archaic poetry

archaic thought

Works&Days commentary

Averroës translation

writings here

other writings

 Hesiod bibliography

 philosophy bibliography

 Pandora bibliography




           Eugène Delacroix,

         Hesiod and the Muse

(Enlarged view and more on this theme in art)






In the mid-1970s I knew little about ancient Greek literature and less of the language itself, but nonetheless had occasion to study the role of the ancient Greeks in the history of science. In doing so I happened upon a statement by the authority George Sarton, to the effect that “Hesiod” was a precursor to the later Presocratic “philosophers,” who for Sarton and others passed for scientists.


I had barely heard the name, but soon learned that it is assigned to the two poems Theogony and Works and Days, composed in the same general era as the well known Iliad and Odyssey attributed to “Homer,” because the author of the first work calls himself Hēsiodos at one point, and because tradition (perhaps supported by study of their style) says that the author of the second was the same person.  Be those questions as they may, I got out a copy of Lattimore’s translations at the library and was immediately captivated.  Many years later, having learned and published enough of the subject matter to have become accepted in the field, I remain persuaded that the Hesiodic poems have more value to the educated person (expert in matters Greek or no) than is generally acknowledged, indeed, as much value as accrues to the Homeric works (an opinion with which the ancients themselves would agree).  Meanwhile, I have increasingly come to the opinion that in terms of genre they are of a piece with the latter poems, and have found myself studying them as well.  This section of the site is devoted to the subject of such “archaic epic” poetry.


In inverse chronological order, my writings on Hesiod and, more recently, on Homer that are actually available on this site are:


*“Hesiod’s means of capturing his audience? A possibility for Works and Days 1-105,” read at the annual meeting of the Classical Association of the Atlantic States in Baltimore, MD, October 13-15, 2011.  This paper argues that the first 105 lines of Works and Days, including among other things the locus classicus of the story of Pandora’s Box, should not really be considered part of the poem proper, but must have originally been intended as a sort of prolegomena to it, possibly as a device to capture the attention of the work’s first audiences (read).


*“Not by Bread Alone; The Essential Character of Wine in Archaic Greece,” read at the inter-disciplinary conference In Vino Veritas: A Symposium on Wine and the Influence of Bacchus from Classical Antiquity through the Eighteenth Century, held on April 24-25, 2009 at Binghamton University, Binghamton, NY, sponsored by The Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies.  This paper argues that in the earliest surviving Greek literature, i.e., in Homer and Hesiod, wine is held to be at least as important as food.  It is intended for educated people with an interest in wine (read).


*“Epic Structures in Hesiod’s Primal Narrative, Theogony 104-232,” read at the annual meeting of the Classical Association of the Atlantic States, held on October 9-11, 2008 in Princeton, NJ. A certain tradition has considered that Hesiod’s “thought” about the origins of the first principles Chaos (Chasm), Earth, Love, and their descendants, as described in the early stages of the theogony proper of Theogony, can meaningfully be separated from the epic form in which it is cast. In contrast, this paper asserts that the relevant section of the poem is every bit as epic in its composition as are the Homeric poems (read).


*“Did it Take Time to Create Aphrodite?,” read at the inter-disciplinary conference Venus and the Venereal: Interpretations and Representations from Classical Antiquity through the Eighteenth Century, held on April 25-26, 2008 at Binghamton University, Binghamton, NY, sponsored by The Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies. This paper offers remarks on the origin of Aphrodite and some other creatures as described in Hesiod’s Theogony, vv. 182-206, with focus on the temporal expressions the poem employs.  It is intended for humanities scholars who do not necessarily know Greek or Latin (read).


*Review of Jenny Strauss Clay, Hesiod’s Cosmos (Cambridge, 2003; see bibliographical entry below), published in Ordia Prima 6 (2007), 222-25, and also available here (read).


*“When Animals were not quite so Other: Homer’s Beast Similes and Hesiod’s Bird Signals.” This essay from January 2007 argues for the benefit of the Greekless reader that the archaic period of ancient Greece did not sense alienation from animals as much as do we today (read).


*“Hesiod and the Muses in Art.”  This piece from early 2007, but supplemented in July, 2009, is a brief discussion of 19th and early 20th century treatments of the titular topic by French painters, with references and links to the images (read).

*“What Pandora let out and what she left in.” This review of recent scholars’ understandings of the original text of Pandora “opening the box” (whether she really released evils, whether her act was really against men, etc.) was presented at the annual meeting of the Classical Association of the Atlantic States, Baltimore, MD, October 6, 2006 (read version with subsequently updated references).

*Listening to the Spider: reading Hesiod’s Works and Days. This otherwise unpublished work, written in 2003, is a detailed running commentary on the poem of book-length, from a point of view that it constitutes serious poetry as opposed to versified wisdom literature. The discussion is mostly in terms of the poem’s English translation, with philological issues treated in footnotes. A 2006 preface includes an addendum on available translations (updated March, 2007). To be sure, a scholars’ Appendix tabulating syllable-quantity sequence and enjambement verse types, with comparisons to Homer, is also included (read).


