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Medieval and Classical Library

Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns and Homerica


Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #8


The early Greek epic -- that is, poetry as a natural and popular,
and not (as it became later) an artificial and academic literary
form -- passed through the usual three phases, of development, of
maturity, and of decline.

No fragments which can be identified as belonging to the first
period survive to give us even a general idea of the history of
the earliest epic, and we are therefore thrown back upon the
evidence of analogy from other forms of literature and of
inference from the two great epics which have come down to us. 
So reconstructed, the earliest period appears to us as a time of
slow development in which the characteristic epic metre, diction,
and structure grew up slowly from crude elements and were
improved until the verge of maturity was reached.

The second period, which produced the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey",
needs no description here: but it is very important to observe
the effect of these poems on the course of post-Homeric epic.  As
the supreme perfection and universality of the "Iliad" and the
"Odyssey" cast into oblivion whatever pre-Homeric poets had
essayed, so these same qualities exercised a paralysing influence
over the successors of Homer.  If they continued to sing like
their great predecessor of romantic themes, they were drawn as by
a kind of magnetic attraction into the Homeric style and manner
of treatment, and became mere echoes of the Homeric voice: in a
word, Homer had so completely exhausted the epic genre, that
after him further efforts were doomed to be merely conventional. 
Only the rare and exceptional genius of Vergil and Milton could
use the Homeric medium without loss of individuality: and this
quality none of the later epic poets seem to have possessed. 
Freedom from the domination of the great tradition could only be
found by seeking new subjects, and such freedom was really only
illusionary, since romantic subjects alone are suitable for epic

In its third period, therefore, epic poetry shows two divergent
tendencies.  In Ionia and the islands the epic poets followed the
Homeric tradition, singing of romantic subjects in the now
stereotyped heroic style, and showing originality only in their
choice of legends hitherto neglected or summarily and imperfectly
treated.  In continental Greece (1), on the other hand, but
especially in Boeotia, a new form of epic sprang up, which for
the romance and PATHOS of the Ionian School substituted the
practical and matter-of-fact.  It dealt in moral and practical
maxims, in information on technical subjects which are of service
in daily life -- agriculture, astronomy, augury, and the calendar
-- in matters of religion and in tracing the genealogies of men. 
Its attitude is summed up in the words of the Muses to the writer
of the "Theogony": `We can tell many a feigned tale to look like
truth, but we can, when we will, utter the truth' ("Theogony"
26-27).  Such a poetry could not be permanently successful,
because the subjects of which it treats -- if susceptible of
poetic treatment at all -- were certainly not suited for epic
treatment, where unity of action which will sustain interest, and
to which each part should contribute, is absolutely necessary. 
While, therefore, an epic like the "Odyssey" is an organism and
dramatic in structure, a work such as the "Theogony" is a merely
artificial collocation of facts, and, at best, a pageant.  It is
not surprising, therefore, to find that from the first the
Boeotian school is forced to season its matter with romantic
episodes, and that later it tends more and more to revert (as in
the "Shield of Heracles") to the Homeric tradition.

The Boeotian School

How did the continental school of epic poetry arise?  There is
little definite material for an answer to this question, but the
probability is that there were at least three contributory
causes.  First, it is likely that before the rise of the Ionian
epos there existed in Boeotia a purely popular and indigenous
poetry of a crude form: it comprised, we may suppose, versified
proverbs and precepts relating to life in general, agricultural
maxims, weather-lore, and the like.  In this sense the Boeotian
poetry may be taken to have its germ in maxims similar to our
`Till May be out, ne'er cast a clout,'


`A rainbow in the morning
Is the Shepherd's warning.'

Secondly and thirdly we may ascribe the rise of the new epic to
the nature of the Boeotian people and, as already remarked, to a
spirit of revolt against the old epic.  The Boeotians, people of
the class of which Hesiod represents himself to be the type, were
essentially unromantic; their daily needs marked the general
limit of their ideals, and, as a class, they cared little for
works of fancy, for pathos, or for fine thought as such.  To a
people of this nature the Homeric epos would be inacceptable, and
the post-Homeric epic, with its conventional atmosphere, its
trite and hackneyed diction, and its insincere sentiment, would
be anathema.  We can imagine, therefore, that among such folk a
settler, of Aeolic origin like Hesiod, who clearly was well
acquainted with the Ionian epos, would naturally see that the
only outlet for his gifts lay in applying epic poetry to new
themes acceptable to his hearers.

Though the poems of the Boeotian school (2) were unanimously
assigned to Hesiod down to the age of Alexandrian criticism, they
were clearly neither the work of one man nor even of one period:
some, doubtless, were fraudulently fathered on him in order to
gain currency; but it is probable that most came to be regarded
as his partly because of their general character, and partly
because the names of their real authors were lost.  One fact in
this attribution is remarkable -- the veneration paid to Hesiod.

Life of Hesiod

Our information respecting Hesiod is derived in the main from
notices and allusions in the works attributed to him, and to
these must be added traditions concerning his death and burial
gathered from later writers.

Hesiod's father (whose name, by a perversion of "Works and Days",
299 PERSE DION GENOS to PERSE, DION GENOS, was thought to have
been Dius) was a native of Cyme in Aeolis, where he was a
seafaring trader and, perhaps, also a farmer.  He was forced by
poverty to leave his native place, and returned to continental
Greece, where he settled at Ascra near Thespiae in Boeotia
("Works and Days", 636 ff.).  Either in Cyme or Ascra, two sons,
Hesiod and Perses, were born to the settler, and these, after his
death, divided the farm between them.  Perses, however, who is
represented as an idler and spendthrift, obtained and kept the
larger share by bribing the corrupt `lords' who ruled from
Thespiae ("Works and Days", 37-39).  While his brother wasted his
patrimony and ultimately came to want ("Works and Days", 34 ff.),
Hesiod lived a farmer's life until, according to the very early
tradition preserved by the author of the "Theogony" (22-23), the
Muses met him as he was tending sheep on Mt. Helicon and `taught
him a glorious song' -- doubtless the "Works and Days".  The only
other personal reference is to his victory in a poetical contest
at the funeral games of Amphidamas at Chalcis in Euboea, where he
won the prize, a tripod, which he dedicated to the Muses of
Helicon ("Works and Days", 651-9).

