Suggestions for Study
For each class, I suggest that you first read the assigned text "cold," using only the notes. Just go through it and let yourself be confused, if that happens. (None of the readings is all that long: most of them are under 20 pages; the few that are longer are easier reading.) Second, read the supplementary material, if any is assigned (passages from the "Introduction" and the like). Third, read the Background Material on this site. Fourth, reread the assigned text. Now you should understand it better and you should have answers to some of the questions that will have arisen in the course of your initial reading. Fifth, consult the Illustration and Study Questions site on the Web, and spend some time thinking about the issues raised there.
As a general rule, for each class hour at Wesleyan, you are expected to spend three hours of preparation time. Thus, for each of our classes, which meet for an hour and 20 minutes, you should plan to spend about four hours in preparation time. For many classes, you will not need this much time. When you have time left over, you should spend it thinking about your paper, beginning a draft, and/or commenting on other students' papers.

Contents (Sections):
Hesiod, Theogony
The Succession Myth
Invocation to the Muses
The First Gods
The Castration of Ouranos
The Birth of Aphrodite
Other Early Gods
The Birth of the Olympians
The Titanomachy
Zeus in Power
Goddesses and Heroes

Hesiod, Pandora Myth

Poem 7

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 Zeus.

(Remember that the relationship between these generations of gods was described in the Background Notes to the Iliad.)

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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?

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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?

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The Castration of Ouranos
In line 157, Ouranos takes joy in "his wicked work"; in line 160, Gaia plots against him "a crafty and evil scheme." In Greek, these two devices are paired: Ouranos's deed is "an evil deed" (kakon ergon), and Gaia's plot is "an evil trick" (kakên doliên).

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?

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The Birth of Aphrodite
In the Iliad, you may recall, Aphrodite was the daughter of Zeus, born from the union of Zeus and Dione (a river nymph or Oceanid; see Theogony line 353, page 22, and compare Iliad Book V, line 417, page 176).

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 Iliad.)

Distinguish Sea (Pontos) from Ocean (Okeanos). Pontos was born in line 131 from Gaia "without mating in sweet love"; Okeanos was a Titan born just afterwards when Gaia "couple[d] with Ouranos" (lines 133-34).

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 (III.11, 762a):

"Animals and plants come into being in earth and in liquid because there is water in earth and air in water, and in all air is vital heat, so that in a sense all things are full of soul. Therefore living things form quickly whenever this air and vital heat are enclosed in anything. When they are so enclosed, the corporeal liquids being heated, there arises as it were a frothy bubble....Now in the sea earthy matter is present in large quantities, and consequently the testaceous animals are formed from a concretion of this kind, the earthy matter hardening round them and solidifying in the same manner as bones and horns...and the body which contains the life being included within it" (Oxford translation).

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Other Early Gods
Take note of the fact that, in this section, the Nereids or Sea-Nymphs are born (page 18, lines 240ff.) from the union of Nereus, son of Pontos, and Doris, daughter of Ocean and therefore one of the Oceanids or Ocean-Nymphs. The Oceanids themselves, including Doris, are not born until pages 21-22, lines 346ff.

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.

Styx is born last of the named Oceanids, and is identified as the "one who holds the highest rank" (line 361). She has a separate story attached to her on page 22, lines 383-404, which anticipates the Titanomachy related below (pages 28ff.). And there is a more elaborated description of the "countless gifts" (line 399) that Zeus gave her in the section on Tartaros (pages 32-3, lines 775-810).

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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).

Consult your Hesiod handout to see that this set of births takes place at level O, before the birth of the Olympians (at Q). The parents of Helios, Selene, and Eos are the eldest of the sons and the youngest of the daughters of Gaia and Ouranos (see level E).

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Hekate is the last of the "early gods" who also has a specific place in Zeus' realm. Her mother, Asteria, is the daughter of two Titans (Phoibe and Koios), and her father Perses is the son of the Titan Krios and Eurybia, who was born from the union of Pontos and Gaia. Thus, on her father's side, Hekate is a great-granddaughter of Gaia; on her mother's side, she is the granddaughter of Titans. Since Zeus is the grandson of Gaia and Ouranos on both his mother's and father's side, then, Hekate is younger than he is, even though, in the poem, Zeus has not yet been born.

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?

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The Birth of the Olympians
Of the canonical twelve Olympians, only six are born in this section of the Theogony: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus (three females and three males).

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.

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The Titanomachy
The key figures in the Titanomachy are Obriareus (=Briareus), Kottos, and Gyges. They are all sons who were born to Gaia and Ouranos just after the birth of the Titans (page 16, lines 147ff.). They are known as the "hundred-handers" from the description of them there and also in this section (page 29, lines 669ff.).

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).

Typhoeus (Typhon) is shown on this archaic hydria (Munich 596) as a monster with wings, snake tails, and Silenus ears; Zeus is striking him down with a thunderbolt.

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.

Hesiod does not elaborate further, but you can link here to a brief description of the battle in Apollodorus, which includes the names of the giants and their traditional divine opponents.

Link here to a page on which there are links to representations of the Gigantomachy on Perseus.

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Note that, while the Titans are permanently exiled to Tartaros, Earth and Pontos and Ouranos also have their "sources and limits" in Tartaros (page 31, lines 736ff., page 33, lines 807ff.).

Thus, these primeval forces both persist as part of the natural world and as divinities, but are also linked with the "other" world beneath the human realm.
This picture is consistent with a view of the world which envisioned the earth as a disk floating upon the sea, and the sky as positioned atop earth and sea like a dome.

Zeus in Power
There are some notable deviations in this section from both the mythological tradition generally and from Homer's views of the gods:

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.

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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:
The parentage of Achilles, and
the children of Odysseus by Circe and Calypso. One of them, Telegonus, figures prominently in a poem of the so-called Epic Cycle, the Telegonia, where the story is told that:

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...").

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Consult your handout on the organization of generations in the Theogony to see that Iapetos was one of the Titans (E), and that Klymene, an Oceanid, was the daughter of Okeanos and Tethys, both Titans (E). The Oceanids are born at level (N). Prometheus and his brothers are born at level R.

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?

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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 reports that:
Hesiod says in the Catalogue:
"The maiden Pandora, in the halls of proud Deucalion,
at the behest of Zeus the father of all gods,
mingling in love bore Graecus staunch in battle."

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?

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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.)

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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?

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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?

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As explained in the Background Notes to the Odyssey, in Book 24, when the shades of the dead suitors are guided down to the Underworld by Hades, they encounter the shade of Agamemnon. Agamemnon recognizes the suitor Amphimedon, who was an old friend, and inquires how he met his fate.

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?

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Last updated 27 February 2000