Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hesiod's Theogeny

Works and Days and TheogonyIn my last two posts, I've written about Hesiod's Works and Days.  Another short "epic" (referring only the meter, not the more modern meaning of epic) by Hesiod is Theogony, an interpretation of the beginning of the world.  The poem begins with a long introduction which serves as an invocation to the muses to speak through the poet and tell the stories of origins.

Once the introductory hymn concludes, we begin to read about creation in terms that remind me of the Hebrew Bible: "In the beginning there was Chaos, the abyss."  But soon the texts part ways.  Hesiod stresses the importance of sexual reproduction in the invention of the world: "From the abyss were born Erebos and dark Night.  And Night, pregnant after sweet intercourse with Erebos, gave birth to Aether and Day."  In fact, those creations conceived without sex seem dangerous and evil: "Then [Earth] gave birth to the barren, raging Sea without any sexual love" says one line.  Another reads, "Sleeping with no one, the ebony goddess Night gave birth to Blame and agonizing Grief."

A great deal of Theogony is simply a listing of the generations of the gods and goddesses.  Often it reads like a  section from Genesis.  But in Hesiod we get some excitement: mothers and fathers "mingling in love" rather than just strictly begatting.

This positive view of sexual reproduction reminds me of the civilizing effects of sexual intercourse in Gilgamesh.  I'm looking forward to tracing how that storyline changes as I read through the literature that follows.

*  *  *

Hesiod contains some beautiful language.  "From his massive hand [came] a whirlwind of holy flame," writes Hesiod about Zeus.  "And the earth that bears life roared as it burned, and the endless forests crackled with fire, the continents melted and the Ocean streams boiled, and the barren sea."  I love the intensity and rhythm of this kind of poetry.

*  *  *

Well--that is the best part.  Much of Theogony is even more misogynist than Work and Days.  It is so icky that I don't want to go into much of it.  Perhaps this quote will suffice:

"They were stunned, immortal gods and mortal men, when they saw the sheer deception, irresistible to men, from her race is the race of female women, the deadly race and population of women, a great infestation among mortal men, at home with Wealth but not Poverty.  It's the same as with bees in their overhung hives, feeding the drones, evil conspirators.  The been work every day until the sun goes down, busy all day making pale honeycombs, while the drones stay inside, in the hollow hives, stuffing their stomachs with the work of others.  That's just how Zeus, the high lord of thunder, made women as a curse for mortal men."

*  *  *

Enough!  It is time for a woman to speak for herself.  After finishing with Hesiod, I'll be reading Sappho.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like reproductive jealously to me, all this misogyny. I do like the phrase *sweet intercourse*. I'm reading Antigone with my students now, and it's interesting how little gender politics have changed since the time of Sophocles.

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