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 treatment.
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.
1 sc. in Boeotia, Locris and Thessaly: elsewhere the movement was forced and unfruitful.
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 English
‘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 1 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.
1 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.
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. [H]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 1 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 2, 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 3, 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 55).
“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.”
1 “Der Dialekt des Hesiodes”, p. 464: examples are AENEMI (W. and D. 683) and AROMENAI (ib. 22).
2 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.
3 She is said to have given birth to the lyrist Stesichorus.
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 “Theogony”.
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 1 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 2 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”.
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 women’.
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) 3 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” 4, 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 5: 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.
1 See Kinkel “Epic. Graec. Frag.” i. 158 ff.
2 See “Great Works”, frag. 2.
3 “Hesiodi Fragmenta”, pp. 119 f.
4 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.
5 Goettling’s explanation.
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.
Quintillian’s 1 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 of 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 from classic form, and his grave, and yet child-like, outlook upon his world.
1 x. 1. 52
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.
Six epics with the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” made up the Trojan Cycle — The “Cyprian Lays”, the “Iliad”, the “Aethiopis”, the “Little Iliad”, 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. 1 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” 2 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 3 (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 Telegonus, his son by Circe. The epic ended by disposing of the surviving personages in a double marriage, Telemachus wedding Circe, and Telegonus Penelope.
The end of the Cycle marks also the end of the Heroic Age.
1 Odysseus appears to have been mentioned once only — and that casually — in the “Returns”.
2 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.
3 No date is assigned to him, but it seems likely that he was either contemporary or slightly earlier than Lesches.
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. Conceivably 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 preserved.
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 1, 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 origin).
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 2, 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.
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 violence.
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 scenes.
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.
1 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.
2 “Greek Melic Poets”, p. 165.
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.
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 work.
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.
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 1. 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 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. See Schubert, “Berl. Klassikertexte” v. 1.22 ff.; the other papyri may be found in the publications whose name they bear.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09