Suggestions for Study
The Succession Myth
The Theogony is a poem about the coming-into-being of the world (the cosmos). Its title means "birth of the gods." But since the cosmos was brought into being by the birth of divinities embodying its major aspects (Gaia=Earth, Ouranos=Heaven, etc.), Hesiod's account of theogony is also a story of cosmogony ("birth of the cosmos").
In its broad outlines, the story of the Theogony (from lines 114-929) treats the passage from an era of dominion of the cosmos by Gaia (Earth) to the era of dominion by Zeus, the father and king of gods and men. Consider the descriptions of Gaia in lines 116-18 and of Zeus in lines 881-85; what are the principal differences in their attributes, and what does this difference signify about the fundamental principles organizing the cosmos?
The major plot device which effects this transition from dominion by Gaia to dominion by Zeus is the succession-myth:
The first stage of the succession-myth (lines 114-452) concerns the family triad of Gaia, Ouranos, and their children (the Titans). At the end of this stage of the succession-myth, all the major aspects of the cosmos have come into being: after it, there are no new births of divinities associated with the natural phenomena of the cosmos.
The second stage of the succession-myth (lines 453-616) concerns the family triad of Kronos, Rheia, and their children (the Olympians).
The third stage of the succession-myth (lines 617-885) narrates a struggle between the first and second generations of gods (the Titans and the Olympians).
The conclusion of the succession-myth
(lines 886-end) relates the story of the children born from
Invocation to the Muses
The Theogony opens with a prelude in which the poet invokes the Muses to inspire him in his song. First, however, Hesiod describes the song that the Muses themselves sing on Mount Helikon as they dance around the altar of Kronion (= Zeus, son of Kronos).
For the location of Mount Helikon in relation to Mount Olympus (home of the Olympian gods and goddesses), see the annotated map. Hesiod's home was located in Boeotia, where Mount Helikon is found.
Notice which divinities the Muses mention, and in what order they invoke them: can you find any significance in this catalogue of divinities in the light of the rest of the poem?
The First Gods
At line 114, Hesiod's own song of theogony opens. This first section relates the existence of Chaos, the birth of Gaia, Tartaros, and Eros.
The first stage in the generation of gods comprises: (a) Erebos (darkness under the earth) and Night (darkness above the earth), and their children; (b) Ouranos (Heaven), born from earth (Gaia), the mountains, Pontos (the Sea), and then the Titans, born from the union of Gaia and Ouranos.
The generation of the Titans includes: Ocean, Koios, Krios, Hyperion, Iapetos, Theia, Rheia, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoibe, Tethys, and Kronos (six males, the five born first and the one born last [Kronos], and six females, the ones born second). Link here to a page on which the major Titan marriages are summarized.
Consider the sequence of births in this first stage of generation: which divinities are born without sexual generation, and which ones are born from it? what is the significance of the difference?
What does this parallelism--and the remarks made about the trick by Gaia and Kronos--suggest to you about the emergence of morality at this stage in the evolution of the cosmos, if anything?
In the Theogony, however,
Aphrodite is born from the castrated genitals of Ouranos,
which are nourished in a foam that collects around them as
they float in the Sea. (You may be familiar with
Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" in the Uffizi in Florence--if
not, you can link to a representation
of it and a description
on the site WebMuseum; and here is a take-off
on Botticelli's painting
which bears a relationship also to a story lying behind the
What do you think is the significance of
this form of birth for Aphrodite, and what does it say about
her relationship to the cosmos? You might wish to consider
what Aristotle says about spontaneous generation of animals
and plants in his treatise, Generation of Animals
Note also that while the Oceanids are all
female, the river-gods, also born from the union of Okeanos
and Tethys (page 21, lines 340ff.) are all male.
After the birth of the Oceanids, Hesiod recounts the births of Helios, Selene, and Eos: Sun, Moon, and Dawn (lines 372-74).
Note that these divinities are not Olympians: they belong categorically to the older, Titan generation of gods, even though they themselves are not Titans, but the children of Titans (Hyperion and Theia).
Note also that in line 410, Asteria is described as a goddess whom Perses "brought to his great house, to be his dear wife." This is the first time in the poem that a union between a male and female divinity has been described as a marriage rather than as a sexual coupling. What does this say about Hekate?
What do you think of the description of Hekate's powers and of her "dazzling gifts" (line 412)? How do they compare with those of Zeus?
Hades is not an Olympian, and of the other canonical Olympians, Ares, Hephaestus, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, and Hermes are born later in the poem from Zeus (see below, under Goddesses and Heroes), and Aphrodite has already been born.
