Hesiod’s Theogony with Scholia

Category: Ancient Learning > Myth & Poetry > Mythic Narratives

1 Introduction

Hesiod’s Theogony is, if not the most comprehensive compendium of mythology, certainly the most complete single account of the genealogy of the gods that survives from Greek antiquity, from the first god to come into being down to the establishment of the prevailing cosmic order. Read in isolation, however, it can easily give rise to a misunderstanding of how myth functioned in the Ancient Mediterranean. Namely, the poem can create the impression that the ancients were, to use a modern term, “mythic literalists”, who believed that the stories told by Hesiod and others happened exactly as described in their verse.

Now, reasonable people can take it for granted that, for instance, Prometheus did not really create people out of clay, so I will not be arguing such cases here. Absolutely no precedent in Mediterranean polytheism prevents us from accepting the theory of evolution, modern astronomy, and so on. But even reasonable people can fall into the mistaken belief that mythic literalism is the intended framework for interpreting mythology. Anyone who has seriously studied ancient myth in the original sources, however, knows that this is not the case.

First of all, a great deal of ancient mythical poetry was written by people who studied both mythology and philosophy or science, as is shown when they deliberately blend elements of the mythical framework (such as a flat earth, a literal underworld, gods convening on Mt Olympus) with philosophical concepts that had long since become accepted as truth (spherical earth, new conceptions of the afterlife, Olympus interpreted as heaven, etc.). Myth in these instances is simply conventional, literary, or symbolic, and not meant to be taken as fact.

Secondly, before the invention of philosophy and literary exegesis (which led to the status quo described in the previous paragraph), there was no theoretical distinction between literal and metaphorical discourse. In other words, while Hesiod was not yet working in the tradition of conscious symbolism and allegory that developed in subsequent centuries, he was also not writing in an anti-symbolic mode – how, after all, could he have opposed what did not yet exist?

So, when he sometimes speaks about the goddess Earth as if she were a kind of woman, who gave birth to other gods as if in human fashion, and at other times speaks of her as soil tilled by the farmer, we must not imagine that both descriptions are meant in a fully literal sense and either cohere or conflict. Rather, Hesiod is stretching the usual meaning of words like ‘birth’ to speak of magnificent things like the origin of the Mountains from the Earth, because no better words exist. Poetry, with its elevation above everyday language, gives permission to such audacious speech. It was for later readers to work out the implications of these poetic expressions in clearer, prosaic terms.

And so we come to the third point, that even if Hesiod had been a “literalist” as some moderns imagine, his readers in antiquity did not treat him as such. We know this quite well, since the same manuscripts that contain the text of the Theogony also contain ancient scholia or explanatory notes in great abundance, and they take Hesiod as speaking very much about the same topics as later philosophers, only in more enigmatic terms. To some degree, of course, they were reading things into the Theogony that were not there, but to a considerable extent, they were simply working out issues that Hesiod had left inchoate and open to legitimate development.

Thus, by reading the poem together with the surviving material from ancient commentators, we can gain a much richer understanding of the intellectual role played by mythological poetry in antiquity, as a discourse that was at once markedly non-philosophical and indicative of philosophical truths. This is the purpose of the present (work-in-progress) translation of Hesiod’s Theogony, the first in English to include the scholia alongside the primary text.

I translate from the editions of […]

This translation is in the public domain, free to be reproduced for any purpose.