Before we go on to the story of Hesiod's death, it will be well
to inquire how far the "autobiographical" notices can be treated
as historical, especially as many critics treat some, or all of
them, as spurious.  In the first place attempts have been made to
show that "Hesiod" is a significant name and therefore
fictitious: it is only necessary to mention Goettling's
derivation from IEMI to ODOS (which would make `Hesiod' mean the
`guide' in virtues and technical arts), and to refer to the
pitiful attempts in the "Etymologicum Magnum" (s.v. ESIODUS),
to show how prejudiced and lacking even in plausibility such
efforts are.  It seems certain that `Hesiod' stands as a proper
name in the fullest sense.  Secondly, Hesiod claims that his
father -- if not he himself -- came from Aeolis and settled in
Boeotia.  There is fairly definite evidence to warrant our
acceptance of this: the dialect of the "Works and Days" is shown
by Rzach (3) to contain distinct Aeolisms apart from those which
formed part of the general stock of epic poetry.  And that this
Aeolic speaking poet was a Boeotian of Ascra seems even more
certain, since the tradition is never once disputed,
insignificant though the place was, even before its destruction
by the Thespians.

Again, Hesiod's story of his relations with his brother Perses
have been treated with scepticism (see Murray, "Anc. Gk.
Literature", pp. 53-54): Perses, it is urged, is clearly a mere
dummy, set up to be the target for the poet's exhortations.  On
such a matter precise evidence is naturally not forthcoming; but
all probability is against the sceptical view.  For 1) if the
quarrel between the brothers were a fiction, we should expect it
to be detailed at length and not noticed allusively and rather
obscurely -- as we find it; 2) as MM. Croiset remark, if the poet
needed a lay-figure the ordinary practice was to introduce some
mythological person -- as, in fact, is done in the "Precepts of
Chiron".  In a word, there is no more solid ground for treating
Perses and his quarrel with Hesiod as fictitious than there would
be for treating Cyrnus, the friend of Theognis, as mythical.

Thirdly, there is the passage in the "Theogony" relating to
Hesiod and the Muses.  It is surely an error to suppose that
lines 22-35 all refer to Hesiod: rather, the author of the
"Theogony" tells the story of his own inspiration by the same
Muses who once taught Hesiod glorious song.  The lines 22-3 are
therefore a very early piece of tradition about Hesiod, and
though the appearance of Muses must be treated as a graceful
fiction, we find that a writer, later than the "Works and Days"
by perhaps no more than three-quarters of a century, believed in
the actuality of Hesiod and in his life as a farmer or shepherd.

Lastly, there is the famous story of the contest in song at
Chalcis.  In later times the modest version in the "Works and
Days" was elaborated, first by making Homer the opponent whom
Hesiod conquered, while a later period exercised its ingenuity in
working up the story of the contest into the elaborate form in
which it still survives.  Finally the contest, in which the two
poets contended with hymns to Apollo (4), was transferred to
Delos.  These developments certainly need no consideration: are
we to say the same of the passage in the "Works and Days"? 
Critics from Plutarch downwards have almost unanimously rejected
the lines 654-662, on the ground that Hesiod's Amphidamas is the
hero of the Lelantine Wars between Chalcis and Eretria, whose
death may be placed circa 705 B.C. -- a date which is obviously 
too low for the genuine Hesiod.  Nevertheless, there is much to 
be said in defence of the passage.  Hesiod's claim in the "Works 
and Days" is modest, since he neither pretends to have met Homer,

nor to have sung in any but an impromptu, local festival, so that

the supposed interpolation lacks a sufficient motive.  And there 
is nothing in the context to show that Hesiod's Amphidamas is to 
be identified with that Amphidamas whom Plutarch alone connects 
with the Lelantine War: the name may have been borne by an 
earlier Chalcidian, an ancestor, perhaps, of the person to whom 
Plutarch refers.

The story of the end of Hesiod may be told in outline.  After the
contest at Chalcis, Hesiod went to Delphi and there was warned
that the `issue of death should overtake him in the fair grove of
Nemean Zeus.'  Avoiding therefore Nemea on the Isthmus of
Corinth, to which he supposed the oracle to refer, Hesiod retired
to Oenoe in Locris where he was entertained by Amphiphanes and
Ganyetor, sons of a certain Phegeus.  This place, however, was
also sacred to Nemean Zeus, and the poet, suspected by his hosts
of having seduced their sister (5), was murdered there.  His
body, cast into the sea, was brought to shore by dolphins and
buried at Oenoe (or, according to Plutarch, at Ascra): at a later
time his bones were removed to Orchomenus.  The whole story is
full of miraculous elements, and the various authorities disagree
on numerous points of detail.  The tradition seems, however, to
be constant in declaring that Hesiod was murdered and buried at
Oenoe, and in this respect it is at least as old as the time of
Thucydides.  In conclusion it may be worth while to add the
graceful epigram of Alcaeus of Messene ("Palatine Anthology", vii

     "When in the shady Locrian grove Hesiod lay dead, the Nymphs
     washed his body with water from their own springs, and
     heaped high his grave; and thereon the goat-herds sprinkled
     offerings of milk mingled with yellow-honey: such was the
     utterance of the nine Muses that he breathed forth, that old
     man who had tasted of their pure springs."

The Hesiodic Poems

The Hesiodic poems fall into two groups according as they are
didactic (technical or gnomic) or genealogical: the first group
centres round the "Works and Days", the second round the

I. "The Works and Days":
The poem consists of four main sections. a) After the prelude,
which Pausanias failed to find in the ancient copy engraved on
lead seen by him on Mt. Helicon, comes a general exhortation to
industry.  It begins with the allegory of the two Strifes, who
stand for wholesome Emulation and Quarrelsomeness respectively. 
Then by means of the Myth of Pandora the poet shows how evil and
the need for work first arose, and goes on to describe the Five
Ages of the World, tracing the gradual increase in evil, and
emphasizing the present miserable condition of the world, a
condition in which struggle is inevitable.  Next, after the Fable
of the Hawk and Nightingale, which serves as a condemnation of
violence and injustice, the poet passes on to contrast the
blessing which Righteousness brings to a nation, and the
punishment which Heaven sends down upon the violent, and the
section concludes with a series of precepts on industry and
prudent conduct generally.  b) The second section shows how a man
may escape want and misery by industry and care both in
agriculture and in trading by sea.  Neither subject, it should be
carefully noted, is treated in any way comprehensively.  c) The
third part is occupied with miscellaneous precepts relating
mostly to actions of domestic and everyday life and conduct which
have little or no connection with one another.  d) The final
section is taken up with a series of notices on the days of the
month which are favourable or unfavourable for agricultural and
other operations.

