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Theos genesis by the fireside

Spending away the day in the cave today, among the poets. Hesiod beckons, and I drag my carcass to its next destination. The day is long and hot, and I am scattered.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 3rd, 2011 09:03 pm (UTC)
Hesiod is a poet I've never read. Should I? Or is this not a good time to ask?
Sep. 4th, 2011 02:43 am (UTC)
Hmmm. Depends on what you would hope to get out of the poetry, I suppose. He's definitely not a "fun read", by modern standards... or even the standards of say, 17th century England. He's not Milton or Shakespeare, by which I'd mean to say that he's not grappling with issues of fulfilling moral existence under a transcendent God. Even in his more "political" plays, The Bard, I think, is always doing so in a very Christian/Platonic way, i.e. the city is the soul writ large, with the soul identified as the locus of tension towards transcendence.

You don't quite get that with Hesiod. His myths deal with issues of justice and order in a disordered world, but in a way which might seem odd or stilted, in the same way as Egyptian or Mesopotamian myths of the same class would seem odd. In essence, his tales of the genealogy of gods, the cosmos, humans, and the political order are forms of metaphysical speculation in a culture which hasn't yet seen the emergence of a philosophic language.

At least two things seem ambiguous or "missing" in his poetry: (I) a clear conception of the soul in the above sense -- it's sort of there, but sort of not. Hesiod can't quite figure out if it's possible or even advisable to be moral in an immoral city, though he's certainly aware that something is wrong, and opposes it. But, he isn't quite sure of the ground on which he can or even should mount opposition. (II) an absolutely clear conception of the transcendent or divine ground of the moral order. It's sort of there in the form of Zeus and his daughters by Mnemosyne and Themis (the Muses, Dike, Eunomia, etcetera), but they never seem to bear on an individual soul, but rather on entire societies.

And then, of course, he spends a seemingly inordinate number of verses in The Works and Days lecturing on the proper time to sow wheat and hire servant girls. Which would seem odd to modern eyes, but which makes perfect sense in Hesiod's universe...

Soooo, he's definitely an interesting read from a certain standpoint (i.e. for anyone who likes to mix their speculative metaphysics with tales of divine fornication). It's not quite the same experience as reading Byron or Eliot, though.
Sep. 5th, 2011 05:03 am (UTC)
I think you're right about the soul. I find the moral order almost looming in Hesiod, but as you say, looming yet with a groundlessness which must be puzzling to us. As Heideggerians, I wonder if we can say that Hesiod fundamentally depicts facticity, that one is thrown into a world whose history has a Zeus.
Sep. 5th, 2011 03:21 pm (UTC)
There are some interesting parallels in Egyptian poetry as well. The Admonitions of Ipu-Wer have the same sort of feel of exhortation as The Works and Days, though these are addressed to the Pharaoh as the divine mediator, rather than the poet's lazy-arse sibling. A Dispute Over Suicide from the same period (1st Intermediate), actually, self-consciously achieves the breakthrough in which the poet identifies himself as the immediate locus of spiritual order and transcendence.

As Heideggerians, I wonder if we can say that Hesiod fundamentally depicts facticity, that one is thrown into a world whose history has a Zeus.

We're Heideggerians now? By cow-eyed Hera, where are the cyanide capsules when they're needed...
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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