Monday, June 24, 2013

Hesiod (ca 750 BCE)

Hesiod was born in a small village in Hellenia named Ascra, at the foot of Mount Helicon, about 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Athens. He never cared for the climate of his hometown, complaining it was “cruel in winter, hard in summer, never pleasant.” He lived there his whole life, running a farm and writing poetry. His two most important works are Theogony and Works and Days. Like Homer, he wrote or dictated both around 750 BC. With Homer, he provided ancient Hellenians with their shared understanding of the gods, creation, and human nature.

In Theogony, Hesiod tells the stories of how both gods and our world began. In the beginning, there was only Chaos (Nothingness). Then came the gods Gaia (Earth), Tartarus (Deepest Underworld), and Eros (Sexual Desire). Eventually gods struggled with one another over ultimate control: first Uranus (Sky) and his son Kronos, then Kronos and the Titans against the Olympian gods led by Zeus (Jupiter).

In Works and Days, Hesiod speaks of farming and the necessity of working but also of living well enough if one works hard enough. He complains about idlers and unjust judges. He identifies five ages of humankind. The first was the Golden Age during which people didn’t need to work to eat (as in the Garden of Eden) and lived for hundreds of years (as in the days before Abraham). After Silver and Bronze Ages came the Heroic Age, the age of the Trojan War described by Homer, in which demigods as heroes shaped human history. He lastly described the Iron Age in which he lived: the age of hard work, widespread disrespect for both gods and humans, and lies.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
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