theogony by hesiod summary

Welcome
to this new article in “Templum Dianae” totally dedicated to the in-depth study of Hesiod’s Theogony, one of the most important works of Ancient Greece, both in its Spiritual, Anthropological and Historical value.
I am Giovanni da Rupecisa, and in this article from my book “Greek Mythology – Hesiod’s Theogony” you will find the most detailed, easy to read and value-packed online source available for you to delve into everything you need to know about this work as :

  • the complete biography of Hesiod, his works and his ‘poems’.
  • Theogony by Hesiod summary and the Paraphrase
  • an introductory text to Hesiod’s Theogony in pdf
  • …and much more!

If you want to know more about the Theogony, read on to find out everything you need to know about it now!

Bust of Hesiod sculpted in stone who wrote the Theogony
Bust of Hesiod from Ascra

Theogony by Hesiod Summary

Chapter 1

what is Theogony?

Our contemporary culture, ranging from museum exhibitions to television shows, is permeated with elements of culture belonging to the ancient era: there are many references to the Ancient Romans, the Etruscans or the Greeks.
A very important element common to these three cultures is not only the political-cultural dominance of the Mediterranean area, but the sharing of socio-anthropological (customs and traditions) and theurgical (religion and spirituality) elements.

These include the Pantheon, the myths and legends of the ancient world, the exploits of Heracles or Hercules, and the myths about the gods of Ancient Greece.
However, if we wanted to identify a text, almost a reference text, that speaks of the gods of ancient Greece, we could identify that text in the Theogony written by Hesiod of Aschra, a poem of great historical, cultural and spiritual value for the society and culture of the entire Mediterranean!
Hesiod’s Theogony is a Greek mythological poem, or rather ‘THE’ Greek mythological poem, in which the history and in particular the genealogy and genesis of the classical gods is recounted; from Χάος (chaos) to the Olympian supremacy of Zeus.
The 1022 hexameters that make up the Theogonic cycle, perhaps the first of the cycles that make up the “Epic cycle”.
The “Epic cycle”, are dated around VIII -VII century BC; handed down by the medieval
Byzantine medieval works, they are mainly attributed to Hesiod, a Greek poet from Aschra, considered, depending on the thesis, to be preceding or contemporary Homer himself.

The Greek Mythological Poem and the Epic Cycle

The Epic Cycle to be attributed to Callimachus of Cyrene collects all the cycles of epic poems (almost completely lost, except for the Homeric and Hesiodic ones, and a few fragments of some others) composed in Greek by the so-called cyclical poets, and datable between the 8th and 6th centuries BC, but based on a much older oral tradition.
The ‘Mythological Poem‘ is a poem – a composition in verse that differs from other poetic works in its length, which concerns within it images fruited by the veneration of divine figures such as the Gods or semi-divine ones such as the Heroes.

Mythos

The oldest attestations of Greek “mythology” correspond to the “Homeric” poems and Hesiod’s Theogony, both of which are characterised by a precise incipit that recalls the intervention of the “Muses” (Μοῦσαι, -ῶν).
The Muses are the goddesses representing the supreme ideal of Art, created by Zeus according to the will of the other gods.
Art is to be understood as a clear vision of all things, terrestrial and divine. They ‘possess’ the poets; these are entheos (ἔνθεος ‘full of God’), . To be entheos, is a condition that “the poet shares with other inspired ones: the prophets, the bacchae and the pythonesses”.
the term “myth” μῦθος, mýthos has in Homer and Hesiod the meaning of “tale”, “speech”, “story”, a “true” tale, authoritatively pronounced because “there is nothing truer and more real than a tale declaimed by a wise old king””.
In the Theogony, μύθος is what the goddesses Muses address to the shepherd Hesiod before transforming him into an “inspired singer”.
The Muses, then, are the goddesses who give men the possibility of speaking according to the truth, and, as daughters of Mnemosýne (Μνημοσύνη), Memory, they allow singers to “remember”, having this very function a religious value and a cult of their own.

The Logos

From a fragment of Leucippus it seems that Heraclitus can be attributed a meaning of the Logos as a “universal law” that regulates all things according to reason and necessity: “Nothing happens by chance but everything according to logos and necessity.”
This law has been revealed to men, but they continue to ignore it even after hearing it. The Logos belongs to all men, but in fact each of them behaves according to his own personal phronesis, his own wisdom. The truly wise, on the other hand, are those who recognise the Logos in themselves and are inspired by it, as are those who govern the city, adapting their laws to the universal rationality of divine law.
A further meaning of logos as ‘listening’ is found in the statement of Heraclitus of Ephesus, who maintains that many do not understand his ‘obscure’ doctrine because they strive to listen to him rather than to the Logos.
According to other interpreters of Heraclitean thought, a doctrine of the logos does not seem to be in his philosophy. Both Plato and Aristotle never refer to him with regard to the logos: for the former Heraclitus is the one who argued for the ceaseless flow of being and how everything is at the same time one and many, while for Aristotle and Theophrastus Heraclitean thought is based on the incorruptible principle of fire, the cause of everything.
Plato, referring to a knowledge defined as “true belief associated with a logos”, identifies in the latter three different meanings:

  • is the expression through linguistic sounds of thought;
  • is the enumeration of the characteristics of a thing;
  • it is the identification of the “difference” (diaphorotes) of a thing, that is, of that particular sign that differentiates it from all other things and defines it in its specific reality.