2 Translation of the Theogony and Scholia

<1–34. proem: hymn to the muses>

1: “The beginning of speaking (légein) is made from the Muses, because they are set over speech (lógos).”
“They were called Muses (Moûsai) as always being alike (homoû … oûsai); for they are set to one harmony and sing and dance together with each other, and they are never separated from each other. For even if they each have been allotted their own province – one over astronomy, another over geometry, beautiful speech, songs, and so on for each –, nevertheless, you can find all in each. For one may also find beauty of words and history and each of the rest in astronomy and geometry. They are nine in number and named as follows: Cleo (Kleiṓ), Thaleia (Tháleia), Euterpe (Eutérpē), Terpsichore (Terpsikhórē), Erato (Eratṓ), Melpomene (Melpoménē), Polymnia (Polýmnia), Ourania (Ouranía) and Calliope (Kalliópē).”
Heliconiad Muses: ‘Let us make the beginning of speaking from the Muses, because they rule over our speech.’ And he calls them ‘Heliconiads’, meaning ‘Boeotians’, since Helicon is a mountain in Boeotia. Now, since the Boeotians were insulted as ignorant, Hesiod wanted to say ‘Heliconiads’, and show that they too have a share of intelligence (phronḗsis), and that the Muses pass everywhere they wish.”
Heliconiad Muses: ‘living on the Helicon’. The Helicon is a mountain in the region of the people of Thespiae in Boeotia, from where the poet was. On it is also a temple of the Muses, where they dance, and they were born on Pieria, which is also a mountain of Boeotia. There is also a temple of Zeus Heliconius (Helikṓnios). And why did he not call them Olympiad, but Heliconiad Muses? He wanted to do so out of love for his country, to confer the greatest honor on his fatherland, and to demonstrate that it is a home of learning. For since the Boeotians were insulted as ignorant, Hesiod wanted to say ‘Heliconiads’, and show that the Boeotians too have a share of intelligence (phronḗsis) and study all kinds of learning, and that the Muses pass everywhere they wish, and make even the ignorant and unlearned wise; or because they communicated and dwelled with him, and bestowed the art of poetry on him, which clarifies (this line from below): ‘They first brought me sweet song’.”
2: “Mount Helicon: ‘the Muses’, i.e., speech/reason (lógos) and wisdom (sophía), ‘hold Mount Helicon’, meaning, by circumlocution, ‘they inhabit Helicon’, showing that they move around the head and range over the pure and clean mind.”

[Work in Progress]

<35–[…]. […]>

(35) But what is all this about oak and stone to me?

[Work in Progress]

<104–115. transition to the theogony>

Be cheered (khaírete), children of Zeus, and give a charming song,
(105) And celebrate the sacred kin of the immortals who are forever,
Who were born out of Earth (Gē) and starry Heaven (Ouranos),
And out of gloomy Night (Nyx), and whom the briny Sea (Pontos) reared up!

Tell how the gods and the Earth (Gaia) were first born,¹⁰⁸
The Rivers (Potamoi) and the boundless Sea seething with its swell,¹⁰⁹
(110) As well as the shining Stars (Astra) and broad Heaven above,
And those who were born of them, the givers of good things, the gods—¹¹¹
How they divided their abundance, how they allotted their offices (timaí),¹¹²
And how they first took possession of Olympus of many vales!

Pronounce these things to me, you Muses who dwell on Olympus,¹¹⁴
(115) From the beginning (arkhḗ), and tell me which of them was born first!¹¹⁵

108: “Tell how … first: he is asking the Muses to learn how to write the contents of the Theogony accurately. On that account, he used ‘tell!’.”
108–109: “and the Earth were … born, the Rivers and the boundless Sea: he is puzzling the hearer with amazement.”
111: “And those who were born of them, the givers of good things, the gods: (this line) is excluded (by editors) because of its repetitiveness.” || But this whole passage is repetitive.
112: “How they divided their abundance: ‘abundance’ (aphenos) is properly the wealth from one year (eniautos); but here he calls the Earth, Heaven and Sea (Thalassa) ‘abundance’. And he means ‘how did they divide and each take possession of their respective office’.” || Timḗ, ‘office’ or ‘dignity’, refers to the specific purview of each god, and secondarily the worship they receive for it.
114–115: “Seleucus excludes these two verses; but those around Aristarchus say that only (the line?) ‘from the beginning’ is illegitimate.”
115: “From the beginning, and tell me which of them was born first: three were born first: Chaos, Earth, and celestial Eros, who is also a god; for the (Eros born) of Aphrodite is younger. But the elements originated from water: earth by compression, air by dispersion; the thinnest air gave rise to fire. And the Sea through draining, but the Mountains by excretion from the Earth.” || Génesis means both literal ‘birth’ and ‘being originated’ in general. Hence, Chaos is said to be “born”, although there is nothing it is born from. It simply originates.

