Dafato Team | Jun 25, 2022

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Hesiod (Greek: Ἡσίοδος, transl. Hēsíodos) was a Greek oral poet of antiquity, generally thought to have been active between 750 and 650 B.C. His poetry is the first made in Europe in which the poet sees himself as a topic, an individual with a distinct role to play. Ancient authors credited him and Homer with instituting Greek religious customs, and modern scholars refer to him as a major source for Greek religion, agricultural techniques, economic thought (he was sometimes referred to as the first economist), archaic Greek astronomy, and the study of time.

Hesiod used several styles of traditional verse, including gnomic, hymnic, genealogical, and narrative poetry, but he could not master them all with equal fluency; comparisons with Homer are often unfavorable to him. In the words of a modern scholar of his work, "it is as if a craftsman, with his large, clumsy fingers, were patiently and fascinatingly imitating the delicate stitching of a professional tailor.

The precise dates of his life are a disputed issue in academic circles, and have been addressed in the Dates section.

The epic narrative did not allow poets like Homer any opportunity for personal revelations, but Hesiod's extant work also comprises didactic poems, and in these the author deviated from his trajectory to share with the public some details of his life, including three explicit references, in the Labors and Days, as well as some passages from the Theogony, which allow some inferences to be made. In the first, the reader learns that Hesiod's father was originally from Cime, in Aeolia, on the coast of Asia Minor, south of the island of Lesbos, and crossed the sea to settle in a village, near Thespias, in Beotia, called Ascra, "a cursed village, cruel in winter, grievous in summer, never pleasant" (Works, l. 640). Hesiod's estate there, a small piece of land at the foot of Mount Helicon, was responsible for lawsuits with his brother, Perses, who seems to have initially misappropriated the share owed to Hesiod thanks to corrupt officials (or "kings"), but later ended up poor and surviving at the expense of the more cautious poet (Works l. 35, 396). Unlike his father, Hesiod avoided sea travel, although he once crossed the strait separating mainland Greece from the island of Evia to participate in the funeral rites of a certain Atamas of Calcis, where he won a tripod after participating in a singing competition. He also described an encounter between himself and the Muses on Mount Helicon, where he had taken his sheep to graze, when the goddesses presented him with a laurel branch, a symbol of poetic authority (Theogony, ll. 22-35). As fanciful as this sounds, the account has led ancient and modern scholars to deduce from it that Hesiod was not able to play the lyre, or had not been professionally trained to play it, otherwise he would have received a gift instrument in place of a staff.

Some scholars see in Perses a literary creation, a resource used for the moralization developed by Hesiod in the Works and Days, but there are also arguments against this theory. It was very common, for example, in works aimed at moral instruction, to use an imaginary setting as a way of gaining the audience's attention, but it is hard to imagine how Hesiod could have traveled all over the countryside entertaining people with a narrative about himself if it was notoriously fictional. American Professor of Classical Studies Gregory Nagy, on the other hand, sees both Persēs ("destroyer": πέρθω, perthō) and Hēsiodos ("one who emits the voice": ἵημι, hiēmi + αὐδή, audē) as fictional names for poetic personas.

It seems unusual that Hesiod's father migrated from Asia Minor to mainland Greece, taking the opposite route from most colonial movements of the period; Hesiod himself offers no explanation for this. Around 750 BCE, however, or a little later, a migration of maritime merchants occurred from his homeland, Cime in Asia Minor, to Cumas in Campania (a colony Cime shared with the Euboites), and perhaps his move westward had something to do with this, since Euboea is not far from Beotia, where he eventually settled with his family. The association with Cime by family could explain his familiarity with Eastern myths, evident in his poems, although the Greek world may by that time have developed its own versions of those myths.

Despite Hesiod's complaints about his poverty, life on his father's farm cannot have been overly uncomfortable judging from his work, especially Labors and Days, since he describes the routines of prosperous landowners, not peasants. His farmer employs a friend (l. 370) as well as servants (ll. 502, 573, 597, 608, 766), an energetic and responsible plowman already of advanced age (ll. 469-71), a young slave to cover the seeds (ll. 441-6), a servant to look after the house (ll. 405, 602), and groups of oxen and mules (ll. 405, 607f.). One modern scholar has suggested that Hesiod would have learned about general geography, especially the catalog of rivers cited in the Theogony (ll. 337-45), from listening to his father's accounts of his own travels as a merchant. His father probably spoke in the Aeolian dialect of Cime, yet Hesiod probably grew up speaking the local Boeotian dialect. His poetry, however, features some Aeolianisms, while it does not have any words of Bœotian origin, since he composed his works using the main literary dialect of the time, the Ionian dialect.

