In this lesson, we study the ‘Theogony,’ a work of the Greek poet, Hesiod.
Thanks to his work, we can know more about the gods, their genealogy, their fights, and their adventures.
Hesiod and Mythology
Mythology was a very important part of the culture of Ancient Greece. Through the myths and stories of the gods, we can see the ideas that the Greeks had of life, of death, and of themselves. Hesiod was the first Greek poet who tried to put order into the confusing Greek mythology and, thanks to him, today we know Greek beliefs about the origin of the world and the gods.Let’s learn about Hesiod and his most important work, the Theogony, which means ‘the origin of the gods.’
Hesiod, the Facts
Hesiod lived in 700 B.C.
, probably after Homer lived. Unlike Homer, Hesiod had a difficult and very poor life. He was from Beocia (Western Greece). His father left him a small inheritance, but he had to share it with his brother.
Hesiod was engaged in agriculture, which was a rough and demanding way to live. Perhaps for this reason, his works always reflect pessimism and lament for the harshness of life.
Hesiod, the Legend
Hesiod says that one day he was tending his sheep. Then he saw the Muses, the goddesses of artistic insight.
They told him that he must write, even if he was not an intellectual but only a rustic shepherd. They gave him an olive wood stick and the artistic inspiration. From that moment, Hesiod began to write his Theogony.
Theogony, the Summary
The Theogony is a book that tries to put order in the confused Greek mythology. In the time of Hesiod, the myths were recounted orally; in each village and in each family, they were recounted differently. Hesiod wanted to write a book that ordered all these myths, so that Greek mythology was consistent and equal for all Greeks.For this reason, he begins his book with the myths of creation.
Then, he continues with the gods of the first generation, and so on. In a schematic way, the Theogony is structured in these sections:
- Preface: In the proem, or preface, Hesiod speaks of the Muses and their influence on men. He invokes them to help him in his work.
- Cosmogony: Cosmogony is the birth of the world.
At first there is nothing but Chaos and Night. Little by little, everything evolves into the Order and the primordial gods, Uranus and Gaea, appear.
- First generation of gods: The sons of Gaea (the earth) and Uranus (the sky) are the first generation. Cronus, the father of Zeus, belongs to this first generation.
- Second generation of gods: The second generation includes the sons of the Night.
- Third generation of gods: Among the third generation are the sons of Cronus and Rhea, that is, Zeus and his siblings. This part of the story includes the myth of Prometheus.
- Zeus fights for power: Titanomachy, or the fight against the titans, is one of the outstanding battles of Zeus.
- Fourth generation of gods: The fourth generation includes the children of Zeus, along with the children of Aphrodite and those of other divine marriages.
- Heroes catalog: Heroes are human. They are mortals who have become famous for having performed great deeds and therefore, are above other men.
- Proem to the catalog of heroines: We only have the preface to this catalog.
Theogony is more ordered than the Greek myths recounted orally. However, this book is dense and complex, because it is full of myths and episodes that interrupt each other.
Let’s look at two myths that had great importance in Greek mythology. First, we will explore the birth of Zeus.
The Birth of Zeus
Zeus is the son of Cronus, the god of time, and Rea. Cronus had overthrown his father, Uranus. And Uranus predicted that the same thing would happen to Cronus; that is, that a son of Cronus would overthrow his father.
For this reason, Cronus ate his children when they were born. Rea, his wife, desperately wanted to save one of them, Zeus. So, she gave Cronus a stone and told him that this was the boy.
Cronus devoured the stone and Rea led Zeus to Crete. There grew Zeus and, later, overthrew his father and became the supreme god of Olympus.
The Myth of Prometheus
Now, let’s look at the myth of Prometheus. Prometheus was a titan and was a friend of mortals.
To help the humans, Prometheus deceived Zeus and gave mankind the fire and the plow.Zeus was infuriated when he discovered it, and as a punishment, he sent to the mortals Pandora, a most beautiful woman. Zeus gave Pandora a box and told her not to open it. But Pandora was very curious and opened the box. From it came Death, Sickness, and all the misfortunes that from that moment men suffered. At the bottom of Pandora’s box was only Hope, which helps humans in their hard lives.
Theogony, the Analysis
Theogony does not have the literary value of the Iliad or the Odyssey, because Hesiod was not a poet as great as Homer. In some parts, the book is a bit mechanical and repetitive, with a list of gods and goddesses, marriages, and births. But it has an undeniable value: it allows us to know Greek mythology through an author who believed in these myths. Hesiod believed in the Greek gods and in the stories that were told about them.The gods of Hesiod have great authority, they are powerful and important.
Hesiod explains that they govern the destinies of men and that it must be so. In some places, as in the myth of Prometheus, we realize that life had to be difficult for Hesiod and his contemporaries.In addition, in the work of Hesiod we see a philosophical principle of great importance. For the poet, History is an evolution from chaos and destruction to order and harmony. This order and harmony are maintained by the gods, which is why they are so important.
To review, Hesiod was a Greek poet, known as the first to put some order to Greek mythology in his work, the Theogony, which means ‘the origins of the Gods.
‘ Through Hesiod, we have the genealogy of Zeus, along with the stories of the primordial gods (gods of the first generation), the fights between them to obtain the power and other important personages of the Greek mythology. Prometheus stands out among other characters. He was the titan who gave mankind the fire and caused the wrath of Zeus (for which the god sent Pandora and her box containing all the Evils).
Theogony gives us an orderly view of Greek mythology; it allows us to know firsthand many relevant myths. In addition, it contains an important philosophical principle: the progress of the world consists in moving from Chaos to Order. For these reasons, the work of Hesiod is very important despite some deficiencies of style. And still today it is interesting and exciting to read.