In addition, recently (October, 2009) I presented a paper at a meeting suggesting that the reason the so-called Presocratic philosopher Parmenides composed in dactylic hexameter was that he really was a poet, and one who happened to have a mystical experience that it was easy for later generations to interpret as philosophy after he composed a poem about it.   This paper can be read here.



My epic-related and other works that are conventionally published (some also available elsewhere on the internet) are listed here.



My principal current activity is a longterm project writing a comprehensive report on the scholarship on Hesiod’s Works and Days over the past four decades for the “Forschungsberichte” journal Lustrum.



There are also a number of recent works bearing on Hesiod by others that are of varying accessibility to an educated person who knows little or no Greek.  In reverse chronological order, they include (last updated 12/15/12):


*G. R. Boys-Stones and J. H. Haubold, eds., Plato and Hesiod (New York, 2010).   It has long been understood that the philosopher Plato was influenced by some of the myths in the epic poetry that had been composed several centuries before his time, in spite of his feeling that some of its stories about the gods demeaned them and were to be rejected.   This book is a collection of papers from a 2006 conference covering virtually all aspects of his reception of the Hesiodic poems in particular.   The contributions are by fifteen scholars in either ancient philosophy or ancient literature, and range from what is probably the definitive scholarly treatment to date of the use of the four metallic races of Works and Days as the background of the social classes of the ideal city described in Plato’s Republic, by Helen Van Noorden, to an imaginative close reading by Vered Lev Kenaan (see entry below) of Pandora as the background of the character of Socrates in Symposium, to moderately persuasive accounts by Hugo Koning and Barbara Graziosi of how Plato responded to the reception of Hesiod on the part of other writers in classical Athens, to a full four articles on how Plato’s own cosmic creation myth Timaeus was influenced by Hesiod.   It is fair to say that some of the pieces will be more readable to the non-classicist than others, but in any case all quoted Greek passages are given with translations.  In short, most readers with an interest in Hesiod’s influence or the background of Plato’s dialogues should find the volume engaging.   My detailed review appears in Ancient Philosophy 32 (2012), 420-29.


*Franco Montanari, Antonios Rengakos, and Christos Tsagalis, eds., Brill’s Companion to Hesiod (Leiden and Boston, 2009).  The publication of this volume is nothing short of an epic event, since it is at once the first time the “companion” genre (a collection of essays on aspects of a given topic that give their most recent understandings on the part of mainstream scholarship) has been applied to Hesiod, and the first time a collection of essays entirely devoted to Hesiod has appeared in English (after a multilingual volume from 1962, the one in French from 1996 noted below, and one in modern Greek from 2006).   The contributions by generally prominent Hesiod scholars range from discussion of ancient Near East influence on the poetry, to actual interpretations of the poems, to accounts of what the ancients themselves thought about Hesiod.   By and large they are readable, and one will get a good sense from them of what mostly conservative current scholarship thinks of Hesiod, if not much of the trends in which this website participates.


*Vered Lev Kenaan, Pandora’s Senses. The Feminine Character of the Ancient Text (Madison, Wis., 2008).  This is the most recent of a long series of feminist works centering on “Pandora,” meaning an amalgam of the two first women of Hesiod’s respective two poems Theogony and Works and Days that Zeus is said to have created in revenge against men because of the deeds of their champion Prometheus, and may be the most engaging as well.  Lev Kenaan puts the idea of Pandora “at the intersection of gender studies and intertextuality” (p. 4), and armed with this understanding of its role, proceeds to argue with no small ingenuity (whether or not persuasively in the details) how it determines many facets of a number of ancient texts.  She begins with the Hesiodic works themselves, and most notably and in contrast to her forbears, correctly recognizes and even underlines the distinction between the two first woman accounts and by implication that between the two poems themselves.  The book is meant for a classicist audience and is sophisticated in its conceptual framework, but is relatively easy to read as such works go (in particular duly translating Greek and Latin quotations).  A useful guide to the details (albeit in Spanish) is the review by Jimena Palacios in Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.10.23.  But see also Margaret M. Toscano, Classical Review 59 (2009), 6-7.


*Hesiod, 2 vols., Glenn Most, ed. and transl. (Cambridge, Mass., 2006-07). This is the new Loeb Library edition of Theogony, Works and Days, fragments, and other material, with Greek text and prose translation on facing pages, effected by a distinguished classicist. It is a vast improvement on the old 1920s Loeb Hesiod (which is the basis of the translation by the Perseus Project cited on the main page, so that that rendering should be considered obsolete in this particular case).


