HESIOD OF ASCRA

(c. 800 B.C.?)

By such examples taught, I paint the lot, As Truth will paint it, and as Bards will not. Crabbe.

LESS impersonal and self-effacing than Homer, Hēsiod tells how his father had migrated from the Aeŏlic Cyme in Western Asia Minor to the village of Ascra at the foot of Mount Helicon in Central Greece -- 'evil in winter, in summer intolerable.' His Works and Days, a mixture of moral treatise and farmer's manual, is addressed to his idle brother Perses, who by bribing the 'gift-devouring princes' had gained an unfair share of their common heritage. Hēsiod is also credited with a theological poem, the Theogony ('Generations of the Gods'). As so often, this traditional authorship has been questioned; as so often, with little reason.

Hēsiod is a poet of superstitious, but laborious peasants ('of Helots,' said the contemptuous Spartan king, Cleómenes), while Homer is the poet of proud Viking princes. From Homer's glorious fictions Hēsiod turns to harsh and homely truths; he values the virtues, not of war, but of peace; not of the rich, but of the poor -- hard work, prudence, honesty, thrift. There is, indeed, country-life in Homer also -- in the lovely similes, in the Shield of Achilles, in the cot of the swineherd Eumaeus; but it remains country-life as seen by a spectator rather than a toiler -- as Chaucer sees it, not Langland. Even Eumaeus turns out to be a kidnapped prince; just as in Malory even the hermits of the good old days are gentle-born. Homer too loved the rich damp blackness of new-ploughed earth; but on Hēsiod's hands we seem to feel the very blisters made by the handle of the plough. This poet has himself reaped, sweating, where the sun cracked the hillsides of Ascra, or shivered behind his team as the winds of winter whistled from the bleak forests of the North. Hēsiod is Europe's first realist.

On his Works and Days Virgil modelled the Georgics; but Virgil, like Homer, remains a court-poet. He has an artistry, a refinement, a sensitive pity for the world, that are far removed from the sardonic old Boeotian. Yet each is admirable in his different way; if he has less imagination, Hēsiod has the blessed reality of writers -- they are none too common -- who really know the things of which they write; a reality more solid than Wordsworth's mystical rusticities, or the somewhat idyllic Berrichons among whom George Sand regained her sanity.

And with all his realism Hēsiod remains a Greek -- he feels the loveliness,

-195-

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Greek Poetry for Everyman
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xiii
  • Introduction xxv
  • Part One - Epic Period 1
  • Homer - Iliad 3
  • Notes 180
  • Hesiod of Ascra - (c. 800 B.C.?) 195
  • The Homeric Hymns 207
  • Hesiod and Hymns - Notes 224
  • Part Two - From Archilochus to Alexander 231
  • Archilochus of Paros 233
  • Part Three - Alexandrian Period 295
  • Philetas of Cos 297
  • Part Four - Roman and Early Byzantine Period 349
  • MeleĀger of Gadara 351
  • Appendix I 397
  • Appendix II 405
  • Index of Poets 413
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