<116–138. beginning of the theogony>

Now, first of all was born Chaos, but then¹¹⁶
Wide-bosomed Earth, the ever-steady seat of all¹¹⁷
The immortals, who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus,¹¹⁸
And cloudy Tartarus (Tartara) in the recesses of broad-pathed Earth,¹¹⁹
(120) And Love (Eros), who is the most beauteous among the immortal gods,¹²⁰
The loosener of limbs, who conquers all gods and all humans’¹²¹
Mind in their hearts and thoughtful counsel.

From out of Chaos were born Erebus and the black Night,¹²³
And in turn out of Night were born Aether and Day (Hēmerē),¹²⁴
(125) Whom she conceived and bore after mingling in love with Erebus.
And Earth first gave birth to her equal,¹²⁶
Starry Heaven, so that she was enveloped all around,¹²⁷
So that he would be an ever-steady seat for the blessed gods.

She also gave birth to the great Mountains (Ourea), graceful haunts of the goddesses¹²⁹
(130) Nymphs, who dwell upon the wooded Mountains,
And she bore the unfruitful expanse (Pelagos) seething with its swell,
The Sea (Pontos), without delightful love. But then,¹³²
Lying with Heaven, she bore deep-eddying Ocean,
Coeus (Koios) and Crius (Kreios), Hyperion and Iapetus,¹³⁴
Theia, Rheia, Themis and Mnemosyne,¹³⁵
Phoebe the golden-wreathed and lovely Tethys.¹³⁶
After these the youngest was born, Kronos of crooked counsel,¹³⁷
The most terrible of her children, and he hated his flourishing father.¹³⁸

116a: “Now, first of all:
116b: “Now, first of all:

116c: “was born Chaos: Plato calls (Chaos) ‘all-receptive nature’ (Timaeus 50b, 51a). For there must be a place as a foundation to contain the things that are originated in it. Some say Chaos is so called from kheîsthai (‘being poured’); others from khadeîn (‘containing’), that is, khōreîn (‘having room’), (as in) ‘Hera could not contain (-khad-) the anger in her heart’ (Iliad 4.24). Or Chaos is the discretion and separation into the elements. Some say that it is water, others air, as in: ‘Marvelous heat seized Chaos’ (Theogony 700). Or it is that which has diffused (kekhuménon) inbetween Earth and Heaven. Differently (explained), he calls the diffused air Chaos; for Zenodotus also says so. And Bacchylides called the air ‘Chaos’, saying about the eagle, ‘it is observed in the barren Chaos’.”
was born Chaos: from kheîsthai (‘being poured’); and it is the empty place between Earth and Heaven; for it was born from the unseen.”
117a: “Wide-bosomed Earth: He does not say that the Earth comes from Chaos; for he does not say ‘out of Chaos, the Earth’, but ‘then, the Earth’. Zeno the Stoic says that sedimentation from the moist (i.e., water) originated the Earth. […]
117b: “Wide-bosomed: Because he depicts (the Earth) as a goddess, he calls her wide-bosomed. On that account, Plato calls the Earth the hearth of the cosmos in the Phaedo (108e etc.), wherefore he cites and excludes these lines (Symposium 178b etc.).” || Apparently, the scholiast favors non-anthropomorphic language? But the exact line of reasoning is unclear.
117c: “Wide-bosomed: […]”
117d: “Wide-bosomed: […]”

