Hesiod (Greek: polytonic|Ἡσίοδος "Hesiodos") was an early Greek poet and rhapsode, who presumably lived around 700 BCE. Hesiod and Homer are generally considered the earliest Greek poets whose work has survived since at least Herodotus's time ("Histories", 2.53), and they are often paired. Scholars disagree about who lived first, and the fourth-century BCE sophist Alcidamas' "Mouseion" even brought them together in an imagined poetic "agon", the "Contest of Homer and Hesiod". Aristarchus first argued for Homer's priority, a claim that was generally accepted by later antiquity. [M.L. West, "Hesiod", in "Oxford Classical Dictionary", second edition (Oxford: University Press, 1970), p.510.]

Hesiod's writings serve as a major source on 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". [J. A. Symonds, "Studies of the Greek Poets", p. 166]

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". [J. A. Symonds, p. 167]

As with Homer, legendary traditions have accumulated around Hesiod. Unlike Homer's case, 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. [Hugh G. Evelyn-White, "Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica" (Cambridge: Harvard Press, 1964) Volume 57 of the Loeb Classical Library, pp. xivf.] Gregory Nagy, on the other hand, sees both "Persēs" ("the destroyer": Polytonic|πέρθω / "perthō") and "Hēsiodos" ("he who emits the voice": Polytonic|ἵημι / "hiēmi" + Polytonic|αὐδή / "audē") as fictitious names for poetical personae. [Gregry Nagy, "Greek Mythology and Poetics" (Cornell 1990), pp. 36-82.]

The Muses traditionally lived on Helicon, and, according to the account in "Theogony" (ll. 22-35), gave Hesiod the gift of poetic inspiration one day while he tended sheep (compare the legend of Cædmon). Hesiod later 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 BCE. 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 BCE (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" (Polytonic|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 (Polytonic|Ἀγών / Agōn) of Homer and Hesiod"; [Translated in Evelyn-White, "Hesiod", pp. 565-597.] 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 BCE, 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"

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. [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)] 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. ["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."]


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." [West, "Hesiod", p. 521.]

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 BCE found at Herculaneum, the so-called "Pseudo-Seneca" was first reidentified 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. [Gisela Richter (1965). The Portraits of the Greeks. London: Phaidon, I, 58ff; commentators agreeing with Richter include Wolfram Prinz, 1973. "The Four Philosophers by Rubens and the Pseudo-Seneca in Seventeenth-Century Painting" "The Art Bulletin" 55.3 (September 1973), pp. 410-428. "...one feels that it may just as well have been the Greek writer Hesiod..." and Martin Robertson, in his review eview of G. Richter, "The Portraits of the Greeks" for "The Burlington Magazine" 108.756 (March 1966), pp 148-150. "...with Miss Richter, I accept the identification as Hesiod"]



* Buckham, Philip Wentworth, "Theatre of the Greeks", 1827.
* Lamberton, Robert, "Hesiod", New Haven : Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0300040687
* Murray, Gilbert, "A History of Ancient Greek Literature", New York : D. Appleton and Company, 1897. Cf. pp.53 and onward for Hesiod.
* Peabody, Berkley, "The Winged Word: A Study in the Technique of Ancient Greek Oral Composition as Seen Principally Through Hesiod's Works and Days", State University of New York Press, 1975. ISBN 0873950593
* Pucci, Pietro, "Hesiod and the Language of Poetry", Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977. ISBN 0801817870
* Rohde, Erwin, "Psyche", 1925.
* Symonds, John Addington, "Studies of the Greek Poets", 1873.
* Taylor, Thomas, "A Dissertation on the Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries", 1791.

External links

* Hesiod, [http://www.animalrightshistory.org/library/hesiod/cooke-works-and-days-1.htm "Works and Days] Translated from the Greek by Mr. Cooke" (London, 1728). A youthful exercise in Augustan heroic couplets by Thomas Cooke (1703–1756), employing the Roman names for all the gods.
* Web texts taken from "Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns and Homerica", edited and translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, published as Loeb Classical Library #57, 1914, ISBN 0-674-99063-3:
** [http://www.archive.org/details/hesiodhomerichym00hesiuoft Scanned text at the Internet Archive] , in PDF and DjVu format
** [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin//perscoll?.submit=Change&collection=Perseus%3Acollection%3AGreco-Roman&type=text&lang=Any&lookup=Hesiod Perseus Classics Collection: Greek and Roman Materials: Text: Hesiod] (Greek texts and English translations for "Works and Days", "Theogony", and "Shield of Heracles" with additional notes and cross links.)
** Versions of the electronic edition of Evelyn-White's English translation edited by Douglas B. Killings, June 1995:
*** [http://www.gutenberg.net/etext/348 Project Gutenberg plain text] .
*** [http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/OMACL/Hesiod Berkeley Digital Library SunSITE: The Online Medieval and Classical Library: Hesiod]
*** [http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hesiod/index.htm Sacred Texts: Classics: The Works of Hesiod] ("Theogony" and "Works and Days" only)

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