The Narrative Voice in the Theogony of Hesiod

The Narrative Voice in the Theogony of Hesiod

The Narrative Voice in the Theogony of Hesiod

The Narrative Voice in the Theogony of Hesiod


This volume offers analysis of the narratological structure of the Theogony with the purpose of elucidating a major, unifying theme in this poem: the relationship between the divine and mortal realms. The techniques of narratology are herein employed to support the argument that Hesiod portrays the cosmos as sharply divided between gods and men. The Theogony should therefore be read as a didactic poem explaining primarily the position of man vis-a-vis the gods. The first half of this book discusses relevant scholarship and introduces the theme of relationship of gods to men in the Theogony. The second half of the book discusses how Hesiod employs Character-Text, Attributive Discourse, Embedded Focalization, Anachrony, and Commentary to achieve his didactic purposes.


Hesiodic scholarship has long labored under the inhibiting assumption that Hesiod composed from an autobiographical standpoint, and that his first-person statements are intended to be taken as accurate descriptions of his socio-economic status rather than as persona adopted for literary purposes. Although scholars such as Gagarin, Clay, and Nagy have begun to treat Hesiod as a poet capable of formulating and expressing complex literary ideas, the belief that Hesiod actually was a shepherd or a struggling farmer, resoundingly adopted by M. L. West in his influential commentaries and taken up in several recent books, continues to dominate the field of Hesiodic scholarship. This ‘biographical’ approach to Hesiodic poetry has led scholars not only to construct elaborate biographies of Hesiod based on what he ‘tells us about himself in his works, but to inteipret the works themselves in light of these supposed ‘biographical facts’. The result is that scholars have traditionally underestimated the poetic skill and depth of thought in the poems of this ‘shepherd/farmer’, due in some part to the often discursive-seeming nature of archaic Greek poetry. The Theogony, therefore, though it has received attention as the repository of early concepts of justice and mythology, has traditionally not been given close analytical scrutiny as an unified work of a skilled poet pursuing specific artistic aims.

Continuing along the lines established by Mark Griffith, I reject the biographical approach to Hesiod in my analysis of the Theogony. It is intellectually unsound to base one’s assessment of a poem on an assumption of the poet’s educational or social background that is itself the product of that poem, given the possibility that the poet has deliberately adopted a persona for the purposes of that poem. I therefore analyze the Theogony as the work of a poet who chooses in a specific scene of the Proem of his work to present himself as a shepherd, and attempt to see with what purpose he may have done so.

The analytical method that I choose for this purpose is that of narratology, specifically the method of Mieke Bal as developed by

See West 1966 esp. 40–48; Stein 1990; and Nelson 1998: 36–38 for recent and elegant examples of the ‘biographizing’ approach to Hesiod.

Griffith 1983.

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