It is from the second and fourth sections that the poem takes its
name.  At first sight such a work seems to be a miscellany of
myths, technical advice, moral precepts, and folklore maxims
without any unifying principle; and critics have readily taken
the view that the whole is a canto of fragments or short poems
worked up by a redactor.  Very probably Hesiod used much material
of a far older date, just as Shakespeare used the "Gesta
Romanorum", old chronicles, and old plays; but close inspection
will show that the "Works and Days" has a real unity and that the
picturesque title is somewhat misleading.  The poem has properly
no technical object at all, but is moral: its real aim is to show
men how best to live in a difficult world.  So viewed the four
seemingly independent sections will be found to be linked
together in a real bond of unity.  Such a connection between the
first and second sections is easily seen, but the links between
these and the third and fourth are no less real: to make life go
tolerably smoothly it is most important to be just and to know
how to win a livelihood; but happiness also largely depends on
prudence and care both in social and home life as well, and not
least on avoidance of actions which offend supernatural powers
and bring ill-luck.  And finally, if your industry is to be
fruitful, you must know what days are suitable for various kinds
of work.  This moral aim -- as opposed to the currently accepted
technical aim of the poem -- explains the otherwise puzzling
incompleteness of the instructions on farming and seafaring.

Of the Hesiodic poems similar in character to the "Works and
Days", only the scantiest fragments survive.  One at least of
these, the "Divination by Birds", was, as we know from Proclus,
attached to the end of the "Works" until it was rejected by
Apollonius Rhodius: doubtless it continued the same theme of how
to live, showing how man can avoid disasters by attending to the
omens to be drawn from birds.  It is possible that the
"Astronomy" or "Astrology" (as Plutarch calls it) was in turn
appended to the "Divination".  It certainly gave some account of
the principal constellations, their dates of rising and setting,
and the legends connected with them, and probably showed how
these influenced human affairs or might be used as guides.  The
"Precepts of Chiron" was a didactic poem made up of moral and
practical precepts, resembling the gnomic sections of the "Works
and Days", addressed by the Centaur Chiron to his pupil Achilles.

Even less is known of the poem called the "Great Works": the
title implies that it was similar in subject to the second
section of the "Works and Days", but longer.  Possible references
in Roman writers (6) indicate that among the subjects dealt with
were the cultivation of the vine and olive and various herbs. 
The inclusion of the judgment of Rhadamanthys (frag. 1): `If a
man sow evil, he shall reap evil,' indicates a gnomic element,
and the note by Proclus (7) on "Works and Days" 126 makes it
likely that metals also were dealt with.  It is therefore
possible that another lost poem, the "Idaean Dactyls", which
dealt with the discovery of metals and their working, was
appended to, or even was a part of the "Great Works", just as the
"Divination by Birds" was appended to the "Works and Days".

II. The Genealogical Poems:
The only complete poem of the genealogical group is the
"Theogony", which traces from the beginning of things the descent
and vicissitudes of the families of the gods.  Like the "Works
and Days" this poem has no dramatic plot; but its unifying
principle is clear and simple.  The gods are classified
chronologically: as soon as one generation is catalogued, the
poet goes on to detail the offspring of each member of that
generation.  Exceptions are only made in special cases, as the
Sons of Iapetus (ll. 507-616) whose place is accounted for by
their treatment by Zeus.  The chief landmarks in the poem are as
follows: after the first 103 lines, which contain at least three
distinct preludes, three primeval beings are introduced, Chaos,
Earth, and Eros -- here an indefinite reproductive influence.  Of
these three, Earth produces Heaven to whom she bears the Titans,
the Cyclopes and the hundred-handed giants.  The Titans,
oppressed by their father, revolt at the instigation of Earth,
under the leadership of Cronos, and as a result Heaven and Earth
are separated, and Cronos reigns over the universe.  Cronos
knowing that he is destined to be overcome by one of his
children, swallows each one of them as they are born, until Zeus,
saved by Rhea, grows up and overcomes Cronos in some struggle
which is not described.  Cronos is forced to vomit up the
children he had swallowed, and these with Zeus divide the
universe between them, like a human estate.  Two events mark the
early reign of Zeus, the war with the Titans and the overthrow of
Typhoeus, and as Zeus is still reigning the poet can only go on
to give a list of gods born to Zeus by various goddesses.  After
this he formally bids farewell to the cosmic and Olympian deities
and enumerates the sons born of goddess to mortals.  The poem
closes with an invocation of the Muses to sing of the `tribe of

This conclusion served to link the "Theogony" to what must have
been a distinct poem, the "Catalogues of Women".  This work was
divided into four (Suidas says five) books, the last one (or two)
of which was known as the "Eoiae" and may have been again a
distinct poem: the curious title will be explained presently. 
The "Catalogues" proper were a series of genealogies which traced
the Hellenic race (or its more important peoples and families)
from a common ancestor.  The reason why women are so prominent is
obvious: since most families and tribes claimed to be descended
from a god, the only safe clue to their origin was through a
mortal woman beloved by that god; and it has also been pointed
out that `mutterrecht' still left its traces in northern Greece
in historical times.

The following analysis (after Marckscheffel) (8) will show the
principle of its composition.  From Prometheus and Pronoia sprang
Deucalion and Pyrrha, the only survivors of the deluge, who had a
son Hellen (frag. 1), the reputed ancestor of the whole Hellenic
race.  From the daughters of Deucalion sprang Magnes and Macedon,
ancestors of the Magnesians and Macedonians, who are thus
represented as cousins to the true Hellenic stock.  Hellen had
three sons, Dorus, Xuthus, and Aeolus, parents of the Dorian,
Ionic and Aeolian races, and the offspring of these was then
detailed.  In one instance a considerable and characteristic
section can be traced from extant fragments and notices:
Salmoneus, son of Aeolus, had a daughter Tyro who bore to
Poseidon two sons, Pelias and Neleus; the latter of these, king
of Pylos, refused Heracles purification for the murder of
Iphitus, whereupon Heracles attacked and sacked Pylos, killing
amongst the other sons of Neleus Periclymenus, who had the power
of changing himself into all manner of shapes.  From this
slaughter Neleus alone escaped (frags. 13, and 10-12).  This
summary shows the general principle of arrangement of the
"Catalogues": each line seems to have been dealt with in turn,
and the monotony was relieved as far as possible by a brief
relation of famous adventures connected with any of the
personages -- as in the case of Atalanta and Hippomenes (frag.
14).  Similarly the story of the Argonauts appears from the
fragments (37-42) to have been told in some detail.