It is likely that Hesiod wrote his poems, or dictated them, and did not present them orally, as the rhapsodes did - otherwise the markedly personal style that emerges from his poems would surely have been diluted through oral transmission from one rhapsode to another. If he did indeed write or dictate his works, he probably did so to help memorize them, or because he lacked confidence in his ability to produce poems offhand, as the more trained rhapsodes used to do. It was certainly not aimed at any kind of fame or posterity, since the poets of his time were not familiar with this notion. Some scholars suspect, however, the presence of large-scale changes in the text, and attribute it to oral transmission. Hesiod may have written his verses during periods of idleness on his farm, in the spring before the May harvest, or in mid-winter.

The personal characteristic behind the poems is hardly appropriate to the kind of "aristocratic aloofness" a rhapsode should have; his style was described as "argumentative, suspicious, ironically humorous, frugal, fond of proverbs, fearful about women." He was, in fact, a misogynist of the same order as another poet who lived later, Semonides. He resembles Solon in his preoccupation with the question of good versus evil, and "how a just and omnipotent god can allow the unjust to flourish in this life." He recalls Aristophanes in his rejection of the idealized hero of epic literature, preferring instead an idealized vision of the farmer. However, the fact that he could give praise to kings in the Theogony (ll. 80ff, 430, 434) and at the same time denounce them as corrupt in the Works and Days suggests that he had the ability to write according to the audience he aimed to reach.

The various legends that have accumulated over time concerning Hesiod have been recorded in different sources:

Two different but archaic traditions record Hesiod's burial place. One, from the time of Thucydides and recorded by Plutarch, the Suda, and John Tzetzes, states that the oracle of Delphi reportedly warned Hesiod that he would die in Nemeia, and so he fled to Locida, where he was killed in the local temple dedicated to Zeus Nemeus, and buried there. This tradition follows a familiar ironic convention: the oracle ends up predicting correctly despite the victim's attempt to escape his fate. The other tradition, first mentioned in an epigram by Chérsias of Orcomene, and written in the 7th century BCE (a little over a century after Hesiod's death) states that he would be buried in Orcomene, a town in Boeotia. According to Aristotle's Constitution of Orcomene, when the Thespians attacked Ascra, its inhabitants sought refuge in Orcomene where, following the advice of an oracle, they gathered Hesiod's ashes and placed them in a place of honor within its agora, near the tomb of Minias, its eponymous founder. Later they came to regard Hesiod also as the "founder of their home" (οἰκιστής, oikistēs). Later writers tried to harmonize the two accounts.


The Greeks of the late 5th and early 4th century B.C. considered as their oldest poets Orpheus, Museum, Hesiod and Homer - in that order. Later, Greek authors came to consider Homer older than Hesiod. Admirers of Orpheus and Museum were probably responsible for the precedence given to these two cult heroes, and perhaps the Homerites were later responsible for 'promoting' Homer at the expense of Hesiod.

The first known authors to place Homer earlier, chronologically, than Hesiod were Xenophanes and Pontic Heraclide, although Aristarchus of Samothrace was the first to argue for the theory. Ephorus described Homer as a younger cousin of Hesiod; Herodotus (Histories, 2.53) evidently regarded them as almost contemporaries, and the fourth-century B.C. sophist Alcidamas, in his work Mouseion, represented them acting together in a fictional poetic competition (agon), which survives today as Competition between Homer and Hesiod. Most scholars today agree in advance of Homer, but there are good arguments on both sides.

Hesiod certainly preceded the lyric and elegiac poets whose works have been preserved to the present day. Imitations of his work have been identified in the works of Alceu, Epimenides, Mimnermo, Semonides, Tirteus, and Archilochus, from which it has been deduced that the latest possible date for Hesiod could only be 650 BCE.

An upper limit of 750 B.C. as the date of his death has been indicated by many considerations, such as the likelihood that his work was written, the fact that he mentions a shrine at Delphi that had little national significance before the middle of 750 B.C. (Theogony l. 499), and the fact that he lists rivers flowing into the Euxinus, a region explored and developed by Greek settlers only in the early 8th century B.C. (Theogony, 337-45).

Hesiod mentions a poetry contest in Calcis, on the island of Euboea, where the sons of a certain Amphidamus presented him with a tripod (Works and Days ll.654-662). Plutarch identified this Amphidamus with the hero of the Lellantine War, fought between Chalcis and Eretria, and concluded that this passage must be an interpolation in Hesiod's original work, assuming that the Lellantine War would have occurred at a date too late to coincide with Hesiod's lifetime. Modern scholars have accepted this identification from Amphidamas, but disagree with his conclusion. The date of the war is not known precisely, but is estimated to be around 730-705 BCE, coinciding with the chronology estimated for Hesiod. If this is the case, the tripod granted to Hesiod could be won by his interpretation of the Theogony, a poem that seems intended for the kind of aristocratic audience that would have been present in Chalcissus.

