Hesiod Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


According to Hesiod’s (HEE-see-uhd) own testimony, his father moved from Cyme in Asia Minor to Boeotia. There, the Muses visited Hesiod while he tended sheep on Mount Helicon and “gave” him a song about the gods. In a poetic contest at the Funeral Games of Amphidamas, Hesiod won first prize, some say beating Homer himself. In Erga kai Emerai (c. 700 b.c.e.; Works and Days, 1618), the poet lambasts his brother, Perses, concerning land inheritance. Of the many works attributed to Hesiod, only the Theogonia (c. 700 b.c.e.; Theogony, 1728) and the Works and Days are considered authentic. The Theogony traces the movement from female Earth to Olympian Zeus, telling a story of familial violence, including Cronos’s castration of Uranus and Zeus’s overthrow of Cronos before Zeus creates civic order. In the Works and Days, Hesiod’s tone is more plaintive and chastising, warning of divine retribution for greedy kings and lazy people. This work includes stories about Prometheus, the birth of Pandora, and the Five Ages of Man. Both the Theogony and the Works and Days are concerned with justice, each showing extensive influence from Near Eastern literature. The Shield (c. 580-570 b.c.e.; English translation, 1815), about Heracles’ shield and his fight with Cycnus, is no longer considered Hesiodic. Lengthy fragments from Ehoiai (c. 580-520 b.c.e.; The Catalogue of Women, 1983), describing heroic genealogies, also survive. This work was believed to be Hesiod’s in antiquity, but apparently this continuation of the Theogony was written later.


Hesiod, with Homer, established for the Greeks their understanding of the gods. The influence of the Theogony is seen throughout Greek literature; influence of the Works and Days is especially evident in poet Vergil’s Georgics (c. 37-29 b.c.e.; English translation, 1589).

Further Reading:

Brown, Norman O. Introduction to Theogony,...

(The entire section is 863 words.)