*Theogony and Works and Days, translated with introductions by Catherine M. Schlegel and Henry Weinfield (Ann Arbor, 2006). This is the most recent verse translation (in 14-syllable iambic), a product of careful collaboration between a classicist (S.) and a poet (W.).


*Francisco R. Adrados, review (in Spanish) of K. Stoddard’s The narrative voice in the Theogony of Hesiod (Leiden, 2004), Emerita 74 (2006), 373-75. This short piece by a distinguished Spanish classicist, published in a journal taken by most large University libraries, is nominally a book review, but takes the occasion to offer intelligent criticism of the idea that a biographical approach to Hesiod and belief that “his” work is sophisticated are mutually exclusive.


*Robert C. Bartlett, “An Introduction to Hesiod’s Works and Days,” Review of Politics 68 (2006), 177-205. This article is published in a widely available social sciences journal, written by a political scientist with expertise in ancient political philosophy.  It offers a reading through the poem within the standard tradition that its “teaching” is what is important (tacitly assuming that its dactylic hexameter mode of presentation is only a shell for its thought), but with some features that turn out to be unique in comparison with the readings of most philologists.  In particular, Bartlett concludes with the interesting idea that, according to Hesiod, knowledge is even more important than justice (given that the latter is organized by the gods in a none too orderly fashion), so that poets are needed to impart it.


*Elizabeth Irwin, Solon and Early Greek Poetry. The Politics of Exhortation (Cambridge, 2005). It is generally recognized that a crucial aspect of Hesiod’s actual influence took place through the medium of Solon, the Athenian lawgiver, whose poem #4 in particular shows a striking debt.  Chapter 6 of this book (pp. 155-98) gives a recent, thorough, and readable (all Greek quotations translated) treatment of the issue.


*Gideon Nisbet, “Hesiod, Works and Days: A Didaxis of Deconstruction?,Greece and Rome 51 (2004), 147-63. This irreverent and entertaining article in a professional classics journal that is widely available in libraries is probably readable by a person who knows the second Hesiodic poem well, even in translation.  Nisbet ostensibly argues that the work undermines itself as the didactic effort that tradition holds it to be, but his paper might alternatively be characterized as a reductio ad absurdum of the thesis that the poem actually amounts to wisdom literature.


*Jenny Strauss Clay, Hesiod’s Cosmos (Cambridge, 2003). This is a commentary on the two poems, taken in tandem, which is moderately accessible to the Greek-challenged. One can question the guiding idea that the two form complementary parts of a single whole, but Clay’s detailed interpretations of sections of the individual works are mostly cogent and innovative.  (My detailed review of this book is published in Ordia Prima 6 [2007], 222-25, and may be read here.)


*Maria S. Marsilio, Farming and Poetry in Hesiod’s Works and Days (Lanham, MD, 2000). This relatively short work on the agricultural section of Works and Days is especially interesting in that it presents the seemingly avant-garde thesis that to Hesiod farming was a figure for composing poetry, but does not thereby negate the traditional construal of the poem as a literal record of advice to the poet’s brother.


*Stephanie A. Nelson, God and the Land: The Metaphysics of Farming in Hesiod and Vergil (New York and Oxford, 1998). This treatment also assigns more significance to the actual “works and days” of Works and Days, as opposed to the narrative material that opens the poem, than do most authorities, and compares Hesiod with the Latin poet who took him and Homer as points of departure.


*Le métier du mythe: lectures d’Hésiode, ed. Fabienne Blaise, Pierre Judet de La Combe, and Philippe Rousseau (Villeneuve d’Ascq, 1996).  But as to that opening material, this collection of articles by continental European scholars is well worth the attention of anyone interested in Hesiod who reads French.



Bibliographies listing further work (although most entries are accessible only to specialists) are given by Clay, pp. 183-98; Nelson, pp. 231-45; and (especially for European studies), G. Arrighetti, ed., Esiodo Opere (Turin, 1998; Milan, 2007), xxxviii-lxvi, in addition to bibliographies in the works on this site to which links are given above.   Gabriella Pironti adds some more recent references for Theogony, in a new edition of Mazon’s 1920s text and French translation with her introduction and notes, Hésiode Théogonie (Paris, 2008), 108-14.  For people who can cope with the Greek, the standard philological commentaries on the two poems are those of M. L. West, Hesiod: Theogony and Hesiod: Works and Days (Oxford, 1966 and 1978, respectively). The second of these should be supplemented by W. J. Verdenius, A Commentary on Hesiod Works and Days, vv. 1-382 (Leiden, 1985).   Added 10/18/11: A discussion of Works and Days in Italian which is competitive with West’s has now been produced by Andrea Ercolani.  It consists of a printed volume, Esiodo, Opere e giorni (Rome, 2010), plus a set of addenda downloadable as pdf files (free upon registration) from the publisher’s website:  www.carocci.it .  (The file called allegato 1827 in particular is a bibliography which at 67 pages quite surpasses those just mentioned.)






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