From these meanings it follows that for Plato the philosophical logos should be brought back into the sphere of definitional discourse – the logos apophantikòs or declarative, which serves to establish the truth or falsity of a proposition.
Cleanthes, referring to Heraclitus, affirms the doctrine of the logos spermatikos, the “seminal reason”, a living and active principle (poioun) that spreads through inert matter, animating it and bringing the various entities to life. The logos is present in all things, from the largest to the smallest, from earthly things to the stars, thus guaranteeing the rational unity of the entire cosmos:
“[the logos] passes through all things mingling with the great as with the small luminous stars”.
There is therefore a common feeling (a universal συμπάθεια (sympatheia), “sympathy”), a natural law following which Stoicism teaches to “live in accordance with nature”.
From the physical point of view, the logos is identified with fire, which contains within itself the various individual ‘seminal reasons’. At the end of time there will be a conflagration that will consume the entire universe, in which, however, the ‘seminal reasons’ will be saved to ensure the generation of the new world, which will be burnt again in a cyclical fashion.
The logos understood as “calculation” (ratio) and “discourse” (oratio) is maintained by Stoicism, which distinguishes between “inner discourse” (logos endiathetos, oratio concepta), rational reflection, and “spoken discourse” (logos prophorikos, oratio prolata).
In Christianity, the Logos appears at the beginning of John’s Gospel, where it coincides with God the Creator and is then historically incarnated in Christ and thus in human beings, coming to “dwell among us”.
The term “logos” in the Christian context is rendered in Italian as “Verbo”, echoing the Latin “verbum” or “Word”.
Some Bible scholars believe that John used the term “logos” in a double sense: both to make the concept of divine wisdom comprehensible to familiar Jewish circles, and to remain connected with the circles of Hellenistic philosophy, where “logos” was a long-established philosophical concept.

mythous légein

with Plato the two terms cross over into mythology to signify that genre of poiésis which deals with telling “about Gods, divine beings, heroes and descents into the beyond”, so in extreme synthesis we could define: the Mythological poem is the poem which by means of inspired songs reveals the essence of the Divine, and the Theogony is the oldest and most authoritative source of our (spiritual) culture.

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Chapter 2

Text Analysis

(spoiler alert: don't read this part if you haven't downloaded the pdf or bought the book yet)!
fresco of the muses from Hesiod's Theogony
Baldassarre Peruzzi : Apollo and the Muses – 1520 pitti palace

the ‘meaning’ of the Theogony

Theogony in ancient Greek: Θεογονία, Theogonía, comes from the union of the words Theoi – Divinity and Genesis – Birth, and literally can be translated as: birth of the Gods or Parents of the Gods.
In fact, the text talks about the divine genealogies, the main Attributes of the Gods, the birth of the Titans, the Giants, the Gods and the Heroes.
This text turns out to be very important from the cultural-historical point of view, in fact it can be identified as an attempt to collect, catalogue and finally insert in a chronological-historical order several minor myths of the Greek-Mediterranean area.
The Theogony of Hesiod is a Mythological poem, a literary composition in verse, of a narrative character whose central theme is the Mythos of the Genesis of the universe and the Gods.
The work consists of 1022 Hexameters, and seven macro-subdivisions of the text proposed by the Greek scholar Ettore Romagnoli:

  • the Prologue
  • the genesis of the Elements
  • The descendants of Cronos
  • The descendants of the Japhetids
  • the Titanomachy (war between Gods and Titans)
  • the TyphonoMachia (war between Zeus and Typhon)
  • the Descent of Zeus

The text is introduced by Hesiod himself, who invokes the Muses and begins to introduce the central themes of the work, but in this brief preface Hesiod “signs the poem” attributing it to himself:


My song begins with the Heliconian Muses…
…who inspired one day the beautiful song of Hesiod.
while he was pasturing his flocks on the holy Helicon…


this type of practice is very unusual for the historical period in which the Theogony is proposed (around 700 BC), and constitutes a literary exception, which following the Theogony tends to become practice.

