Some notes on Hesiod's THEOGONY,

from the commentary by Richard S. Caldwell:

Hesiod's Theogony (Focus: Newburyport, MA, 1987)

D. B. Levine. Feb. 7, 2002.


on the Muses' insult and the plural form of 'shepherd' (27 Lombardo):


"The colloquial insults with which the Muses address Hesiod are 1) a convention in primitive and archaic ritual; 2) a convention in visions of superior gods to inferior mortals (West, T 160), and 3) because they are addressed to a plural audience, a characterization of a class of people (ignorant farmers) among whom Hesiod will be an exception, precisely because of the Muses' favor."


How the Theogony is like a standard hymn to a divinity (37 Lombardo):


"This second part of his prologue is much more like the standard hymn to a divinity, relating the Muses' function and situation among the gods (37-74), the details of their parentage and birth (53-62), their names (75-79), and their functions in regard to mortals (80-103)."


On Pieria (54): "Pieria, the area north of Mount Olympos in Thessaly, was well-known in antiquity for its cult of the Muses.


on Memory bearing forgetfulness (lesmosyne, 55): "That Memory should bear 'forgetfulness' is an oxymoron and almost a pun."


On Chaos (116): "The primary meaning of the Greek word chaos is not disorder or confusion, but rather an opening or gap. Related to the verb chasko [open, yawn, gape], chaos signifies a void, an abyss, infinite space and darkness, unformed matter. This etymology may suggest a womb which opens to bring forth life, but there are much stronger connotations of an impenetrable and immeasurable darkness, an opacity in which order is non-existent or at least unperceived. The concept of a primordial Chaos is reminiscent of the boundless and featureless watery waste called Nun in Egyptian cosmogony and the formless void and abyss of Genesis."


On the first two children of Night (125): The union of Darkness and Night produces Aither [Brightness] and Hemera [Day], their elemental and complementary opposites."


On Ouranos and Gaia (126 "Just her size, a perfect fit on all sides" Lombardo): "Gaia's first child Ouranos [Sky] is also her complement; the phrases 'equal to herself' and 'to cover her all over' seem to depict Earth and Sky as two halves of one large mass. This would correspond well with the hypothesis that Earth and Sky are engaged in continual intercourse, and appears in mythical form in a fragment of Euripides: 'Earth and Sky were one shape, and when they were separated they begot all things.' ... The 'dark hole' of Gaia in which the children are confined is presumably her womb, and this innermost place of the earth may also be Tartaros. The means by which Ouranos suppresses his children [must be continuous sexual intercourse with Gaia; this would explain why their imprisonment will be ended immediately by castration."


On the succession of the YOUNGEST: "Kronos' chronological position as youngest son predetermines his eventual succession to his father's throne. The filial agent of Kronos' defeat is his youngest son Zeus, and the fact that he is youngest is appropriate to his role as the successor of Kronos, just as Kronos was the youngest of the children of Ouranos. In myth it is typically the youngest son who inherits the father's position, and it is not difficult to see the psychological reason for this in the dynamics of sibling relationships. From the perspective of an older child, it is always the youngest who inherits, who displaces his predecessors in the affection and attention of his parents. In the Greek succession myth the conflict between the societal law of primogeniture (inheritance by the eldest) and the psychological law that the youngest child must usurp the privileged position of his older brothers is neatly solved by the imprisonment of the children as they are born in one or another parental body. When the Titans are released from the body of Gaia or when the Olympians are disgorged from the body of Kronos (in each case, a kind of second birth), the order of birth is reversed. Kronos, the youngest of the Titans, is closest to the surface of Earth and thus the first to be (re)born, and Zeus, the youngest of the children of Kronos, moves to the position of eldest by escaping being swallowed and subsequent rebirth. In this way youngest becomes eldest, and psychological reality is mythically verified." (see biblical story of Jacob 'one who takes by the heel, or supplants' and Esau (Gen. 25.26ff). 'Jacob' is word play on akev, heel, and the verb form means to 'overreach' (Jer. 9.3))


On the sickle (162) "A sickle is the weapon often used to fight monsters. Perseus uses a sickle to decapitate the Gorgon Medousa, and Iolaos uses a sickle against the monstrous Hydra during Herakles' second labor. In various later versions the sickle of Kronos was said to have been thrown into the sea; from it several places were supposed to have grown, such as Sicily, the Homeric island of the Phaiakians, and Cape Drepanon in Greece."


On the birth of the Erinyes from the blood of the severed genitals of Ouranos (185): "Their particular concern with the crimes of children against parents may be seen in their relentless pursuit of the mythical matricides Orestes and Alkmaion. Themselves born from the crime of sons against their father, the Erinyes are symbols of guilt, especially that attached to the enactment of hostile impulses against parents. Born from castration , they are themselves castrating, as Apollo reminds them in Aeschylus' Eumenides 185-190: 'It is not fit that you inhabit this house, bur rather where there are beheadings and eye-gougings and throat-slit judgments, and by castration of the virility of young men is ruined, and mutilations and stoning, and men moan most pitiably, impaled under the spine."


On Nemesis (223): Nemesis, the Erinyes, the Moirai, and the Keres are essentially personifications of different aspects of human mortality. The special role of Nemesis is to punish excess, whether of good or of evil, and in this leveling function she is the agent of Zeus, who 'crushes the strong,' 'lowers the high,' and 'withers the proud' (Words and days 5-7). Nemesis represents the fundamental Greek conception that anyone who rises too high exposes himself to the envy and vengeance of the gods. The famous shrine of Nemesis near Marathon in Attika contained a statue of the goddess which the sculptor Phidias made from a block of Parian marble; the invading Persians had brought the marble, intending to set up a trophy after they defeated the Athenians."


