Theogony / Works and Days / Shield by Hesiod

Hesiod’s poems, along with Homer’s epics, can be considered the bible of the ancient Greeks, but Hesiod’s works are far more religious in nature than Homer’s, both in theology and in moral doctrine. Theogony describes the origin of the gods and the world. I am not sure if Hesiod is simply recounting basic accepted beliefs in poetic form or if he is in fact the originator of these beliefs; I suspect no one really knows this now. In Works and Days he holds forth on edifying moral precepts, much as Solomon does in the book of Proverbs in the bible. He exhorts his wastrel, idle brother to leave idleness and devote himself to hard work, warning that poverty follows hard on the heels of idleness, just as Solomon’s Proverbs do. There is a lot of misogyny is his discussion of women; he believes they are a curse from the gods, although he acknowledges that it is worse for a man to die alone than to marry and have a family. The critics have been hard on Shield as a dull and irrelevant poem, but I found it rather exciting as a short account of one the heroic deeds of Heracles, and even the over-lengthy description of the shield itself is full of images that shed much light on early Greek culture. The critics have not been as generous to Hesiod as they have been to Homer, but that in my opinion is unfortunate, because it is these poems that establish the moral and religious framework of the early Greek mind. It is true that their literary merit is not as great as Homer’s epics, but as cultural artifacts they are immeasurably superior. And they are not wholly unenjoyable to read, for what it’s worth.

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  1. Thanks for this sketch of the three works!

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