117–118: “the ever-steady seat of all the immortals: Plato in the Phaedo (108e etc.) says that the Earth is the seat and sitting-place of all things. He says ‘of the immortals’ to show that, because the ancients were pious, the gods lived together with them.”
119: “cloudy Tartarus: That which extends to the ends of the Earth. He means the air which surrounds the Earth, and what is around her. […]
120: “And Love: Eros (instead of Erōs) is Aeolic. And some (say that he is) fire, because fieriness belongs to desire. Or as follows. Because fire violates what is life-originating (zōogonikón), for that reason he depicted it as Eros, and suitably so. Or, because (Eros) is painted with torches, or because (eros, i.e., sexual desire) is produced by heat. Differently (explained). Having already mentioned three elements, he fourth mentions fire, which he daemonically (i.e., ‘in divine terms’? ‘wondrously’?) calls Eros; for it naturally joins, brings together and unifies. And it is that which passes(?) into everything else, which is an image of harmony or Eros. For sculptors do not depict the Erotes without fire.” || I.e., without torches. This scholium, like many others, is stitched together from many exemplars, but remarkably, they all agree in their interpretation.
121: “Loosener of limbs (lysimelḗs): ‘The one who dissolves cares (phrontídes ~ mélein)’; for he is not here talking about sex and desire, which loosens the limbs (mélē), but the pleasure and mixture of the elements. For the extension of the air, when it is well-tempered, dissolves cares. But by Eros he means fire, which tempers all things; for as Eros unifies things at variance, so the Sun tempers all things. But Homer calls it (fire) Hephaestus (e.g., Iliad 2.426).”
123: “From out of Chaos: Quite rightly. For the air prior to the rise of the Sun and the stars is dark. And Erebus is darkness. For the dark attends the Night, as the stars were not yet(?) born to illuminate the darkness. Differently (explained), some (say) that Chaos is water; (Erebus) issues from the heavenly water like dark air. Or Night alone is indicated by both (Erebus and Night), and he is dividing it into two bodies.” || I.e., into two anthropomorphic deities. Another term for ‘anthropomorphic’ was ‘corporeal’ (i.e., ‘shaped like a human body’).
124: “And in turn out of Night … Aether: For in the Night, we see the Aether adorned by Stars and Moon; and further, if the Night did nor recede, the Day would not appear.”
126: “And Earth first:
127a: “Starry Heaven, so that:
127b: “so that she was enveloped all around:
129: “She also gave birth to the great Mountains, graceful haunts of the goddesses:

132: “The Sea, without delightful love. But then: He distinguishes Oceanus from the Sea (thalássē = póntos). Oceanus, he says, is the one who furnishes quality (poiótēs) to the Earth. Now, the Mountains and Sea were born first, not yet by rain or dew or any other heavenly quality coming upon the Earth; only after lying with Heaven, which was after these (were born), did the Earth begin to receive rain and to bear fruit.” || This indicates that readers largely did not differentiate Oceanus and the Sea in this way.
134: “Coeus: The Aeolians use k in place of p; he means Poios, i.e., Quality (or ‘property, likeness, attribute’, Poiótēs). Crius is that which is kingly and rules. Hyperion, the motion of everything above the Earth. And Iapetus is from iénai (‘to come’), for because it has the nature that all heavy things let loose fall down (ptein) from above, he calls this kind of species (eîdos) Iapetus. And these, as Acusilaus says, are called Titans (m.) and Titanids (f.). Zeno, more in line with natural philosophy, says that they are called Titans because the elements are arranged (diatáttesthai) across all of the cosmos. And in a different manner, they allegorize Coeus as being quality and Crius separation (diákrisis); and Hyperion as Heaven, who passes up above us (hyper… iónta), and Iapetus as his motion, from íesthai (‘going’) and pétesthai (‘flying’), because Heaven is ever-moving.”
Coeus and Crius: […]”
135a: “Theia: Theia is the power overseeing all things, from theâsthai (‘to see’); or from théein (‘to run’), that is, being carried everywhere.”
135b: “Rheia: Rheia, according to Chrysippus, is the downpour from the rain; but she is also the Earth. Rhea is destructive, because we are dissolved into her (the Earth), and because all things on her wane (diarrhéousi).” || Rheia is the poetic, Rhea the prose form of the name of the goddess. The first interpretation is from rhy-, ‘flow’.
135c: “Themis: Themis is the immutable arrangement (thésis) of the universe.”
135d: “Mnemosyne: The abiding (epimon) of the formation of living beings.”
136a: “Phoebe: The pure part of the air; on this account (she is) also (called) ‘gold-wreathed’, because gold is pure.”
|| This is not the Moon, who is also called Phoebe because of her light.
136b: “lovely Tethys: the nourishing or sailable sea, which nourishes through (mercantile) profit.”
137: “After these, the youngest: Kronos is the separation (apókrisis) of the elements, which they continue to maintain in good order after they have been made (separate) from each other. Or Kronos is Time (Chronos), because time hides some things, and makes others manifest; or because it passes imperceptibly. Differently (explained), when the cosmos was going to be articulated, the articulating (i.e., differentiating) darkness was originated.”
138: “he hated his flourishing (thalerós) father: Aristarchus criticizes that the older Heaven is not appropriately called ‘youthful’ (thalerós). Unless, in the same way that enraging fire is called ‘raging’, and fear that makes pale is called ‘pale’, Heaven is called ‘flourishing’ (thalerós) as making life flourish (thaleropoiós); for he makes all things bloom and increase through rain. For all things are increased from Heaven; Menander: ‘Earth loves the rains’.”
|| Love here connotes sexual intercourse, a mythic symbol of the fertility that arises from Heaven and Earth.