The canonical twelve Olympians are thus: Zeus, Hera, Hestia (or, sometimes, Dionysus), Demeter, Poseidon, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Hephaestus, and Hermes.
Link here to a page on which there are links to representations on Perseus of these gods.
In the Theogony, there are two major battles: the Titanomachy (lines 629-731), which lasted for ten years, and the revolt of Typhoeus against Zeus (lines 820-68).
In artistic representations, however, the most common depiction of the motif of the struggle between the gods and opponents who attempt to dethrone them is the Battle of the Gods and Giants (Gigantomachy). These giants are brought into being in the Theogony at line 185, where they are born along with the Furies from the drops of blood that spill onto the earth (Gaia) when Kronos is castrated.
Link here to a page on which there are links to representations of the Gigantomachy on Perseus.
Athena's birth from the head of Zeus was a widespread myth, and is represented in many vase-paintings of the classical period (especially black-figured vases, which generally antedate red-figured vases).
See also the account in later mythographers of the birth of Athena, and the role played in it by either Hephaestus or (less commonly) Prometheus.
But Hesiod is the only source who envisions Zeus impregnating himself by swallowing his wife Mêtis (= Cunning Forethought). Why did Hesiod introduce this element into the story? What does this have to do with the themes and motifs of the Theogony?
Notice the order in which Zeus mates with his various wives, and the gender and character of the children who are born to him. What do they betoken generally about the character of Zeus's reign?
Pay particular attention to the story in the Theogony of the birth of Hephaestus: in the Iliad, he is the son of Zeus and Hera. Why do you think he is born in the way he is here?
Notice also that Hephaestus in the Theogony is married to Aglaia, the youngest of the Graces (lines 945-6). (Aglaia is born at line 908, from the union of Zeus and the Oceanid Eurynome.)
And by the same token, Aphrodite in the Theogony is Ares's consort (line 934), not the wife of Hephaestus, as in the story told in Book 8 of the Odyssey.
Goddesses and Heroes
In this section, there are some details which will concern us later in the course, and of which you should take note for future reference:
Demeter's parentage of Ploutos (relevant to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter), and
Jason's exploits, which will be relevant for Euripides' Medea.
Also of interest are some details
relevant to the Iliad and Odyssey:
Telegonus came to Ithaca in search of Odysseus, and killed his father unwittingly. He thereupon conveyed Odysseus' corpse to Circe, along with Penelope, and married Penelope. And Telemachus, who also returned to Circe's island, later married the goddess.
These stories are related by the mythographer Apollodorus and in the notes to his text. See the text and notes to Apollodorus E7.16 and Apollodorus E7.34 (note1 second half, beginning with "And after these things he [Odysseus/Ulysses] went to the Thesprotians...").
The marriage between Iapetos and Klymene was thus a marriage between uncle and niece--a form of marriage that was not uncommon in the classical period.
In later mythology, Prometheus was said to have been the creator of mankind, having fashioned them out of earth and water. (Link here to the references in Apollodorus and Pausanias; at the site for Pausanias, scroll down to 10.4.4 to see the relevant passage.) How does this compare with the manner in which Pandora is created in our two versions?
Note that this version of the creation of mankind is uncommon in our sources: much more frequent is the story that human beings were created after the flood, by Deucalion and Pyrrha (see next entry under Pandora).
Note also that in both of Hesiod's poems, mankind simply exists. In the Theogony, "mortal men" are present at Mekone, at line 536, in the story of Prometheus' attempted deception of Zeus.
In the Works and Days, Zeus does create a race of men "to people the plentiful Earth" in lines 195-200. But these lines are not regarded as genuine by most editors, who think they were inserted later to make the transition from the fourth to the fifth ages.
In general, the ancient Greeks of various regions constructed fictional genealogies associating themselves with one or another hero. And the heroes themselves were born from the unions of goddesses with mortal men referred to in the very last lines of the Theogony (1027-28).
The Theogony as we have it breaks off just as another poem is about to begin (lines 1029-30). This poem is known only in fragments, and is called the Catalogue of Women, because it is organized around a series of genealogies, each of which begins with one of the goddesses who united with a mortal man.
In the most widespread view of the matter, human beings were descended in some unspecified way from heroes, and they were separated from the age of heroes (Hesiod's fourth age in the Works and Days) by about ten generations, with each generation being equivalent to forty years.
Thus, the heroes of the Trojan War were thought to have lived about four hundred years before "our time," i.e. historical time. And since historical time for the Greeks started around the equivalent of 800 BCE, the Trojan War was dated to 1200 BCE.