Chapter 3

the Theme of Hesiod's Theogony

Hesiod’s Theogony proposes a very complex text structure, so much so that it can be called both a Mythological Poem and an Epic Cycle.
It includes metaphysical and philosophical themes such as:

  • the genesis of the universe – Cosmogony
  • the genesis of the Elements

Mythological and Theurgical themes such as :

  • Hymn to the Muses
  • The Hymn to Hecate
  • The Geology of the Gods

but also epic themes, where Zeus himself takes on not only the role of Father and Regent of Olympus and, by extension, of the Gods, but also becomes a leader and Hero among the Gods.

archetypes of the Theogony

within the Theogonic cycle Zeus assumes the role of the main protagonist:

  • it is Zeus who escapes Kronos
  • it is Zeus who kills Kronos
  • Zeus again confronts and defeats Typhon.

It is precisely because of these characteristics that the theogony can be studied, analysed and placed within the Indo-European epic cycles, where the structure of the text always repeats a central and recurring pattern:

  • the genesis of the elements
  • the genesis of the ancestral gods (the Titans)
  • The gods defeating the Titans
  • the decay of society (the gods escaping from Typhon)
  • the appearance of the Underworld gods, born of the Hero’s conflicts
  • the final clash in which the parties involved cancel each other out
  • the genesis of man

According to the Archetypal study proposed by Yung often identified in “the Hero’s Journey” this type of structure, identifies a sophical and spiritual path in which to identify and become aware, retracing the hero’s birth, decline and achievement, as a means of infinite refinement of the Individual.

Books on Hesiod's Theogony

immerse yourself in the narrative pathos evoked by Hesiod’s Muses, letting yourself be drawn into the narrative of the Mythos , a book to read and re-read available in 3 different formats!

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Chapter 4

Biography and bibliography of Hesiod of Ascra

Hesiod -Ἡσίοδος, Hēsíodos; Ascra, mid-eighth century BC – seventh century BC was an ancient Greek poet.
Hesiod left some remarkable autobiographical traces in his poems that help to reconstruct his origins.
Regarding the date of his birth, it has been uncertain since antiquity whether to place him as earlier, contemporary or later than Homer.
Herodotus solved the problem by considering them contemporaries:
“I suppose that Hesiod and Homer flourished no more than four hundred years before me”.
However, according to Hesiod’s own account, he took part in the festivities in honour of Prince Amphidamant on the island of Euboea, where he took part in a contest in which he won a tripod as a prize. Modern critics therefore recognise that Hesiod is dated to around the beginning of the 7th century BC.
Main works

  • The Theogony
  • Works and Days
  • The Catalogue of Women
  • The Shield of Heracles
  • The Precepts of Chiron
  • Astronomy
  • Aegimius
  • Melampodia
  • Catabasis of Pyritoeus
  • The Marriage of Ceice
  • The Idei Dactyls
  • Great Works
  • Ornithomancy

 The Poetics of Hesiod
Hesiod turns out to be the first Greek poet to attempt to put ancient theological mythology into writing and to do so with the awareness that he was a poet-venturer.
Until then, no one had tried to introduce a theological and theogonic concept (Theogony), placing it alongside an ethical complement (The Works and the Days), which highlights the evident complementarity of Hesiod’s two main works (along with the Catalogue of Women with the Theogony).
He has been called ‘the poet of the humble’: in fact, he composed a work, The Works and the Days, which sounds like a critique against the inert idleness of the aristocracy, for the first time giving space to the lower classes in Greek epic poetry.
In a similarly original way, Hesiod configures poetic activity: while traditional epic was objective and impersonal, without a declared author, Hesiod brings epic to a horizon closer to us and more comprehensible: he declares himself a poet and makes poetry subjective and personal, giving it a historical individuality.
If the traditional epic had a hedonistic-pedagogical function, in Hesiod poetry acquires a distinctly didactic tone: Hesiod becomes a master of wisdom, a poet vate, so that poetry becomes a sapiential magisterium, laying the foundations of an ineliminable root in Western culture.
Hesiod is an epic poet, and therefore his language is that of the epos, already conditioned by the use of hexameter, even if there are some exceptions, with forms that refer to local dialectalisms, more present in the Works: obviously, given the aeolian position of Boeotia (where the Hesiodic works are composed), aeolianisms are more present than Homeric epos.
The formulation style is varied: many, in fact, are purely Homeric formulas or built on them.
Hesiod’s style oscillates between a hieratic and a popular tone, presenting itself as strongly short and lapidary.
Hesiod’s greatness is demonstrated by the fact that he is equally adept at outlining genre scenes, perhaps drawn with a sort of oleographic taste, as he is at condensing typically epic frescoes.
Hesiod essentially transcodes Homeric language, manipulating it in relation to his contingent needs, or, innovating decisively, he follows the path of neo-formation, inventing a new lexicon and new images.

Conclusions

Within this short text I have explored many of the important themes concerning Hesiod’s theogony:

  • summary of theogony by hesiod
  • the analysis of the text,
  • the biography of Hesiod.
  • the meaning of the Mythos
  • the best books on Hesiod’s Theogony

Within the proposed book the same themes are taken up and deepened, and an accurate analysis of Hesiod’s Prose is proposed.
Enjoy your reading!


References:

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