Hesiod

Hesiod was one of the most famous Greek poets. He is not as good a writer as Homer. Still, the ancients often grouped him with Homer as one of the main proponents of the early Greek worldview.

He wrote two short epic poems, The Theogony and Works and Days. Quotations and line numbers are from the Stanley Lombardo translation.

The Muses

Hesiod appears to believe that the Muses—the nine daughters of Zeus and Memory—have divinely inspired his poetry.

And they taught Hesiod the art of singing verse, While he pastured his lambs on holy Helikon's slopes. And this was the very first thing they told me, The Olympian Muses, daughters of Zeus Aegisholder: "Hillbillies and bellies, poor excuses for shepards: We know how to tell many believable lies, But also, when we want to, how to speak the plain truth." So spoke the daughters of great Zeus, mincing their words. And they gave me a staff, a branch of good sappy laurel, Plucking it off, spectacular. And they breathed into me A voice divine, so I might celebrate past and future. And they told me to hymn the generations of the eternal gods, But always to sing of themselves, the Muses, first and last. ... Farewell Zeus's daughters, and bestow song that beguiles. Make known the eerie brood of the eternal Immortals Who were born of Earth and starry Sky, And of dusky Night, and whom the salt Sea bore. Tell how first the gods and earth came into being And the rivers and the sea, endless and surging, And the stars shining and the wide sky above; How they divided wealth and allotted honors, And first possessed deep-ridged Olympus. Tell me these things, Olympian Muses, From the beginning, and tell which of them came first. Theogony, 23 - 35, 103 - 115

Hesiod then proceeds to tell the story of how the gods came about, the Theogony.

The Theogony tells of great events at the beginning of the world, which Hesiod could not know about except through the Muses. Is Hesiod simply re-telling the stories that were passed down to him, or is he creating new stories which he beliefs are true? I think the latter.

That's the sum of my experience with pegged & dowelled ships. Still, I can teach you the mind of Zeus the Storm King, Since the Muses have taught me ineffable song. Works and Days, 731 - 733

It appears that Hesiod is making up stories while simultaneously believing they are true!

Similar processes may explains the origin of many religious ideas.

The Gods

It looks like there's not just one kind of Strife— That's Eris—after all, but two on the Earth. You'd praise one of them once you got to know her, But the other's plain blameworthy. They've just got Completely opposite temperaments. One of them favors war and fighting. She's a mean cuss And nobody likes her, but everybody honors her, This ornery Eris. They have to: it's the gods' will. The other was born first though. Ebony Night Bore her, and Kronos' son who sits high in thin air Set her in Earth's roots, and she's a lot better for humans. Even shiftless folks she gets stirred up to work. When a person's lazing about and sees his neighbor Getting rich, because he hurries to plow and plant And put his homestead in order, he tends to compete With that neighbor in a race to get rich. Strife like this does people good. Works and Days, 21–37

TODO: add other quote about something being a god

Hesiod seems to associated gods with

Three types of gods:

  1. Personified gods that were worshiped (e.g., Zeus, Aphrodite, Athena)
  2. Personified gods that were not worshiped (e.g., Atlas)
  3. Gods which represent abstractions (e.g., Dawn, Neglect, Pretences)

It seemed natural to the Greeks to represent abstract concepts as gods, since they are invisible and immortal.

Strife and Rumour—etymological explanations for gods.

Hesiod uses creation through sex instead of the creation through speech (present in the Hebrew bible and, I think, in Egyptian cosmology).

Genealogy is an organizational scheme.

Hekate (Hesiod’s apparent favourite next to Zeus); exemplifies how different cults rise and fade over time.


Hesiod appears to create gods as he goes, sometimes filling them in as necessary. This is difficult for us to understand, but he believed that the muses were acting through him to fill in the detail. I.e., he is just a conduit to pass through the thoughts of the muses.

That's the sum of my experience with pegged & dowelled ships. Still, I can teach you the mind of Zeus the Storm King, Since the Muses have taught me ineffable song. Works and Days, 731–733

Comparisons with Other Religions

Marduk has many similarities with Zeus. Both were sky gods who lead a fight over and older generation of gods to become the leading god.

Pandora and Eve.

Babylonians thought men were created to feed the gods; Greeks, while still giving sacrifies, apparently did not. Quote about Zeus hiding how to make a living.

Zeus’s division of duties and realms vs Marduk’s in the Enuma Elish.

Ages of Men

Possible insertion of the age of Heroes.

Men have gotten weaker (anti-progress).