This tendency to introduce romantic episodes led to an important
development.  Several poems are ascribed to Hesiod, such as the
"Epithalamium of Peleus and Thetis", the "Descent of Theseus into
Hades", or the "Circuit of the Earth" (which must have been
connected with the story of Phineus and the Harpies, and so with
the Argonaut-legend), which yet seem to have belonged to the
"Catalogues".  It is highly probable that these poems were
interpolations into the "Catalogues" expanded by later poets from
more summary notices in the genuine Hesiodic work and
subsequently detached from their contexts and treated as
independent.  This is definitely known to be true of the "Shield
of Heracles", the first 53 lines of which belong to the fourth
book of the "Catalogues", and almost certainly applies to other
episodes, such as the "Suitors of Helen" (9), the "Daughters of
Leucippus", and the "Marriage of Ceyx", which last Plutarch
mentions as `interpolated in the works of Hesiod.'

To the "Catalogues", as we have said, was appended another work,
the "Eoiae".  The title seems to have arisen in the following way
(10):  the "Catalogues" probably ended (ep. "Theogony" 963 ff.)
with some such passage as this: `But now, ye Muses, sing of the
tribes of women with whom the Sons of Heaven were joined in love,
women pre-eminent above their fellows in beauty, such as was
Niobe (?).'  Each succeeding heroine was then introduced by the
formula `Or such as was...' (cp. frags. 88, 92, etc.).  A large
fragment of the "Eoiae" is extant at the beginning of the "Shield
of Heracles", which may be mentioned here.  The "supplement" (ll.
57-480) is nominally Heracles and Cycnus, but the greater part is
taken up with an inferior description of the shield of Heracles,
in imitation of the Homeric shield of Achilles ("Iliad" xviii.
478 ff.).  Nothing shows more clearly the collapse of the
principles of the Hesiodic school than this ultimate servile
dependence upon Homeric models.

At the close of the "Shield" Heracles goes on to Trachis to the
house of Ceyx, and this warning suggests that the "Marriage of
Ceyx" may have come immediately after the `Or such as was' of
Alcmena in the "Eoiae": possibly Halcyone, the wife of Ceyx, was
one of the heroines sung in the poem, and the original section
was `developed' into the "Marriage", although what form the poem
took is unknown.

Next to the "Eoiae" and the poems which seemed to have been
developed from it, it is natural to place the "Great Eoiae". 
This, again, as we know from fragments, was a list of heroines
who bare children to the gods: from the title we must suppose it
to have been much longer that the simple "Eoiae", but its extent
is unknown.  Lehmann, remarking that the heroines are all
Boeotian and Thessalian (while the heroines of the "Catalogues"
belong to all parts of the Greek world), believes the author to
have been either a Boeotian or Thessalian.

Two other poems are ascribed to Hesiod.  Of these the "Aegimius"
(also ascribed by Athenaeus to Cercops of Miletus), is thought by
Valckenaer to deal with the war of Aegimus against the Lapithae
and the aid furnished to him by Heracles, and with the history of
Aegimius and his sons.  Otto Muller suggests that the
introduction of Thetis and of Phrixus (frags. 1-2) is to be
connected with notices of the allies of the Lapithae from
Phthiotis and Iolchus, and that the story of Io was incidental to
a narrative of Heracles' expedition against Euboea.  The
remaining poem, the "Melampodia", was a work in three books,
whose plan it is impossible to recover.  Its subject, however,
seems to have been the histories of famous seers like Mopsus,
Calchas, and Teiresias, and it probably took its name from
Melampus, the most famous of them all.

Date of the Hesiodic Poems

There is no doubt that the "Works and Days" is the oldest, as it
is the most original, of the Hesiodic poems.  It seems to be
distinctly earlier than the "Theogony", which refers to it,
apparently, as a poem already renowned.  Two considerations help
us to fix a relative date for the "Works".  1) In diction,
dialect and style it is obviously dependent upon Homer, and is
therefore considerably later than the "Iliad" and "Odyssey":
moreover, as we have seen, it is in revolt against the romantic
school, already grown decadent, and while the digamma is still
living, it is obviously growing weak, and is by no means
uniformly effective.

2) On the other hand while tradition steadily puts the Cyclic
poets at various dates from 776 B.C. downwards, it is equally
consistent in regarding Homer and Hesiod as `prehistoric'. 
Herodotus indeed puts both poets 400 years before his own time;
that is, at about 830-820 B.C., and the evidence stated above
points to the middle of the ninth century as the probable date
for the "Works and Days".  The "Theogony" might be tentatively
placed a century later; and the "Catalogues" and "Eoiae" are
again later, but not greatly later, than the "Theogony": the
"Shield of Heracles" may be ascribed to the later half of the
seventh century, but there is not evidence enough to show whether
the other `developed' poems are to be regarded as of a date so
low as this.

Literary Value of Homer

Quintillian's (11) judgment on Hesiod that `he rarely rises to
great heights... and to him is given the palm in the middle-class
of speech' is just, but is liable to give a wrong impression. 
Hesiod has nothing that remotely approaches such scenes as that
between Priam and Achilles, or the pathos of Andromache's
preparations for Hector's return, even as he was falling before
the walls of Troy; but in matters that come within the range or
ordinary experience, he rarely fails to rise to the appropriate
level.  Take, for instance, the description of the Iron Age
("Works and Days", 182 ff.) with its catalogue of wrongdoings and
violence ever increasing until Aidos and Nemesis are forced to
leave mankind who thenceforward shall have `no remedy against
evil'.  Such occasions, however, rarely occur and are perhaps not
characteristic of Hesiod's genius: if we would see Hesiod at his
best, in his most natural vein, we must turn to such a passage as
that which he himself -- according to the compiler of the
"Contest of Hesiod and Homer" -- selected as best in all his
work, `When the Pleiades, Atlas' daughters, begin to rise...'
("Works and Days, 383 ff.).  The value of such a passage cannot
be analysed: it can only be said that given such a subject, this
alone is the right method of treatment.

