Hesiod's Account of Creation and Greek Culture

A Boeotian poet of 8th or the 7th century BC, Hesiod had written two poems, namely “Works and Days” and “Theogony”. Both created myths but Theogony has always been more popular among the two. Beginning with Chaos and ending with the reign of Zeus the poems describe the tale of war between Titans and Olympians. Promotheus the Deluge has figures in both the poems. In fact the myth of creation is often formed with the triangle of Hesiod’s “Theogony”, Apllodorus’ “Library”, and Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” both supplementing Hesiod’s myth aptly.

Multiple myths about the creation among Greeks and Romans are found in the mythologies. One can trace such creations in Egyptian, Sumerian, Babylonian as ell as Hebraic mythologies. Homer in 800 B.C had come up with Oceanus and Tethys who were responsible for the origin of the Gods. (Source: Homer - Illiad 14.201) Yet Homer did not produce a complete account of the genesis.

The first literary expression of systematic explanation about origin of universe, God, and mankind could be found in the creation of Hesiod.  “At any rate his is the earliest account that has survived, and it may be considered the classic Greek version in many respects; the genealogical scheme is presented in his Theogony, while his Works and Days add significant details. Hesiod invokes the Muse in the manner of epic, but his text is steeped in a religious aura of divinely inspired revelation (Theogony 108 ff.)”: (Source: Myths of Creation in Greek Culture – Chuck Kay 2007).

Raising the question about the origin of Gods, rivers, sea, earth, and all the natural elements in the world, including the sun, moon, and the shining stars, he answers that it was Chaos that came up first of all. In Greek terminology, “chaos” means “yawning” and therefore for Hesiod, Chaos was a void.

Of course Hesiod is not as revolutionary as Thales (540 BC) among the pre-Socratic philosophers. He claimed that water is the source of everything. For Hesoid it was chaos, followed by Gaea or earth, Tartarus that was a dark place in the depths of the earth, Eros or love, Erebus or the glook or Tartarus and dark night.

For Hesiod it was love that was the most natural force and appeared early and finds prominence in all the tales of creation and in procreation. Eros for Hesiod was “most fair among the immortal gods, who loosens the limbs and overcomes judgment and sagacious counsel in the breast of gods and men.” (Source: Hesiod – Theogony 120-33) Multiplicity of versions combined with primacy of Eros marks the creations of Hesiod.

Similar genesis was also found in the creations of Ovid 700 years after Hesiod. However the poetic as well as real world of the two authors was poles apart. For Hesiod, it was once again chaos that caused the creation of night and day as well as the bright upper atmosphere. As Hesiod points out in his creations, Ge first produced Uranus alone without love and also the mountains and sea. “But then she lay with Uranus and bore the Titans. The personification and deification of sky and earth as Uranus and Ge and their physical union represent basic recurring themes in mythology. Uranus is the male principle, a god of the sky; Ge, the female goddess of fertility and the earth. Worship of them may be traced back to very early times; sky and rain, earth and fertility are fundamental concerns and sources of wonder to primitive agricultural peoples. The rain of Uranus might, for example, be imagined as his seed that fertilizes the hungry earth and makes her conceive.” (Theogony 108 ff.)”: (Source: Myths of Creation in Greek Culture – Chuck Kay 2007).

Such developments gave birth to the concept of sacred marriage such as between Uranus and Ge, Cronus and Rhea, and Zeus and Hera. Worship of the female earth divinity contains multiple important aspects and she always took the dominant role in the partnership with the male consort. For Hesiod, earth was significant in every period and for every production. In fact the emotional, religious, intellectual as well as philosophical range of worship of the mother goddess is always vast.

“It may run the gamut from frenzied orgiastic celebrations with the castration of her devoted priests to a sublime belief in spiritual communion and personal redemption; from a blatant emphasis upon the sexual attributes and potency of the female to an idealized vision of love, motherhood, and virgin births.”  According to the Greek Mythology, Prometheus was a Titan. He stole fire from Zeus and gave it to human beings who were mortals. In result Zeus punished him by binding him to a rock while a great eagle ate his liver every day only to be find the liver grow back the next day to be devoured again.

The myth also speaks about the creation of Pandora the first woman by Zeus and she was destined to live with men. Hesiod writes; "of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble, no helpmeets in hateful poverty, but only in wealth."

Hesiod’s “Works and Days” was a sequel and expansion of the “Theogony” and the wrath of Zeus on the stealing of fire by Prometheus. Portraying Pandora, the first woman on the earth, as carrier of evils and sent by Zeus for revenge on Prometheus, Hesiod states that she brought upon “evils, harsh pain and troublesome diseases which give men death”.

As a philosopher, Hesiod therefore tried to attempt something that was unprecedented in his time. He tried to visualize theories of evolution of earth and Gods, and at the same time portrayed women as the force that carries men to hell instead of heaven.

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