According to the Roman historian Marco Veleio Patérculo, Hesiod flourished one hundred and twenty years after Homer, who flourished nine hundred and fifty years before the composition of the Compendium of Roman History.

Three works attributed to Hesiod by ancient commentators have survived: The Works and the Days (or The Works and the Days), the Theogony, and The Shield of Heracles (although there is some doubt about the authorship of the latter, thought by some scholars to be from the 6th century B.C.E.). Other works attributed to him exist only in fragmentary form. The existing works and fragments were all written in the conventional language and metrics of epic poetry. Some ancient authors even questioned the authenticity of the Theogony (Pausanias, 9.31.3), although the author mentions himself by name in the poem (verse 22). Although they differ in several respects, the Theogony and The Labors and the Days share a prosody, a metric, and a characteristic language, which subtly distinguish it from the work of Homer and the Shield of Heracles (see Hesiod's Greek). Moreover, both refer to the same version of the Prometheus myth. Both poems, however, may contain interpolations; the first ten verses of Works and Days, for example, may have been appropriated from an Orphic hymn to Zeus.

Some scholars have detected a proto-historical perspective in Hesiod, a view rejected by Cambridge University professor of Greek history Paul Cartledge, for example, who claims that Hesiod would advocate a view centered on memories, without any emphasis on fact-checking. Hesiod was also considered the father of gnomic verse. He had "a passion for systematizing and explaining things." Ancient Greek poetry in general had strong philosophical tendencies, and Hesiod, like Homer, shows great interest in a wide range of 'philosophical' issues, ranging from the nature of divine justice to the beginnings of human society. Aristotle (Metaphysics, 983b-987a) believes that the question of first causes may even have begun with Hesiod (Theogony, 116-53) and Homer (Iliad, 14.201, 246).

Hesiod saw the world from outside the charmed circle of aristocratic rulers, protesting their injustices in a tone of voice that has been described as having a "grouchy quality redeemed by a mournful dignity," yet he also showed himself capable of altering this tone to suit his audience. This ambivalence seems to permeate his presentation of human history in the Works and Days, where he describes a golden period in which life was easy and good, followed by a steady decline in man's behavior and happiness throughout the Silver, Bronze, and Iron ages - yet he inserts between these last two periods a historical era, thus representing these bellicose men in a more favorable light than their Bronze Age predecessors. He seems in this case to be wanting to satisfy two distinct worldviews, the epic and the aristocratic, with the former showing little sympathy for the heroic traditions of the aristocracy.

For Werner Jaeger, a famous German Hellenist, with Hesiod the subjective emerges in literature. In ancient times, the poet was a simple vehicle commanded by the Muses; Hesiod signs his work to make a personal history. After praising the Muses who inspire him, he says at the beginning of the Theogony: "It was they who once taught Hesiod a beautiful song, while he was feeding his sheep at the foot of the divine Helicon.


The Theogony is usually considered Hesiod's first work. Despite the difference in the main theme addressed in this poem and the Works and Days, most scholars-with a few notable exceptions, such as Hugh G. Evelyn-White-believe that the two works were written by the same man. As the English classicist and philologist Martin Litchfield West wrote, "both bear the mark of a distinct personality: a rustic, conservative country man, prone to reflection, who did not love women or life, and who felt the weight of the gods' presence upon him."

The Theogony tells of the origins of the world (cosmogony) and of the gods (theogony), from their beginnings with Chaos, Gaia and Eros, and shows a special interest in genealogy. Within Greek mythology there remained extremely varied fragments of tales, which points to the rich mythological variety that existed, varying from city to city; but Hesiod's version of these ancient stories eventually became, according to the 5th century B.C. historian Herodotus, the accepted version that united all Hellenes.

The creation myth in Hesiod was long considered to have been influenced by Eastern traditions, such as the Kumarbi Song of the Hittites and the Babylonian Enuma Elish. This cultural blending would have occurred in the Greek trading colonies of the 8th and 9th centuries BCE, such as Al Mina in northern Syria.

The Works and the Days

The Works and the Days (also translated into Portuguese as As Obras e os Dias) is a poem of more than 800 verses that addresses two general truths: work is the universal fate of man, but he who is willing to work will survive. Scholars have interpreted this work, over time, against the backdrop of an agrarian crisis in mainland Greece, which would have inspired a documented wave of colonizations in search of new lands. This poem is one of the first meditations on economic thought.