Hesiod's diction is in the main Homeric, but one of his charms is
the use of quaint allusive phrases derived, perhaps, from a pre-
Hesiodic peasant poetry: thus the season when Boreas blows is the
time when `the Boneless One gnaws his foot by his fireless hearth
in his cheerless house'; to cut one's nails is `to sever the
withered from the quick upon that which has five branches';
similarly the burglar is the `day-sleeper', and the serpent is
the `hairless one'.  Very similar is his reference to seasons
through what happens or is done in that season: `when the House-
carrier, fleeing the Pleiades, climbs up the plants from the
earth', is the season for harvesting; or `when the artichoke
flowers and the clicking grass-hopper, seated in a tree, pours
down his shrill song', is the time for rest.

Hesiod's charm lies in his child-like and sincere naivete, in his
unaffected interest in and picturesque view of nature and all
that happens in nature.  These qualities, it is true, are those
pre-eminently of the "Works and Days": the literary values of the
"Theogony" are of a more technical character, skill in ordering
and disposing long lists of names, sure judgment in seasoning a
monotonous subject with marvellous incidents or episodes, and no
mean imagination in depicting the awful, as is shown in the
description of Tartarus (ll. 736-745).  Yet it remains true that
Hesiod's distinctive title to a high place in Greek literature
lies in the very fact of his freedom form classic form, and his
grave, and yet child-like, outlook upon his world.

The Ionic School

The Ionic School of Epic poetry was, as we have seen, dominated
by the Homeric tradition, and while the style and method of
treatment are Homeric, it is natural that the Ionic poets
refrained from cultivating the ground tilled by Homer, and chose
for treatment legends which lay beyond the range of the "Iliad"
and "Odyssey".  Equally natural it is that they should have
particularly selected various phases of the tale of Troy which
preceded or followed the action of the "Iliad" or "Odyssey".  In
this way, without any preconceived intention, a body of epic
poetry was built up by various writers which covered the whole
Trojan story.  But the entire range of heroic legend was open to
these poets, and other clusters of epics grew up dealing
particularly with the famous story of Thebes, while others dealt
with the beginnings of the world and the wars of heaven.  In the
end there existed a kind of epic history of the world, as known
to the Greeks, down to the death of Odysseus, when the heroic age
ended.  In the Alexandrian Age these poems were arranged in
chronological order, apparently by Zenodotus of Ephesus, at the
beginning of the 3rd century B.C.  At a later time the term
"Cycle", `round' or `course', was given to this collection.

Of all this mass of epic poetry only the scantiest fragments
survive; but happily Photius has preserved to us an abridgment of
the synopsis made of each poem of the "Trojan Cycle" by Proclus,
i.e. Eutychius Proclus of Sicca.

The pre-Trojan poems of the Cycle may be noticed first.  The
"Titanomachy", ascribed both to Eumelus of Corinth and to
Arctinus of Miletus, began with a kind of Theogony which told of
the union of Heaven and Earth and of their offspring the Cyclopes
and the Hundred-handed Giants.  How the poem proceeded we have no
means of knowing, but we may suppose that in character it was not
unlike the short account of the Titan War found in the Hesiodic
"Theogony" (617 ff.).

What links bound the "Titanomachy" to the Theben Cycle is not
clear.  This latter group was formed of three poems, the "Story
of Oedipus", the "Thebais", and the "Epigoni".  Of the
"Oedipodea" practically nothing is known, though on the assurance
of Athenaeus (vii. 277 E) that Sophocles followed the Epic Cycle
closely in the plots of his plays, we may suppose that in outline
the story corresponded closely to the history of Oedipus as it is
found in the "Oedipus Tyrannus".  The "Thebais" seems to have
begun with the origin of the fatal quarrel between Eteocles and
Polyneices in the curse called down upon them by their father in
his misery.  The story was thence carried down to the end of the
expedition under Polyneices, Adrastus and Amphiarus against
Thebes.  The "Epigoni" (ascribed to Antimachus of Teos) recounted
the expedition of the `After-Born' against Thebes, and the sack
of the city.

The Trojan Cycle

Six epics with the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey" made up the Trojan
Cycle -- The "Cyprian Lays", the "Iliad", the "Aethiopis", the
"Little Illiad", the "Sack of Troy", the "Returns", the
"Odyssey", and the "Telegony".

It has been assumed in the foregoing pages that the poems of the
Trojan Cycle are later than the Homeric poems; but, as the
opposite view has been held, the reasons for this assumption must
now be given.  1) Tradition puts Homer and the Homeric poems
proper back in the ages before chronological history began, and
at the same time assigns the purely Cyclic poems to definite
authors who are dated from the first Olympiad (776 B.C.)
downwards.  This tradition cannot be purely arbitrary.  2) The
Cyclic poets (as we can see from the abstract of Proclus) were
careful not to trespass upon ground already occupied by Homer. 
Thus, when we find that in the "Returns" all the prominent Greek
heroes except Odysseus are accounted for, we are forced to
believe that the author of this poem knew the "Odyssey" and
judged it unnecessary to deal in full with that hero's
adventures. (12)  In a word, the Cyclic poems are `written round'
the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey".  3) The general structure of these
epics is clearly imitative.  As M.M. Croiset remark, the abusive 
Thersites in the "Aethiopis" is clearly copied from the Thersites
of the "Iliad"; in the same poem Antilochus, slain by Memnon and
avenged by Achilles, is obviously modelled on Patroclus.  4) The
geographical knowledge of a poem like the "Returns" is far wider
and more precise than that of the "Odyssey".  5) Moreover, in the
Cyclic poems epic is clearly degenerating morally -- if the
expression may be used.  The chief greatness of the "Iliad" is in
the character of the heroes Achilles and Hector rather than in
the actual events which take place: in the Cyclic writers facts
rather than character are the objects of interest, and events are
so packed together as to leave no space for any exhibition of the
play of moral forces.  All these reasons justify the view that 
the poems with which we now have to deal were later than the
"Iliad" and "Odyssey", and if we must recognize the possibility 
of some conventionality in the received dating, we may feel 
confident that it is at least approximately just.