On the Harpies (267-269): The Harpies are storm-wind spirits. They appear on grave stones carrying the souls of the dead, and are said to have carried off the daughters of Pandareos (Odyssey 20.77). To be 'carried away by the stormwinds [thyellai]' or 'by the Harpies' seems to mean 'to disappear' or 'to die.' They appear in art with the body of a bird and the breast and face of a woman (like the Seirenes)."


On the Daughters of Ocean (346-48): The Okeanid nymphs, daughters of Okeanos and Tethys, are not called Okeanides, but later Okeaninai (364) and here simply kourai [daughters, girls, maidens], a title which suggests their function of raising youths [kourizousi, 347]. This function must be connected with cult practices which put child-rearing under the sponsorship of legendary guardians of local springs and rivers, along with Apollo."


On Hekate (411-452): The great emphasis put on the worship of Hekate and on her omnipresent power is best explained (with West, T 276-280) as due to Hesiod's personal interest in the goddess. The Hekate cult seems to have come to Greece from Karia in Asia Minor; if Hesiod's father was a member of the cult, this may explain why he named his older son Perses, the same name as Hekate's father. Despite the extensive praise given to Hekate, we should not suppose that Hesiod regarded her as equal to, or above, the major Olympian deities. Her status was presumably more like that of a patron saint, to whom one prays for special favors as well as for regular guidance and success in various ventures."


On Hekate and Styx (412): There seems to be an intentional parallel between Hekate and Styx, who also received honor and 'outstanding gifts' from Zeus (399). Styx seems to have the same function among the gods as Hekate does among mortals; each of them is invoked on particular occasions, Styx for the oath of the gods (400), and Hekate for concrete favors (416-421, 429-447)."


On Hestia (454): "Hestia has virtually no mythical function or role.... instead of marriage Zeus gave to her the right of being the goddess of the hearth. The hearth was the center of ritual; the city hearth, site of civic ritual, represented for the entire population what the private hearth in each home meant to the individual and family. Its fire was not allowed to go out and every day it was the focus (Latin focus = hearth) of ritual activities such as food offerings and libations."


On Hades (455): "Hades is the god of death and the underworld; his names seems to mean the 'Unseen One' and the Greeks were generally reluctant to call him by name, preferring instead to use euphemisms like 'Master of Many,' 'Receiver of Many,' and the 'Rich One' [Polysemantor, Polydegmon, Plouton]. He appears rarely in myth, since he rarely leaves his underworld palace; the one notable exception is his brief appearance on earth to carry off Demeter's daughter Persephone."


On Zeus in a Cretan Cave (477): "At this point the Greek version of the Near Eastern succession myth begins to merge with a Minoan myth of a divine child. The myth of Zeus' birth in Crete is clearly derived from the Aegean cults which preceded the arrival in Greece of Indo-Europeans and their sky-god. In the Bronze Age matriarchal religion of Crete, there seems to have been a cult in honor of a male fertility-spirit, who was born and died each year. He may have been represented sometimes as the bull who appears so prominently in Minoan iconography sometimes as a young man later named Kouros, the consort (and perhaps son) of the mother goddess. As various parts of the Aegean religion were assimilated into the beliefs o the Greeks, the cult of Kouros was replaced by that of Zeus. A thousand years after the end of Minoan civilization, Zeus is still addressed as the 'greatest Kouros' in a hymn from Palaikastro in east Crete, and there was even a tomb on Crete in which Zeus was supposedly buried. Lyktos is a town near Mt. Lasithi in east-central Crete."


On the Stone disgorged by Kronos (497-500): "The stone disgorged by Kronos was exhibited at Delphi (Pytho), where Pausanias saw it (10.24). There was a more famous stone at Delphi, the omphalos [navel-stone] which marked Delphi as the center of the earth. Pausanias (10.16) distinguishes the omphalos from the stone of Kronos, but Pausanias is almost 900 years later than Hesiod, who perhaps identifies the two."


On the Sacrifice of Prometheus (540-541): "The skillful arrangement of the bones may express the care Prometheus took to conceal his trick from Zeus. But it may reflect the side-spread care given to the arrangement of bones in primitive sacrificial cults, a concern based on the hope that the dead animal will come to life again."


On Hades and Persephone (912): "Hades and Persephone have no children, the only instance in Greek myth of a fruitless divine union."


On Ariadne and Dionysos in Cult (947-49): "Ariadne is the daughter of Minos, king of Crete. In the most common version, she helps the Athenian prince Theseus escape from the labyrinth at Knossos and is taken by him to the island of Naxos. There he abandons her, but Dionysos finds and marries her. In Athens, on the second day (the 'Choes' day) of the Anthesteria festival, the marriage of Ariadne and Dionysos was re-enacted; Ariadne was played y the wife of the archon basileus (the chief religious magistrate), and the god appeared either as symbolic artifact or as a disguised man (or perhaps both)."


On Demeter's lovemaking with Iasion in a thrice-plowed field (969-74): "The union of Demeter and Iasion in a thrice-plowed field is mentioned by Homer (Odyssey 5.125-128) and must reflect a ritual practice intended to promote the fertility of the fields; this is why their son is Ploutos [Wealth]. The hero Iasion seems here to be Cretan, although we never hear of Cretan parents for him; Apollodoros makes him a son of Zeus and Elektra (3.12.1). Both Homer and Apollodoros way that Iasion paid for his erotic ambition by being struck with Zeus' lightening." [M. P. Nilsson, History of Greek Religion, 1949: p. 109: Demeter's union with Iasion "is a mythical disguising of a well-known rite which by human procreation seeks to arouse the fertility of the fields."]


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