Hesiod: Morals Can Be Fun
Hesiod is another important Greek poet. Often called the father of Greek didactic poetry, Hesiod probably lived some time after Homer. Unlike Homer's epic poetry, which typically narrates heroic deeds and important events, didactic poetry tells a story to teach a moral lesson.
Like Homer, Hesiod is shrouded in mystery, but scholars do know a bit more about his life. Most of this information comes directly from his works. The best guess is that he lived sometime around 700
While tending his flock one day, the young Hesiod was visited by the Muses, goddesses of literature and the arts. They appeared to him in a mist and gave him a poet's staff and a poet's voice. Then they told him to use these gifts to spread the word about the gods. Hesiod did as he was told, even competing in poetry contests. The results of this mystical visitation were the famous works Theogony and Works and Days, as well as several lesser-known poems.
Who were the Muses?
The Muses were the nine daughters of Zeus (ruler of the gods) and Mnemosyne (Memory). As the goddesses of the arts, the Muses provide inspiration and enlightenment to artists. Here are their names and the endeavors over which each presides: Calliope (epic poetry), Clio (history), Erato (lyric poetry), Euterpe (music), Melpomene (tragedy), Polyhymnia (choral poetry), Terpsichore (dance), Thalia (comedy), and Urania (astronomy).
Details of Hesiod's death are sketchy. According to legend, Hesiod was murdered by the sons of a family he stayed with during his travels and was buried at Locris. Another legend says that his bones were taken to Orchomenus, where a statue in his honor was built in the marketplace.
Like Homer, Hesiod was the author of two famous poems that are still studied and enjoyed today. As with Homer, scholars debate whether Hesiod was the sole author of his works. But there is general agreement that Hesiod was an actual person and that he authored most of Theogony and Works and Days. Only parts of these works are suspected of having been added later by other poets.
Theogony fulfilled the Muses' command by telling the history of the gods. Beginning with creation, this poem provides a foundation on which to build the stories of the gods and goddesses. Theogony explains the origin of universe, the gods, and the world.
Works and Days, a poem of about 800 lines, is framed as a disagreement between Hesiod and his brother, Perses, over their late father's estate. Works and Days is filled with fables and myths as the two brothers debate the issue.
The poem posits that it's the destiny of all men to work, but those who accept their lot and work hard will succeed. Through its stories, the poem prizes honest labor over laziness, injustice, dishonesty, and usury. In fact, Hesiod states that labor is the source of all good things, and that gods and people alike hate idleness.
Works and Days gives Hesiod's version of human history in its Five Ages of Man. The Golden Age, most distant in time, was when people lived among the gods. During the Silver Age, childhood lasted for 100 years, but adulthood was short and full of conflict. The Bronze Age was a difficult era of war. Life got better in the Heroic Age, when heroes walked the earth, but this time passed away and the heroes departed for the Elysian Fields. Hesiod called his own era the Iron Age and saw it as a time of misery and hard work.
Over the next few hundred years, a number of other poets continued to work with mythological subjects. (The last section of this chapter lists several of them.) These poets, however, did not have the major impact of Hesiod or Homer.