondrous olive branch and breathed in him a voice divine that he might sing of the things that shall be and the things that were aforetime; 36-67 Of the manner of the song of the Muses: how in Pieria Mnemosyne bare them unto Zeus; 68-74 How the Muses, after visiting Hesiod, departed unto Olympos; 75-103 The names of the Muses and the manner of their gifts to men.

104-115 Invocation of the Muses to sing the generation of the everlasting gods, the children of Earth and Heaven and Night and Sea: how Gods and Earth came into being, and the Rivers and the Sea and the Stars and Heaven above, and the gods who sprang from these: how they divided their possessions and attributes.

116-125 First of all was Chaos and then Earth and Eros. From Chaos sprang Erebos and Night, and from Night in wedlock with Erebos sprang Aether and Day. 126-155 Earth first bare Ouranos (Heaven), and the Mountains and Pontos (Sea). These she bare without wedlock. In wedlock with Ouranos she bare Okeanos and Koios and Krios and Hyperion and Iapetos and Theia and Rheia and Themis and Mnemosyne, and Phoibe and Tethus, and, youngest, Kronos: also the Kyklopes—Brontes, Steropes, Arges; and further the hundred-handed Kottos, Briareos, Gyes; 155-210 How Ouranos hated his own children, and as each was born hid it in Earth: how Earth being sore straitened, devised a crafty device and gave to Kronos a sharp sickle, wherewith she persuaded him to do his sire grievous hurt: how the blood of the wound fell into the lap of Earth, whence sprang the Erinyes and the Giants, and the Nymphs Meliac: but from the fleshy parts that were cast into the sea sprang Aphrodite: and how Ouranos named his sons Titans.

211-225 The children of Night, without a sire:—Doom (Moros), Fate (Ker), Death, Sleep, Dreams, Blame (Momos), Woe (Oizus), Hesperides, Moirai (Klotho, Lachesis, Atropos), Nemesis, Deceit, Love (Φιλότης), Old Age, and Strife (Eris).

226-232 The children of Strife (Eris):—Toil, Oblivion, Famine, Griefs, Wars, Battles, Murders, Manslaughter, Quarrels, False Speech, Dispute, Lawlessness, Ruin (Ate), and Horkos (Oath).

233-239 The children of Pontos (Sea) and Earth:—Nereus, or the Old Man of the Sea, Thaumas, Phorkys and Keto, and Eurybia.

240-264 The daughters of Nereus, son of Pontos and Earth, and Doris, daughter of Okeanos:—Thetis, &c.—fifty in all.

265-269 The daughters of Thaumas and Elektra, daughter of Okeanos:—Iris and the Harpies (Aello and Okypete).

270-279 The children of Phorkys and Keto (son and daughter respectively of Pontos):—the Graiai (Pemphredo and Enyo) and the Gorgons (Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa).

280-286 When Perseus cut off Medusa’s head there sprang from her Chrysaor and the horse Pegasos. The latter left earth for the immortals, and now dwells in the halls of Zeus.

287-294 But Chrysaor with Kallirrhoe, daughter of Okeanos, begat three-headed Geryoneus, whom Herakles slew in Erytheia; 295-305 Kallirrhoe next bare Echidna; 305-332 Echidna in wedlock with Typhaon bare Orthos, the dog of Geryoneus, and Kerberos, the hound of Hades, and the Lernaean Hydra, whom Herakles slew: and Chimaira, whom Pegasos and Bellerophon slew. Chimaira bare to Orthos the Sphinx and the Nemean lion, which Herakles slew. 333-336 Keto to Phorkys bare the dragon which guards the golden apples of the Hesperides, 337-345 Rivers sprung from Tethys and Okeanos:—Nile, Alpheios, Simois, Skamandros, Acheloos, &c., &c. 346-363 Nymphs sprung from the same, including Styx, eldest (or ‘most excellent’) of them all. 364-370 Three thousand daughters of Okeanos there be and sons as many—sounding rivers, ‘whose names it were hard for mortal man to tell: but those who dwell by each know them every one.’

371-374 The children of Theia and Hyperion:—Sun, Moon, Dawn; 375-377 the children of Krios and Eurybia:—Astraios, Pallas, Perses; 378-382 the children of Astraios and Dawn:—the winds Argestes, Zephyros, Boreas, Notos, and after them the Morning Star. 383-403 the children of Styx and Pallas:—Zelos and Nike and Kratos and Bia, who dwell with Zeus, as he had vowed of old to Styx, when, with her children, she aided him against the Titans; Styx herself he appointed to be the Mighty Oath of the gods; 404-410 the children of Koios and Phoibe:—Leto and Asteria. 411-452 Asteria bare to Perses Hekate: the eminent powers and privileges of Hekate, as answerer of prayer, helper in council in games, and in war, aider of kings in judgement; of horsemen and of seamen, and of shepherds: and finally the nurse of children.