The earliest of the post-Homeric epics of Troy are apparently the
"Aethiopis" and the "Sack of Ilium", both ascribed to Arctinus of
Miletus who is said to have flourished in the first Olympiad (776
B.C.).  He set himself to finish the tale of Troy, which, so far
as events were concerned, had been left half-told by Homer, by
tracing the course of events after the close of the "Iliad".  The
"Aethiopis" thus included the coming of the Amazon Penthesilea to
help the Trojans after the fall of Hector and her death, the
similar arrival and fall of the Aethiopian Memnon, the death of
Achilles under the arrow of Paris, and the dispute between
Odysseus and Aias for the arms of Achilles.  The "Sack of Ilium"
(13) as analysed by Proclus was very similar to Vergil's version
in "Aeneid" ii, comprising the episodes of the wooden horse, of
Laocoon, of Sinon, the return of the Achaeans from Tenedos, the
actual Sack of Troy, the division of spoils and the burning of
the city.

Lesches or Lescheos (as Pausanias calls him) of Pyrrha or
Mitylene is dated at about 660 B.C.   In his "Little Iliad" he
undertook to elaborate the "Sack" as related by Arctinus.  His
work included the adjudgment of the arms of Achilles to Odysseus,
the madness of Aias, the bringing of Philoctetes from Lemnos and
his cure, the coming to the war of Neoptolemus who slays
Eurypylus, son of Telephus, the making of the wooden horse, the
spying of Odysseus and his theft, along with Diomedes, of the
Palladium: the analysis concludes with the admission of the
wooden horse into Troy by the Trojans.  It is known, however
(Aristotle, "Poetics", xxiii; Pausanias, x, 25-27), that the
"Little Iliad" also contained a description of the sack of Troy. 
It is probable that this and other superfluous incidents
disappeared after the Alexandrian arrangement of the poems in the
Cycle, either as the result of some later recension, or merely
through disuse.  Or Proclus may have thought it unnecessary to
give the accounts by Lesches and Arctinus of the same incident.

The "Cyprian Lays", ascribed to Stasinus of Cyprus (14) (but also
to Hegesinus of Salamis) was designed to do for the events
preceding the action of the "Iliad" what Arctinus had done for
the later phases of the Trojan War.  The "Cypria" begins with the
first causes of the war, the purpose of Zeus to relieve the
overburdened earth, the apple of discord, the rape of Helen. 
Then follow the incidents connected with the gathering of the
Achaeans and their ultimate landing in Troy; and the story of the
war is detailed up to the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon
with which the "Iliad" begins.

These four poems rounded off the story of the "Iliad", and it
only remained to connect this enlarged version with the
"Odyssey".  This was done by means of the "Returns", a poem in
five books ascribed to Agias or Hegias of Troezen, which begins
where the "Sack of Troy" ends.  It told of the dispute between
Agamemnon and Menelaus, the departure from Troy of Menelaus, the
fortunes of the lesser heroes, the return and tragic death of
Agamemnon, and the vengeance of Orestes on Aegisthus.  The story
ends with the return home of Menelaus, which brings the general
narrative up to the beginning of the "Odyssey".

But the "Odyssey" itself left much untold: what, for example,
happened in Ithaca after the slaying of the suitors, and what was
the ultimate fate of Odysseus?  The answer to these questions was
supplied by the "Telegony", a poem in two books by Eugammon of
Cyrene (fl. 568 B.C.).  It told of the adventures of Odysseus in
Thesprotis after the killing of the Suitors, of his return to
Ithaca, and his death at the hands of Telegonis, his son by
Circe.  The epic ended by disposing of the surviving personages
in a double marriage, Telemachus wedding Circe, and Telegonus

The end of the Cycle marks also the end of the Heroic Age.

The Homeric Hymns

The collection of thirty-three Hymns, ascribed to Homer, is the
last considerable work of the Epic School, and seems, on the
whole, to be later than the Cyclic poems.  It cannot be
definitely assigned either to the Ionian or Continental schools,
for while the romantic element is very strong, there is a
distinct genealogical interest; and in matters of diction and
style the influences of both Hesiod and Homer are well-marked. 
The date of the formation of the collection as such is unknown. 
Diodorus Siculus (temp. Augustus) is the first to mention such a
body of poetry, and it is likely enough that this is, at least
substantially, the one which has come down to us.  Thucydides
quotes the Delian "Hymn to Apollo", and it is possible that the
Homeric corpus of his day also contained other of the more
important hymns.  Conceivable the collection was arranged in the
Alexandrine period.

Thucydides, in quoting the "Hymn to Apollo", calls it PROOIMION,
which ordinarily means a `prelude' chanted by a rhapsode before
recitation of a lay from Homer, and such hymns as Nos. vi, xxxi,
xxxii, are clearly preludes in the strict sense; in No. xxxi, for
example, after celebrating Helios, the poet declares he will next
sing of the `race of mortal men, the demi-gods'.  But it may
fairly be doubted whether such Hymns as those to "Demeter" (ii),
"Apollo" (iii), "Hermes" (iv), "Aphrodite" (v), can have been
real preludes, in spite of the closing formula `and now I will
pass on to another hymn'.  The view taken by Allen and Sikes,
amongst other scholars, is doubtless right, that these longer
hymns are only technically preludes and show to what
disproportionate lengths a simple literacy form can be developed.

The Hymns to "Pan" (xix), to "Dionysus" (xxvi), to "Hestia and
Hermes" (xxix), seem to have been designed for use at definite
religious festivals, apart from recitations.  With the exception
perhaps of the "Hymn to Ares" (viii), no item in the collection
can be regarded as either devotional or liturgical.

The Hymn is doubtless a very ancient form; but if no example of
extreme antiquity survive this must be put down to the fact that
until the age of literary consciousness, such things are not

First, apparently, in the collection stood the "Hymn to
Dionysus", of which only two fragments now survive.  While it
appears to have been a hymn of the longer type (15), we have no
evidence to show either its scope or date.