[Work in Progress]

<886–923. spouses and children of zeus>

Zeus, the king of the gods, made Metis his first spouse,
Who had the most knowledge among gods and mortal humans.
But when she was about to give birth to the goddess Athena of gleaming eyes,
Then Zeus deceived her mind with a ruse
(890) Through cunning words, and put her in his belly,
By the advice of Earth and starry Heaven.
For they told him to do this, lest the royal office
Should be held by another of the gods that are forever instead of Zeus,
Because it was allotted to her to bear very wise children,
(895) First indeed the girl, Tritogeneia of gleaming eyes,
Who has strength and wise counsel equal to her father,
But after her, a son, a king of gods and men,
Would be born, with an overbearing heart.
But before this could be, Zeus put her in his belly,
(900) So that the goddess share with him in good and evil counsel.

Second, he married shining Themis, who bore the Horae,
Good Order (Eunomia), Justice (Dike) and lovely Peace (Eirene),
Who attend the works of deathbound mortals,
And the Fates (Moirai), whom Zeus of counsels gave the greatest honor,
(905) Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, who bestow it
On mortal humans to receive good and evil.

Eurynome bore him the three Graces of beautiful cheeks,
The daughter of Oceanus who has a very lovely form,
Namely Aglaïa, Euphrosyne and desirable Thalia.
(910) From whose eyelids, as they made glances, dripped love,
The loosener of limbs; and under their brows, they make beautiful eyes.

Then, he came to the bed of bountiful Demeter,
Who bore white-armed Persephone, whom Aïdoneus
Stole from her mother, but Zeus of counsels granted it.

(915) Then again, he loved Mnemosyne of beautiful hair,
Of whom the nine Muses with gold fillets were born,
Who delight in festivals and the joy of song.

And Leto bore Apollon and arrow-launching Artemis,
Offspring more charming than all the descendants of Heaven,
(920) after she had mingled in love with Zeus the aegis-bearer.

And last, he made youthful Hera his wife.
She gave birth to Youth (Hebe), Ares and Eileithyia
After she had mingled in love with the king of gods and men.