453-458 The children of Rheia, daughter of Ouranos and Gaia, and Kronos:—Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, Zeus; 459-491 how Kronos, learning from Ouranos and Gaia that he was fated to have a son who should overthrow him, swallowed his own children: how Rheia, when about to bear Zeus, took counsel of Earth and Heaven to save her child: how they carried her to Lyktos in Krete, where she brought forth Zeus and hid him in a cave on the hill Aigaion: but she swaddled a great stone and gave it unto Kronos, who swallowed it, thinking it to be his son Zeus. 492-506 how Zeus throve mightily, and how in time by the devising of Earth, Kronos vomited forth the stone: which Zeus set up at Pytho to be a sign in the aftertime, a marvel to mortal men. And Zeus set free his father’s brothers, who in gratitude gave him thunder and lightning; 507-511 the children of Iapetos and Klymene, daughter of Okeanos:—Atlas, Menoitios, Prometheus, Epimetheus. 512-520 the fates of Epimetheus, Menoitios, and Atlas. 521-616 the fate of Prometheus: how at Mekone he cut up an ox and attempted to deceive Zeus by offering him the bones concealed in fat (wherefore to this day men ‘burn white bones to the immortals upon fragrant altars’): how Zeus in vengeance refused men fire till it was stolen by Prometheus: created the first woman to be the bane of men: bound Prometheus and sent an eagle to devour his liver, which grew again by night as much as the eagle devoured by day—till he was at last, by consent of Zeus, delivered by Herakles, who slew the eagle. 617-719 how with the help of the hundred-handed giants, Briareos, Kottos, and Gyes, Zeus overcame the Titans and imprisoned them in Tartaros; 720-745 descriptive of Tartaros; 746-757 the abode of Atlas in the west; 758-766 the abode of Sleep and Death, children of Night; 767-774 the abode of Hades and Persephone, guarded by the dog Kerberos; 775-806 the abode of Styx: how the gods swear by Styx, and the punishment of perjury; 807-819 of Tartaros, in which the Titans are imprisoned: of the abode of the hundred-handed giants; 820-868 of Typhoeus, son of Earth and Tartaros, and how Zeus overcame him and hurled him into Tartaros: 869-880 the offspring of Typhoeus;—all winds except Notos, Boreas, and Zephyros; 881-885 how Zeus became king of the gods; 886-900 how Zeus took Metis to wife and swallowed her when about to give birth to Athene; 901-906 Zeus next took to wife Themis, mother of the Hours (or Seasons)—ραι, namely Eunomia, Dike, and Eirene, and of the Fates (Moirai), namely Klotho, Lachesis, and Atropos; 907-911 next Zeus took to wife Eurynome, daughter of Okeanos, who bare to him the Graces, namely Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia; 912-914 next Zeus took to wife Demeter, who bare to him Persephone, whom Aidoneus carried off; 915-917 next Mnemosyne, who bare the nine Muses; 918-920 next Leto, who bare Apollo and Artemis; 921-923 lastly Hera, who bare Hebe, Ares, Eileithuia. 924-929 Zeus begot Tritogeneia from his own head, and Hera of herself bare Hephaistos; 930-937 the son of Amphitrite and Ennosigaios:—Triton; the children of Ares and Kythereia:—Fear and Terror and Harmonia; 938-944 other children of Zeus:—by Maia, daughter of Atlas,—Hermes; by Semele, daughter of Kadmos,—Dionysos; by Alkmene,—Herakles, 945-955 Hephaistos wedded Aglaia, the youngest of the Graces; Dionysos wedded Ariadne, daughter of Minos, and Zeus made her immortal; Herakles wedded Hebe and dwells with the immortals, sorrowless and ageless for ever, 956-962 the children of Helios and Perseis, daughter of Okeanos:—Kirke and Aietes; Aietes wedded Iduia, daughter of Okeanos, who bare to him Medea. 963-1020 goddesses who bare children to mortal men: Demeter to Iasios—Ploutos; Harmonia to Kadmos—Ino, Semele, Agave, Autonoe (wife of Aristaios), and Polydoros; Kallirrhoe to Chrysaor—Geryoneus; Dawn to Tithonos—Memnon and Emathion; Dawn to Kephalos—Phaethon; Medea to Iason—Medeios; Psamathe, daughter of Nereus, to Aiakos—Phokos; Thetis to Peleus—Achilles; Kythereia to Aineias—Anchises; Kirke to Odysseus—Agrios, Latinos, Telegonos, Kings of the Tyrrhenians; Kalypso to Odysseus—Nausithoos and Nausinoos; 1021-1022 ‘And now, sweet-voiced Muses of Olympos, . . . sing ye the race of women.’

[Here the poem breaks off]


1-56 Alkmene bare twin sons—Herakles to Zeus, Iphikles to Amphitryon; 57-121 how Herakles and Iolaos encountered Kyknos and his father Ares in the precincts of the temple of Apollo at Pagasae; 122-320 The Arming of Herakles: (1) greaves of orichalc (mountain brass), (2) breastplate of gold (3) sword of iron, (4) quiver with arrows winged with feathers of the black eagle, (5) spear shod with bronze, (6) helmet of adamant, (7) shield—the description of which occupies 139-320; 321-480 The fight: Kyknos is slain by Herakles.


  • Death at the headlands, Hesiod, long ago
  • Gave thee to drink of his unhonied wine:
  • Now Boreas cannot reach thee lying low,
  • Nor Sirius’ heat vex any hour of thine:
  • The Pleiads rising are no more a sign
  • For thee to reap, nor, when they set, to sow:
  • Whether at morn or eve Arcturus shine,
  • To pluck or prune the vine thou canst not know.
  • Vain now for thee the crane’s autumnal flight,
  • The loud cuckoo, the twittering swallow—vain
  • The flow’ring scolymus, the budding trees,
  • Seedtime and Harvest, Blossoming and Blight,
  • The mid, the early, and the latter rain,
  • And strong Orion and the Hyades.
  • A. W. M.

Last modified April 13, 2016