The "Hymn to Demeter", extant only in the MS. discovered by
Matthiae at Moscow, describes the seizure of Persephone by Hades,
the grief of Demeter, her stay at Eleusis, and her vengeance on
gods and men by causing famine.  In the end Zeus is forced to
bring Persephone back from the lower world; but the goddess, by
the contriving of Hades, still remains partly a deity of the
lower world.  In memory of her sorrows Demeter establishes the
Eleusinian mysteries (which, however, were purely agrarian in

This hymn, as a literary work, is one of the finest in the
collection.  It is surely Attic or Eleusinian in origin.  Can we
in any way fix its date?  Firstly, it is certainly not later than
the beginning of the sixth century, for it makes no mention of
Iacchus, and the Dionysiac element was introduced at Eleusis at
about that period.  Further, the insignificance of Triptolemus
and Eumolpus point to considerable antiquity, and the digamma is
still active.  All these considerations point to the seventh
century as the probable date of the hymn.

The "Hymn to Apollo" consists of two parts, which beyond any
doubt were originally distinct, a Delian hymn and a Pythian hymn.

The Delian hymn describes how Leto, in travail with Apollo,
sought out a place in which to bear her son, and how Apollo, born
in Delos, at once claimed for himself the lyre, the bow, and
prophecy.  This part of the existing hymn ends with an encomium
of the Delian festival of Apollo and of the Delian choirs.  The
second part celebrates the founding of Pytho (Delphi) as the
oracular seat of Apollo.  After various wanderings the god comes
to Telphus, near Haliartus, but is dissuaded by the nymph of the
place from settling there and urged to go on to Pytho where,
after slaying the she-dragon who nursed Typhaon, he builds his
temple.  After the punishment of Telphusa for her deceit in
giving him no warning of the dragoness at Pytho, Apollo, in the
form of a dolphin, brings certain Cretan shipmen to Delphi to be
his priests; and the hymn ends with a charge to these men to
behave orderly and righteously.

The Delian part is exclusively Ionian and insular both in style
and sympathy; Delos and no other is Apollo's chosen seat: but the
second part is as definitely continental; Delos is ignored and
Delphi alone is the important centre of Apollo's worship.  From
this it is clear that the two parts need not be of one date --
The first, indeed, is ascribed (Scholiast on Pindar "Nem". ii, 2)
to Cynaethus of Chios (fl. 504 B.C.), a date which is obviously
far too low; general considerations point rather to the eighth
century.  The second part is not later than 600 B.C.; for 1) the
chariot-races at Pytho, which commenced in 586 B.C., are unknown
to the writer of the hymn, 2) the temple built by Trophonius and
Agamedes for Apollo (ll. 294-299) seems to have been still
standing when the hymn was written, and this temple was burned in
548.  We may at least be sure that the first part is a Chian
work, and that the second was composed by a continental poet
familiar with Delphi.

The "Hymn to Hermes" differs from others in its burlesque, quasi-
comic character, and it is also the best-known of the Hymns to
English readers in consequence of Shelley's translation.

After a brief narrative of the birth of Hermes, the author goes
on to show how he won a place among the gods.  First the new-born
child found a tortoise and from its shell contrived the lyre;
next, with much cunning circumstance, he stole Apollo's cattle
and, when charged with the theft by Apollo, forced that god to
appear in undignified guise before the tribunal of Zeus.  Zeus
seeks to reconcile the pair, and Hermes by the gift of the lyre
wins Apollo's friendship and purchases various prerogatives, a
share in divination, the lordship of herds and animals, and the
office of messenger from the gods to Hades.

The Hymn is hard to date.  Hermes' lyre has seven strings and the
invention of the seven-stringed lyre is ascribed to Terpander
(flor. 676 B.C.).  The hymn must therefore be later than that
date, though Terpander, according to Weir Smyth (16), may have
only modified the scale of the lyre; yet while the burlesque
character precludes an early date, this feature is far removed,
as Allen and Sikes remark, from the silliness of the "Battle of
the Frogs and Mice", so that a date in the earlier part of the
sixth century is most probable.

The "Hymn to Aphrodite" is not the least remarkable, from a
literary point of view, of the whole collection, exhibiting as it
does in a masterly manner a divine being as the unwilling victim
of an irresistible force.  It tells how all creatures, and even
the gods themselves, are subject to the will of Aphrodite, saving
only Artemis, Athena, and Hestia; how Zeus to humble her pride of
power caused her to love a mortal, Anchises; and how the goddess
visited the hero upon Mt. Ida.  A comparison of this work with
the Lay of Demodocus ("Odyssey" viii, 266 ff.), which is
superficially similar, will show how far superior is the former
in which the goddess is but a victim to forces stronger than
herself.  The lines (247-255) in which Aphrodite tells of her
humiliation and grief are specially noteworthy.

There are only general indications of date.  The influence of
Hesiod is clear, and the hymn has almost certainly been used by
the author of the "Hymn to Demeter", so that the date must lie
between these two periods, and the seventh century seems to be
the latest date possible.

The "Hymn to Dionysus" relates how the god was seized by pirates
and how with many manifestations of power he avenged himself on
them by turning them into dolphins.  The date is widely disputed,
for while Ludwich believes it to be a work of the fourth or third
century, Allen and Sikes consider a sixth or seventh century date
to be possible.  The story is figured in a different form on the
reliefs from the choragic monument of Lysicrates, now in the
British Museum (17).

Very different in character is the "Hymn to Ares", which is
Orphic in character.  The writer, after lauding the god by
detailing his attributes, prays to be delivered from feebleness
and weakness of soul, as also from impulses to wanton and brutal

The only other considerable hymn is that to "Pan", which
describes how he roams hunting among the mountains and thickets
and streams, how he makes music at dusk while returning from the
chase, and how he joins in dancing with the nymphs who sing the
story of his birth.  This, beyond most works of Greek literature,
is remarkable for its fresh and spontaneous love of wild natural

The remaining hymns are mostly of the briefest compass, merely
hailing the god to be celebrated and mentioning his chief
attributes.  The Hymns to "Hermes" (xviii), to the "Dioscuri"
(xvii), and to "Demeter" (xiii) are mere abstracts of the longer
hymns iv, xxxiii, and ii.

