Recently I was on the road for six weeks. I took this as a great opportunity to re-read Strauss-Clay’s great book; "Hesiod's Cosmos". She provides a close reading of each of Hesiod’s works individually and then compares and contrasts them as we see Hesiod’s concept of the cosmological process unfold. What I didn’t remember from my last reading was Clay’s proposal that “Works and Days” is written from a mortal perspective while, “The Theogony” is for a divine audience.
Clay says, not me, “the men of the Race of Gold (and they appear indeed to have been males, since otherwise they could not have lived is such a state of bliss!) did not have the ability to reproduce themselves and without this ability they quickly became extinct. “They were ruled by Cronus (Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 7. 6 :) Likewise he came to rule a similar paradise called the Isle of the Blest; an age yet to come for some of us. (Hesiod, Works and Days 156)
The next age was the Silver Age, where men lived for a hundred years as teenagers in the care of their mother. Being disrespectful of the gods and too lazy to offer sacrifice, they too passed away. Clay’s foot note suggests that “Zeus come to power only in the course of the silver age.” and she states “Neither the race of gold nor that of silver find a place in the Theogony. This absence provocatively suggests that from the Olympian perspective… no golden age of mankind ever existed. “
Clay quotes Hesiod’s Theogony 143-5, “Father Zeus made another race of men, the third brazen, in no way resembling the silver one, from ash-tree nymphs” and then several pages later she says that “Hesiod describes how the drops of blood from Uranus’ several member fell upon Earth, who from them conceived the Giant and the Nymphs called Meliai. From these the scholiast asserts, spring the ancestors of the human race.” Meliai are ash nymphs and the Giants birth subsequent to the ascension of Zeus (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 34 - 38 fits nicely with the timeline Clay establishes for the five ages. “Hesiod remarks, they do not eat bread… One might well wonder what these bronze men ate. They most resemble…the Spartoi, who sprang from eh earth fully armed and quickly set about killing each other off.” In answer to the question as to what the Bronze men ate, her footnote reads, “The Scholia suggest cannibalism or hinging wild beasts.”
The Bronze men were fond of war and ruthless. They got caught up in a contest of wits between wise Zeus and his sly cousin Prometheus. …“the Bronze men. They had fire, which they used for warfare and armor that made them a threat to the gods. Prometheus' attempt to usurp Zeus’ power through an alliance with these powerful men prompted Zeus to deprive them of fire…” When, “Prometheus restores fire to men, their status is likewise restored for all time to its precarious intermediate position between god and beast.” Zeus arranges for Prometheus’ brother to accept the gift of Pandora “Her arrival inaugurates the human institution of marriage…unlike the promiscuous beast who practice incest and the similarly promiscuous gods, human beings uniquely regulate sexuality and reproduction through marriage…men eternally reenact the folly of Epimetheus. Within the jar that accompanied Pandora’s dowry were all the ills born of Nyx, which spilled out into the mortal world.
Next came the heroic age. An age of demi-gods born to clear the world of monsters and in the case of the greatest of the demi-god Heracles to defeat the giants. The notion that the creation of Heracles was a conscious effort on the part of the gods comes from [Apollodorus, Library 2.4.8] where “Zeus came by night and prolonging the one night threefold …and bedded with (Heracles’ mother) Alcmena” In other words Zeus put some effort into siring the greatest of the heroes. Clay comments additionally, “According to Hesiod, the city comes into being only with the race of heroes.”
Lastly comes our age; the Iron Age. “the mythloogical tradition relates that from a certain moment on, the gods distanced themselves from intimate contact with human beings and refused to continue to bring forth such children of mixed parentage.” “Even in Homeric epics, Zeus intervenes in the activities of the heroes only indirectly through messengers, omens and sings.” Nor does he ever appear on stage in Athens.
This should bring us to the end of our discussion on the ages of men, except for a lament made by Hesiod. He wished that rather than being born into this age when men are mix of the four previous ages that he’d been born in the previous age (Heroic) or the one to come, presumably Golden. The irony of Hesiod wish is that not everyone born in the Heroic age was an all-powerful demi-god; he had just as much chase of being a poor shepherd then and there as he was in his here and now. As to being born into the next age, that is most like to come about after his death, if the Hero Hesiod can attain the Isle of the Blest (Homer, Odyssey 4. 56o) where;
“indeed men live unlaborious days. Snow and tempest and thunderstorms never enter there, but for men's refreshment Oceanus sends out continually the high-singing breezes of the West”