The work presents the five Eras of man, and contains advice and recommendations, prescribing a life of honest work, attacking idleness and unjust judges (such as those who ruled in favor of Perses), as well as the practice of usury. It describes immortal beings who would wander the earth, watching over justice and injustice. The poem speaks of work as the source of all good, in that both gods and men despise the idle, who would be like drones in a beehive.

Other works

In addition to the Theogony and the Works and Days, several other poems have been attributed to Hesiod during antiquity. Modern scholars have doubted their authenticity, however, and these works are usually referred to as part of the "Hesiodic Corpus," regardless of their true authorship. The situation has been summarized by classicist Glenn Most: "'Hesiod' is the name of a person; 'Hesiodic' is a designation for a type of poetry, which includes but is not limited to those poems whose authorship can be safely credited to Hesiod himself."

Of these works that make up the extended hesiodic corpus, only the Shield of Heracles (Greek: Ἀσπὶς Ἡρακλέους, Aspis Hērakleous) was transmitted intact through the ages via a medieval manuscript transcription.

The classical authors also attributed to Hesiod a long genealogical poem, known as the Catalogue of Women, or Ehoiai (because its sections begin with the Greek words ē hoiē, "Or as the ..."). It was a mythological catalog of the mortal women who had had sexual relations with the gods, and the descendants of these relations.

Several hexameter poems have been attributed to Hesiod:

In addition to these works, Suda also lists a previously unknown "funeral chant for Bátraco, beloved.

The lyric poet Alceu, a compatriot and contemporary of Sappho, paraphrased a section of the Works and Days (582-88), reformatting it into lyric metric and passing it into the Lesbian dialect. Only a fragment of the paraphrase remains.

The lyric poet Baquilides quoted or paraphrased Hesiod in a victory ode addressed to Hieron of Syracuse, commemorating the tyrant's victory in the chariot race of the Pythian Games of 470 B.C.; the dedication read, "A man of Boeotia, Hesiod, minister of the Muses, spoke thus: 'He whom the immortals honor also counts with good reputation among men.'" These words, however, have not been found in Hesiod's extant works.

Hesiod's Catalogue of Women created currency for catalogs in the form of poems during the Hellenistic period. Theocritus, for example, presents catalogs of heroines in two of his bucolic poems (3.40-51 and 20.34-41), in which both passages are recited by characters of passionate rustics.


The Roman bronze bust known as Pseudo-Seneca, dating from the late first century B.C. and found in Herculaneum, is no longer considered to depict Seneca the Elder; British archaeologist and art historian Gisela Richter has identified it as an imaginative portrait of Hesiod. There had already been suspicions since at least 1813, however, when an herma with a portrait of Seneca and very different features was found. Most scholars now adopt Richter's identification.

Hesiod used the conventional dialect of epic poetry, which was Ionian. Comparisons with Homer, himself a Ionian by birth, were usually unflattering. Hesiod's handling of the dactylic hexameter was not as masterful or fluent as Homer's, and one modern scholar mentions his "hillbilly hexameters." His use of language and metrics in The Labors and Days and Theogony distinguishes him from the author of the Shield of Heracles. All three poets, for example, used digama inconsistently, sometimes letting it affect metric and syllable duration, and sometimes not. The frequency of observing or forgetting the use of the digama varies among them. The extent of these variations depends on how the evidence was collected and interpreted, but there is a clear trend, revealed, for example, in the following set of statistics.

Hesiod does not use digama as often as the others. The result is somewhat counterintuitive, since digama was still a feature of the Boeotian dialect that Hesiod probably spoke, and had already disappeared from Homer's Ionian vernacular. This anomaly can be explained by the fact that Hesiod made a conscious effort to compose like an Ionian epic poet in a period when digama was no longer usually heard in Ionian speech, while Homer was trying to write like the ancient generation of Ionian bards, when it could still be heard in Ionian speech. There is also a significant difference between the results obtained in the Theogony and the Works and Days, however this is only due to the fact that the former work presents a catalog of deities, and thus makes use of the definite article usually associated with digama, oἱ ("the").

Although typical of the epic dialect of Greek, Hesiod's vocabulary differs significantly from that of Homer. One scholar counted 278 words that were not used by Homer in the Works and Days, 151 in the Theogony, and 95 in the Shield of Heracles. The excessive number of 'non-homeric' words in the former is due to its subject matter, which is considered equally 'non-homeric'. Hesiod's vocabulary also features several formulaic phrases, which cannot be found in Homer, indicating that he would be writing from a distinct tradition.


  1. Hesiod
  2. Hesíodo

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