Why do you think it is that the Greeks did not canonize or "mainstream" a myth of the creation of mankind? What are the implications of their having only a creation of woman myth?
Pandora appears on a number of vase paintings, and one depicting her creation is particularly interesting. It is a large krater (mixing bowl for wine) with two registers of friezes. In the upper one, the creation of Pandora is depicted on side a, and on side b, a group of girls dances to the music of a flute-player.
Apart from her creation in Hesiod's poems, Pandora appears most often in myth as the wife of Epimetheus and the mother by him of Pyrrha. Pyrrha married Deucalion, the son of Prometheus, and together this couple regenerate human beings after the flood by throwing stones over their shoulders. This is the story as Apollodorus tells it.
And Hesiod related this same story, according to the report of a later author: "Hesiod says in the first of his catalogues that Deucalion was the son of Prometheus and Pandora, and that it was from Prometheus (or Deucalion) and Pyrrha that Hellen was born, from whom derive Hellenes and Hellas."
A somewhat different story appears in a
fragment of Hesiod's Catalogue of Women, which
And according to the geographer Strabo, Pandora herself was the mother of Deucalion.
In any case, it is clear that the descendants of Prometheus, Pandora, Deucalion, and Pyrrha include, not just the children born of the stones (who are identified with the Leleges, in the territory of the Locrians), but a large number of children born from a variety of sexual unions. Link here to a genealogical table which reconstructs the family of Deukalion.
This genealogy as a whole is mostly focused on a grouping of north Greek tribes. Link here to a map showing their locations. (Hellen here does not represent the Greeks as a whole, but, as in Homer, the Hellenes who live around the area from which Achilles came, Phthia.)
As this collection of myths makes clear, the story of Deucalion and Pyrrha does not contradict, but rather supplements the account in Hesiod of Pandora's creation. In the Metamorphoses of Ovid, by contrast, Jove or Jupiter (the Roman Zeus) destroys the human race with a flood after the wicked fourth age of Iron, and only Deucalion and Pyrrha survive--both because, like Noah in Genesis, they are righteous and reverent.
After the flood, Deucalion and Pyrrha consult an oracle, and are told to throw the bones of Mother Earth behind them. In this story, Deucalion is the intelligent one, and he figures out that this must mean stones. They throw the stones over their shoulders and regenerate the entire human race.
The Roman myth and the story in Genesis both have a logic which is lacking in the Greek version. What do you think accounts for this? Why did the Greeks not apparently feel the need to rationalize in a single myth some account of the origin of human beings?
For the life and times of Semonides, see the first note following the translation of the poem on Diotima. (I suggest that you use this translation rather than the one on Perseus, although either is acceptable.)
As Svarlien notes, the genre of this poem is called iambos, and Semonides is often credited with being its inventor. Like some other genres, it was a type of poem sung or recited at symposia. Its particular hallmark was the expression of invective or abuse, and iamboi typically treated everyday subjects like birds and animals, food and cooking.
Misogynistic diatribe seems to have been a sub-type of this genre, although it appears in other forms as well. For one example, follow this link to a poem of Phocylides which is not an iambos, but bears a close resemblance to Semonides' poem.
How do these considerations of genre affect your interpretation of Semonides' poem, if they do?
Joseph Addison (1672-1719) published in his and Steele's periodical, The Spectator, a translation of Semonides' poem.
"The Spectator was designed to render learning polite and society decorous. It was adddressed to women quite as much as to men. 'I shall take it for the greatest glory of my work,' wrote Steele, 'if among reasonable women this paper may furnish tea-table talk'." (Hugh Lloyd-Jones)
Link here to the essay accompanying the translation. How does it affect the way in which you read Semonides' poem? Do you agree or disagree with Addison's perspective?
After hearing Amphimedon's story, Agamemnon's ghost exclaims: "Happy Odysseus! / Son of old Laertes-- / mastermind-- what a fine, faithful wife you won! / What good sense resides in your Penelope-- / how well Icarius' daughter remembered you, / Odysseus, the man she married once! / The fame of her great virtue will never die. / The immortal gods will lift a song for all mankind, / a glorious song in praise of self-possessed Penelope. / A far cry from the daughter of Tyndareus, Clytemnestra-- / what outrage she committed, killing the man she married once!-- / yes, and the song men sing of her will ring with loathing. / She brands with a foul name the breed of womankind, / even the honest ones to come!" (page 474, lines 210-23)
Pay particular attention to the last two
lines of this quote: what is their implication with respect
to the ancient Greek notion of women? Do you agree with this
implication? Why or why not?