Hesiod

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Hesiod

Hesiod (hē´sēəd, hĕs´–), fl. 8th cent.? BC, Greek poet. He is thought to have lived later than Homer, but there is no absolute certainty about the dates of his life. Hesiod portrays himself as a Boeotian farmer. Little is known of his life, however, except for the few scant references he makes to his family's origin and to a quarrel over property with his brother. His most famous poem, the didactic Works and Days, is an epic of Greek rural life, filled with caustic advice for his brother and maxims for farmers to pursue. The "days" are days lucky or unlucky for particular tasks. Works and Days discourses on the mythic "five races" (i.e., the five ages) of humans; the Golden Age, ruled by Kronos, a period of serenity, peace, and eternal spring; the Silver Age, ruled by Zeus, less happy, but with luxury prevailing; the Bronze Age, a period of strife; the Heroic Age of the Trojan War; and the Iron Age, the present, when justice and piety had vanished. Hesiod's systemization, especially the idealized Golden Age, became deeply entrenched in the Western imagination and was expanded upon by Ovid. Also ascribed to him are the Theogony, a genealogy of the gods, and the first 56 lines of The Shield of Heracles. He gave his name to the Hesiodic school of poets, rivals of the Homeric school. Homer and Hesiod codified and preserved the myths of many of the Greek gods of the classical pantheon.

See translations by Lattimore (1959, 1991), and R. Lamberton, Hesiod (1988).

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