886: “made Metis: it is said that Metis had a power of such a kind that she could change into whatever (form) she wished. Now, Zeus deceived her and having gotten her (to make herself) small, swallowed her; and he swallowed her as she was pregnant. Heaven and Hearth told him to swallow her, so that someone stronger would not be born from her; for so it had been fated.”
890: “had the most knowledge among gods: meaning she was the most intelligent of all. Now, mêtis is counsel and knowledge. The king, who must be knowledgeable, that is Zeus, swallowed her when she was pregnant, as she was about to give birth to Athena.”
892a: “Through cunning words: deceptive (words). Because wisdom (sophía) is born of much counsel and the depth of intellect (noûs).”
|| Here, Zeus stands for human intellect, Metis for counsel, and Athena for wisdom.
892b: “lest the royal: for if wisdom were from Zeus alone, that is from the human intellect, it would be found yet superior.”
|| I am not sure what exactly is meant here.
897: “But after:
901a: “Themis: the good order (euthesia) of all things, because (the universe) is moved according to laws.”
|| Nómos, ‘law’, is near-synonymous with the common noun thémis.
901b: “Horae: he means the seasons (tropikaì hṓrai), from ōreîn, that is, ‘guarding’. For (the seasons) are the guardians of human works.”
903: “attend (ōreúousi): that is, ‘they guard’, ‘they take care’, which is also why a guardian is called an oûros. He is alluding to the etymologies of the Horae.”
907: “Good Order (Eunomía): because farmers live according to laws (nomímōs). Justice (Díkē): because (they) also (live) justly. Peace (Eirḗnē): because (they) also (live) peacefully. Thaleia [sic]: … ”
909: “Aglaïa: what is radiant in the cosmos (or ‘fashion, ornament’), because agallómetha, ‘we are delighted’. Euphrosyne: because we are delighted and cheered (euphrainómetha) when we receive something from another. Tháleia: because we give to those in need when our life is flourishing (thállontos). For the gifts of Zeus, that is, of our mind (noûs), must be given ungrudgingly, so that they pass through the whole world.”
|| Grace, kháris, taken in multiple senses: gracefulness; gratefulness for gifts; generosity in giving.
911: “make eyes (derkióōntai): an elaborated form in place of dérkontai.”
913a: “bore Persephone: Demeter places the life-giving (faculty) into the seeds. Bountfiful (polyphórbē): from phérbein, that is, nourishing many (polloí). Persephone: because she was porthēthênai, abducted, from light (phṓs) and sight.”
|| So apparently, Persephone is being taken as the vital, life-giving element (tò zōtikón) in the crops.
913b: “Whom Aïdoneus: he says this in relation to the ‘decay’ of the seeds, because unless these die below, they do not grow up (zōogoneîtai) above.”
|| The abduction of Persephone refers to the “death” of the seeds, which disintegrate as they give rise to the plant.
914: “Stole: some say that she was abducted from Sicily; Bacchylides, from Crete; Orpheus, from the places around Oceanus; Phanodemus, from Attica; [unintelligible]. And he is saying this because the Earth does not easily receive the seeds.”
|| So, the abduction represents the act of tilling and sowing, which the Earth does not easily allow.
916a: “with gold fillets (khrysámpykes): who have golden headbands, because an ámpyx is a kind of headband of women’s fashion. Or he called them this because they carry wreaths around their head.”
916b: “with gold fillets (khrysámpykes): who have golden ámpykes. An ámpyx is a kind of band around the head; from amphékhō (‘enclosing’), (it is called) ámphyx and (hence) ámpyx.”
918: “Leto (bore) Apollon: Leto, after intercourse with Zeus, gave birth to Apollon, who is desirable beyond all (other) gods. Hyberbaton. Lḗthē (‘oblivion’) is the mouther of Apollon, because the musician makes people forget the evils of life.”
|| Hyperbaton, transposition, because Hesiod mentions Apollon, then Artemis, then “offspring more charming, etc.” But I believe ‘offspring’ (gónos) can refer to both children, although grammatically singular.
919: “descendants of Heaven (Ouraniṓnōn): either those who dwell in heaven or the descendants of Heaven.”
921: “Hera: that is, the air; for in the air is life for those who are nourished; or (she is) the vapor from the air.”
|| The identity of Hera and air is a commonplace of ancient philosophy. ‘Life’ may refer to Zeus.
922: “Eileithyia: Note that he says Eileithyia is one.”
|| Usually, the Eileithyiai appear as a group.

[Work in Progress]

Status: under construction