THEOGONY

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Author: Hesiod (c 750 − 650 BC)
Translator: Richard S. Caldwell
Publisher: Focus Publishing/R. Pullins Co (1987 edition)
Bought from: Noq Store

Introduction

Little is known of Hesiod himself and when or where he lived and worked. It is believed that he is a contemporary of Homer. Herodotus ((c. 484–425 BCE) wrote in The Histories that Homer and Hesiod were the first poets of the Greeks (2.53.1–3).

Three extant works are attributed to Hesiod and the most famous is Theogony. The poem, which was written in the form of Greek known as Homeric or Epic Greek (also used in Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey) is primarily an account of the origin of the cosmos and the gods according to ancient Greek. In Theogony, Hesiod synthesised many versions of the myths and today the short poem is considered one of the main sources of Greek mythology.

Theogony is also one of the few extant sources of the mythology around Prometheus (ll 507−616), second in importance only to Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound (c 5th century BC).

What is the story about?

The poem is not organised sequentially. Chronology, the events took place chronologically as follows:

First, Chaos, Gaia, Tartaros (Tartarus) and Eros emerged out of nothing — this is the Ancient Greeks’ cosmogony. The elemental beings gave birth to a number of offsprings asexually, for example Gaia (the earth) gave birth parthenogenically to Ouranos (Uranus) (the sky) (ll 116–128).

Gaia mated with Ouranos to produce the second generation gods: 12 Titans of which Kronos (Cronus) and Rhea are the most prominent, 3 Kyklopes (Cylops) and 3 Hundred−Handed (Hekatonkheires) (ll 132−153). 

Ouranos hid the Hekatonkheires in a “dark hole of Gaia”. Suffering from the pain, Gaia encouraged Kronos to castrate Ouranos. Out of Ouranos’ blood emerged the Erinyes (Furies) and Giants and from his severed penis which was thrown into the sea arose Aphrodite (ll 154−206).

Kronos mated with Rhea to produce the third generation gods including the big three Olympians, viz. Poseidon, Hades and Zeus as well as Hera. Frightened by a prophecy that his own son would overthrow him, Kronos swallowed all his children as they were born. Using trickery, Rhea managed to spare her youngest offspring Zeus from this fate. Zeus then freed and led the third generation gods in a 10−year war known as the Titanomachy against Kronos, the Titans and the Giants. Prometheus, born to a Titan father, fought alongside Zeus. Zeus prevailed after he recruited the Hundred−Handed based on Gaia’s counsel. Zeus exiled the Titans to Tartaros (ll 453−506, 617−721).

In some traditions (eg. Library 1.6.1), Zeus and the Olympians then fought another battle known as Giantomachy. Hesiod is silent on this in Theogony.

Gaia had helped her grandson Zeus defeat her son Kronos. Then she switched side and mated with Tartaros to produce the monster Typhoeus (Typhon) to overthrow Zeus. This was Zeus’ most formidable foe yet (see the description of Typhoeus in Library 1.6.2). After an epic battle, Zeus won and threw Typhoeus into Tartaros. At that stage, Zeus assumed unchallenged supremacy (ll 820 ff).

[Before he waged war on Zeus, Typhoeus had time to beget some monsters of his own, viz Kerberos (Cerberus), Hydra and Chimaira (Chimera). He would also be the grandfather of the Sphinx and the Nemeian Lion (ll 133 −153).]

What about the book?

The poem itself is only about 1,000 lines long and takes up just 60 pages (with many pages more than half filled with footnotes). A very useful Introduction takes up 16 pages and an essay titled The Psychology of the Succession Myths another 18 pages. The Introduction includes very handy family trees in diagram form. This edition also includes extracts from Hesiod’s Works and Days and the incomplete collection of myths known to us as Library of Apollodorus relating to the stories told in Theogony.

The publisher Focus Publishing/R. Pullins Co labels itself an independent publisher of reasonably-priced quality textbooks. However, there are a number of annoying typos in the text.

Finally …

Fascinating stuff.

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