The Epigrams of Homer

The "Epigrams of Homer" are derived from the pseudo-Herodotean
"Life of Homer", but many of them occur in other documents such
as the "Contest of Homer and Hesiod", or are quoted by various
ancient authors.  These poetic fragments clearly antedate the
"Life" itself, which seems to have been so written round them as
to supply appropriate occasions for their composition.  Epigram
iii on Midas of Larissa was otherwise attributed to Cleobulus of
Lindus, one of the Seven Sages; the address to Glaucus (xi) is
purely Hesiodic; xiii, according to MM. Croiset, is a fragment
from a gnomic poem.  Epigram xiv is a curious poem attributed on
no very obvious grounds to Hesiod by Julius Pollox.  In it the
poet invokes Athena to protect certain potters and their craft,
if they will, according to promise, give him a reward for his
song; if they prove false, malignant gnomes are invoked to wreck
the kiln and hurt the potters.

The Burlesque Poems

To Homer were popularly ascribed certain burlesque poems in which
Aristotle ("Poetics" iv) saw the germ of comedy.  Most
interesting of these, were it extant, would be the "Margites". 
The hero of the epic is at once sciolist and simpleton, `knowing
many things, but knowing them all badly'.  It is unfortunately
impossible to trace the plan of the poem, which presumably
detailed the adventures of this unheroic character: the metre
used was a curious mixture of hexametric and iambic lines.  The
date of such a work cannot be high: Croiset thinks it may belong
to the period of Archilochus (c. 650 B.C.), but it may well be
somewhat later.

Another poem, of which we know even less, is the "Cercopes". 
These Cercopes (`Monkey-Men') were a pair of malignant dwarfs who
went about the world mischief-making.  Their punishment by
Heracles is represented on one of the earlier metopes from
Selinus.  It would be idle to speculate as to the date of this

Finally there is the "Battle of the Frogs and Mice".  Here is
told the story of the quarrel which arose between the two tribes,
and how they fought, until Zeus sent crabs to break up the
battle.  It is a parody of the warlike epic, but has little in it
that is really comic or of literary merit, except perhaps the
list of quaint arms assumed by the warriors.  The text of the
poem is in a chaotic condition, and there are many
interpolations, some of Byzantine date.

Though popularly ascribed to Homer, its real author is said by
Suidas to have been Pigres, a Carian, brother of Artemisia, `wife
of Mausonis', who distinguished herself at the battle of Salamis.

Suidas is confusing the two Artemisias, but he may be right in
attributing the poem to about 480 B.C.

The Contest of Homer and Hesiod

This curious work dates in its present form from the lifetime or
shortly after the death of Hadrian, but seems to be based in part
on an earlier version by the sophist Alcidamas (c. 400 B.C.). 
Plutarch ("Conviv. Sept. Sap.", 40) uses an earlier (or at least
a shorter) version than that which we possess (18).  The extant
"Contest", however, has clearly combined with the original
document much other ill-digested matter on the life and descent
of Homer, probably drawing on the same general sources as does
the Herodotean "Life of Homer".  Its scope is as follows: 1) the
descent (as variously reported) and relative dates of Homer and
Hesiod; 2) their poetical contest at Chalcis; 3) the death of
Hesiod; 4) the wanderings and fortunes of Homer, with brief
notices of the circumstances under which his reputed works were
composed, down to the time of his death.

The whole tract is, of course, mere romance; its only values are
1) the insight it give into ancient speculations about Homer; 2)
a certain amount of definite information about the Cyclic poems;
and 3) the epic fragments included in the stichomythia of the
"Contest" proper, many of which -- did we possess the clue --
would have to be referred to poems of the Epic Cycle.


(1)  sc. in Boeotia, Locris and Thessaly: elsewhere the movement
     was forced and unfruitful.
(2)  The extant collection of three poems, "Works and Days",
     "Theogony", and "Shield of Heracles", which alone have come
     down to us complete, dates at least from the 4th century
     A.D.: the title of the Paris Papyrus (Bibl. Nat. Suppl. Gr.
     1099) names only these three works.
(3)  "Der Dialekt des Hesiodes", p. 464: examples are AENEMI (W.
     and D. 683) and AROMENAI (ib. 22).
(4)  T.W. Allen suggests that the conjured Delian and Pythian
     hymns to Apollo ("Homeric Hymns" III) may have suggested
     this version of the story, the Pythian hymn showing strong
     continental influence.
(5)  She is said to have given birth to the lyrist Stesichorus.
(6)  See Kinkel "Epic. Graec. Frag." i. 158 ff.
(7)  See "Great Works", frag. 2.
(8)  "Hesiodi Fragmenta", pp. 119 f.
(9)  Possibly the division of this poem into two books is a
     division belonging solely to this `developed poem', which
     may have included in its second part a summary of the Tale
     of Troy.
(10) Goettling's explanation.
(11) x. 1. 52
(12) Odysseus appears to have been mentioned once only -- and
     that casually -- in the "Returns".
(13) M.M. Croiset note that the "Aethiopis" and the "Sack" were
     originally merely parts of one work containing lays (the
     Amazoneia, Aethiopis, Persis, etc.), just as the "Iliad"
     contained various lays such as the Diomedeia.
(14) No date is assigned to him, but it seems likely that he was
     either contemporary or slightly earlier than Lesches.
(15) Cp. Allen and Sikes, "Homeric Hymns" p. xv.  In the text I
     have followed the arrangement of these scholars, numbering
     the Hymns to Dionysus and to Demeter, I and II respectively:
     to place "Demeter" after "Hermes", and the Hymn to Dionysus
     at the end of the collection seems to be merely perverse.
(16) "Greek Melic Poets", p. 165.
(17) This monument was returned to Greece in the 1980's. -- DBK.
(18) Cp. Marckscheffel, "Hesiodi fragmenta", p. 35.  The papyrus
     fragment recovered by Petrie ("Petrie Papyri", ed. Mahaffy,
     p. 70, No. xxv.) agrees essentially with the extant
     document, but differs in numerous minor textual points.


HESIOD. -- The classification and numerations of MSS. here
followed is that of Rzach (1913).  It is only necessary to add
that on the whole the recovery of Hesiodic papyri goes to confirm
the authority of the mediaeval MSS.  At the same time these
fragments have produced much that is interesting and valuable,
such as the new lines, "Works and Days" 169 a-d, and the improved
readings ib. 278, "Theogony" 91, 93.  Our chief gains from
papyri are the numerous and excellent fragments of the
Catalogues which have been recovered.