Recently I was on the road for six weeks. I took this as a great opportunity to re-read Strauss-Clay’s great book. 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.
The Two Perspectives.
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. ( Maya M. suggests that " So Hesiod here has completely dissociated himself from the human viewpoint and taken the viewpoint of his divine characters. And not even of Zeus, but of his opponents. Phorkys is called "brave", like the Titans during the Titanomachy.") Clay describes the apobatic moment of the Muses departure from their bath places on Permessu or Hippocrene or Olme or dancing ground of Helicon and their arrival where Hesiod tends his sheep as “the moment of transition from the eternal time of the gods to the temporality of mankind…the Muses have arrived at the limit of the world of men…the high pastures where notoriously gods and human beings may encounter each other…In the meantime, the change in the Muses’ name and address – from Heliconian to Olympian –underlines the movement from a localize epichoric, perspective to a PanHellenic one. “ Clay juxtaposes “divine and human temporalities as past and present, eternal and ephemeral” I would add, that even the gods are immortal, the temporality is “once and forever” whereas generations of men die and are reborn eternally.
In Works & Days “he revises the earlier teaching of the Muses by telling us that on earth, it turns out there are two Irides – not one, as claimed in the Theogony. What his means is that from the point of view of the gods, there is only one Eris” This might be more understandable if we recall from Hippolytus that Artemis declared the gods are not allowed to interfere with one another “Hesiodically, Eris and Hubris precede the birth of Dike. Dike enters the world of men only much later with the fourth race, the age of heroes.”
The Alternative Theogonies
Clay states that “Homer and Hesiod allude to alternative theogonic traditions”, and “a developed genre of theogonic poetry”. She lists the Homeric Hymn to Hermes in her footnotes “where Hermes enchants Apollo with his singing of a theogony which likewise recounts the birth of the gods in order and their acquisition of their allotted shares.” She adds that “Homer seems to know of a cosmogonic model in which Oceanus and Tethys were the primordial parents.” I would point out that the Orphic Hymn to Nyx suggests that;
“Nyx, parent goddess, source of sweet repose, from whom at first both Gods and men arose”;
and Zeus’ awe of the goddess seems to support that thrice-prayed for, best beloved, most fair Night is a goddess of matriarchal importance. I’ve argued elsewhere that Homer’s treatment of Thetis and Eurynome is a subtle acknowledgement to theogonies that make each of the water goddesses, creatrix in their own rights. (See http://shortstories-bill.blogspot.com/2014/11/tfbt-homer-is-thessalian.html)
The Five Ages of Man (Discussed elsewhere http://shortstories-bill.blogspot.com/2014/11/tfbt-clays-five-ages-of-man.html)
The Genealogy of the Gods
If you don’t know Hesiod’s basic premise, it is that once upon a time, there was nothing but the unfathomable abyss of Chaos. From it arose primordial Earth (Gaea). Clay observes that Mountains, Nymphs and the barren salt Sea (Pontus) were all born of the Earth without intercourse. With the latter she became mother of all the primordial sea gods and sea monsters, with the possible exception of Nereus who Pontus bore asexually. Also, to Earth was born the starry Heaven Uranus. ”Uranus, the Heavens to cover or enclose her (Gaia) in all direction as if she somehow required such delimitation.” In this position there was little opportunity for grow in the world, until Cronus emasculated his father and for the first time Hyperion (the sun) arose splitting the earth and sky. Also spilling from the mother’s womb were 17 other primordial deities. The drops of divine ichor that fell to Earth would engender the ash-maidens; Erinyes and giants. His genitals tossed into the sea would generate the mighty Aphrodite.1
Cronus becomes King of the Gods until overthrown by his son Zeus.
Zeus distributes the honors and privileges of the gods among his kin and allies at Mecone. “Zeus secures the instrument of organized violence which are characteristic of political power; an armament industry (the Cyclopes) and a mercenary army (the Hundred-Arms).” Clay adds to this the children of the Styx. “Zeus promised honor (time) while she in return gave Zeus the gift of her children, Violence, Power, Zeal and Victory.” As I write this it occurs to me that Styx had no grandchildren, the first generation of Cyclops were slain without heirs and two out of the three “Hundred-arms” served as jailers in Tartarus a realm notorious for its lack of fertility. (Note Queen Persephone’s infertility.) Elsewhere I’ve noted the choice of virginity which is unique goddesses in Zeus’s extended family and that goddesses in the only other titan family allied to the Olympians, the Hyperionides were cursed with an obsession with mortal men. Zeus seemed to have made a real effort to thwart the birth of an adversary. Finally he sires a few abstractions to decorate the place.
Meanwhile, from Chaos arose Nyx (Night) and Darkness (Erebus) who had a brood of generally unpleasant deities and daemon, the least likeable being born from Nyx’s attempt at asexual reproduction. Maya M refers to these daemons as the “bio-weapons in Pandora’s jar”. Clay notes Gaia’s “line remains completely separate from that of Chaos – intercourse between these two fundamentally opposed cosmic entities seems impossible.” 2
Prometheus the King
So if you don’t know the story of Zeus and Prometheus; here it is. They were cousins. When Zeus and his sibling overthrew the Titan King and made a grab for power, Prometheus and his three brothers, the sons of Iapetus led the resistance against them. Hesiod…makes the Iapetids appear to be the younger sons of the family of Cronus. .. this genealogical sleight-of-hand (has to do with) the succession myth, where it is always the younger son who disposes his father. And significantly Prometheus is the only figure who share the epithet ankulometis “of crooked – devising” with his uncle Cronus. Prometheus either through the gift of foresight or on the advice of Themis, switches sides, bring his dullard brother Epimetheus with him. At Mecone (see above) Prometheus arranged for the Bronze Men to get the better part of the community meal. In revenge Zeus withholds the fire that would have cooked the meal, Prometheus steals it from the gods, the gods withdraw the easy living that required no farming and burden men with Pandora, the first woman who brings all the illness of the world as a dowry to her husband Epimetheus.
Clays asks “Why did he take up the cause of mankind?” Clay suggests that the crafty Titan took up the mortal cause in order to court them as allies in his own bid for power. He ends up leaving “mankind permanently unable to escape its human condition, a condition founded on the institutions of sacrifice, agriculture and marriage and predicated on Hope.”
1 Clay’s foot note to the castration of Uranus and the release of his children from Gaia’s womb “Hesiod seems to be punning on locos, “ambush” and the root loc-, relating to child-birth” A similar pun is reported on the soldiers issuing from the belly of the Trojan Horse
2 Well, at least until Iliad 14. 231 when Hera weds Nyx’s son Hypnos to one of the Graces.