Monday, December 14, 2015

TFBT: Lamberton's Hesiod

TFBT: Lamberton’s Hesiod

I had a few free minutes at the Downtown Seattle public library.  I skipped through all the scholarly tomes available on Greek Mythology.  One book I spent a few moments with was "Hesiod" by Robert Lamberton in the Hermes Series.  He acknowledged his indebtedness "everywhere" to West and Nagy.  That bodes well, so I put it on my birthday list and my wife got it for me in time for our trip to Sayulita.

The first 54 page are primarily analysis of Hesiod's works sans context.  Strictly literary analysis kind of stuff; comparison to other works, possible insertions, dates, the genre's standards, etc etc.  All good stuff unless you are used to the sort of close-reading I learned from Prof. Nagy. As a result I feel like I now know more about Hesiod, than the characters in his works.

For a slim volume it surprises me how much I found to disagree with;
  • "But what do I have to do with this business of an oak or a rock" This line made me thinks of a spear being bronze and ash like the Giants and Meliae born of Uranus's blood. Or Achilles born of hard cliff and gray sea. Lamberton says, "it seems clear that oak and rock aare traitional places of discovered babies...foundling- and that to trace one's ancestry to an oak or rock is to invoke a colorful euphemism to account for one's lack of a pedigree."  Lamberton's work is virtually un-referenced and offers few examples.  I recall no one claiming a Oread or Dryad as an ancestress.  Most eponymous nymphs are Oceanides.  Many lineage claim autochtonic ancestry, but no specific “rocks” that I recall.  
  • "The myth of the five ages of man an account that inherent tendency in human history towards deterioration". What?  Aren't we better than the silver and bronze ages?  Aren't we more successful as a species than the four prior?
  • "In a peculiar way, Hesiod’s Muses are less the daughters of mere memory than Homers". I don’t understand this at all.  Homer doesn’t mention the Muses at all in the Iliad and I don’t recall Homer calling them by individual names in the Odyssey.  Further, "the function of the Muse of heroic epic is limited to the retrospective recall of information about the heroic past". This is Calliope.  Then at the bottom of the following page he adds that singers and kings are under her protection.  He fails to mention that she is also the Leader of the Muses.  He uses Blake as a reference here.  What? 
  • "Genesis is of course the monotheistic redaction of much disparate material, largely pre-monotheistic."   Really?  "Of course"?  Once again no reference.  I have seen references to this topic, but no detailed studies.  Is this the universal opinion of Biblical scholars?
  • Lamberton says of as Hesiod's brother "Perses", home "Acra" and sacred Hippocrene "we should be perfectly clear that these identifications themselves are largely matters of conventions."  If you have to tell your readers that something is perfectly clear, than it isn't.
  • Lamberton refers to the primordial gods as "anthropomorphic entities". I always find similar phrases ironic when the discussing Greek Mythology (and religion in general).  Intertextuality would require Lamberton to acknowledge that people are "theomorphic" rather than gods being anthropomorphic.
Lamberton offers great insights in Hesiod in contrast to Homer.   "the overriding and fundamental distinction between the Hesiodic and Homeric perspective is one of class.  Homer views the world from the perspective of the managerial class, constantly affirming both explicitly and implicitly the legitimacy of authority. Hesiod’s most characteristic perspective is refreshingly antithetical to Homer’s and is that of the victims rather than the wielders of power."  He emphasizes the last point with enthusiasm several times. "the Hesiodic voice expresses itself in the composite epic diction of the Homeric poems with the same preponderance of Ionic dialect...the language the meter, the dialect and even the store of formulaes of the Theogony and the Works & Days are not strikingly different from those of the Iliad and the Odyssey."  And finally;  "rhyme and the especially the weak echoing of similar endings called "homoioteleuton" is reasonably frequent even in the ten verses of the prooimion (of Works &Days) we find not only three rhymed couplets but pervasive internal rhymes as well. "  My Homeric Greek class has not noticed this.  I will have to point it out next we work on translating the Iliad.

Lamberton discusses the epithet, "Gaia pelore" saying that "the available English translations regularly misrepresent it, dulling its pejorative force."  According to Lamberton the proper translation is "monstrous Earth".   He argues very convincingly about the viciousness of Mother Earth.

Lamberton observes that after the Titanomachy Hesiod locates the children of the Night in the underworld, "they are specifically and explicity distanced from our world” He also points out that Nyx and her daughter Eris parthenogenetically produced "the female destructive entities, such as Battle Carnage and the Furies, that rend and tear." He contrasts them with gentle Death, Sleep and Dreams all sons of Nyx and Erebus.  Then "the poem makes another radical transition, turning this time to to populate the world with monsters, all sprung from Pontos, one of the pathogenetic children of (Monstrous) Gaia"  Is Lamberton suggesting that those of maternal pathogenetic-birth produced  monsters?  Pathogenetic Gaea and Uranus produced the monstrous 100-Handers, Cyclops, Giants and Eumenides.  In some accounts pathogenetic Gaea bore, the ultimate monster, Typhon.   Oddly enough, those borne pathogenetically of male gods are far from monstrous.  Nereus was born of Pontus without the assistance of Doris and he and his daughters have a reputation for gentleness.  Zeus without feminine assists birthed Athena from his head and Dionysus from his "thigh"; both gods considered friends of mankind.

In summary I would suggest “Hesiod’s Cosmos” by Jenny Strauss Clay,.


  1. Homer does mention and invoke the Muses in the Iliad - indeed, as a team, not with individual names:

    Doris was wife of Nereus, not of Pontus. If Nereus would have a mother, she would be "monstrous" Gaea. I think that Hesiod actually meant Nereus to be child of Pontus and Gaea. I don't see any reason to single out Nereus this way, provided how much he stresses later that Zeus produced children while male. If I knew Greek, I'd check the metric - whether it compelled Hesiod to write the verse as he did.

    In some accounts, Hephaestus is parthenogenetic child of Hera. Is he monstrous? I'd say, just disabled.

    I think Athena and Dionysus have ambiguous relation to mankind. Each is featured in a tragedy devoted to his/her vindictiveness (the Ajax and the Bacchae, respectively). Athena takes part in the adornment of Pandora. How do you think, have humans any friends among gods?

    In the very beginning of the Genesis, I remember that some things were created more than once. I suppose that the first extant recorded text was combined from two (or more) earlier sources, and later writers considered it too holy to render it straight. I've read a scholarly opinion that there were two main sources with the notnames "Yahwist" and "Elohist". I don't know how widely accepted this opinion is.

    1. Maya,

      You make so good observations on A,D and Nereus. I wonder if the ancient Greeks considered lame people as "monstrous". They had quiet the obsession with masculine beauty. I find no reference for Hephaestus being called a mnster, but he seems the doublet of his monstrous brother Typhon.

    2. Hephaestus was a fire-god who was not always obedient to Zeus. Typhon was a storm- or fire-god (pick your choice) who was an enemy of Zeus.
      Typhon, however, seemed to have some beauty, unlike Hephaestus. The Hundred-Handers also are described as comely. Maybe monstrosity could be beautiful if combined with great strength.
      Other examples: Triton with the fish tail is called by Hesiod "terrible", though he, as far as I know, never harms anyone. Deyaneira in the Women of Trachis considers her river-suitor monstrous. Geryon was considered OK to be robbed and killed. Not to mention poor Echidna.
      I've read that misfortunes of Sparta during the reign of lame King Agesilaus were often explained by his lameness (sort of a curse?).

    3. Half of Echidna was a nymph with fair face and glancing eye. Plus she seemed to have an interesting relationship with Zhera. Several of Echinda's brood were fostered or nursed by her


  2. I've just read a little more on the Genesis (nothing deeper than Wikipedia, so that not to drown) and see what I found:

    "The Elohist's story begins, apparently, after Abram has begun migration, with the wife vs. sister story that is also present in the Jahwist tale. After that, the first major story about Abram is that of the sacrifice of Isaac. In the Elohist work, Isaac never appears again after the conclusion, and the story strongly implies that Isaac was truly sacrificed."

    Like Iphigenia! Such claims can kill one's inner child. And I thought the story of Isaac's intended sacrifice was bad enough as it was.

  3. "Hesiod’s most characteristic perspective is refreshingly antithetical to Homer’s and is that of the victims rather than the wielders of power."

    I don't know why scholars keep claiming things of this sort, when Hesiod himself wrote in the Theogony:

    "...Therefore are there princes wise in heart, because when the people are being misguided in their assembly, they set right the matter again with ease, persuading them with gentle words. And when he passes through a gathering, they greet him as a god with gentle reverence, and he is conspicuous amongst the assembled: such is the holy gift of the Muses to men. For it is through the Muses and far-shooting Apollo that there are singers and harpers upon the earth; but princes are of Zeus..."

    This doesn't sound quite democratic to me. Indeed, there is harsh criticism of kings in W&D, but I guess this is just because the local ruler was more predisposed to brother Perses than Hesiod wanted. Under such circumstances, any poet hoping to get away with bashing the ruler would bash him.
    Homer may be a poet of the princes but he gives a voice to the victims - Thersites, Briseis, Eumaeus, Philoetius, the unnamed slave at the mill. Hesiod does nothing of this sort. He ascribes lying speech to Pandora, but he never lets us hear this speech.

    The same translation of the Theogony (at explains "But why all this about oak or stone?" as a proverbial saying meaning, "why enlarge on irrelevant topics?"