History in the Theogony

This post is one in a series on the History of Epistemological Thought.  Previously in this series: The Cosmology of Hesiod.

The anthropomorphic aspects of Hesiod's cosmology are interesting in their own right as possible mythological tellings of actual events.  (Herodotus and Plutarch took several myths to be as such)  For example, Zeus's accession to the throne, establishing a new world order can be taken to represent mankind's shift from savagery to civilization and the state.  After defeating Chronos, Zeus couples with Themis.  Thus authority (of the state) is married to natural order, whose literal children are lawfulness (Eunomia), Justice (Dike), and Peace (Eirene).  And through his coupling with Msemonye, he begets the Muses (who can be thought of as the arts themselves).  Thus the supposed boons of civilization and the state are born, after generations of savagery.  Of course another of Zeus's children is Ares: war.

Did the accession of the state really bring these things about?  Was life before the state, represented by Zeus, like the world of the earlier gods, where the only justice was revenge?  In spite of Thomas Hobbes' contention that before the state, the life of man was nasty, brutish and short, there is strong evidence that that is not true.  In fact, there is strong evidence that the first city-states to arise in Mesopotamia created a marked increase in violence.  Was there no justice or lawfulness outside of the state?  Medieval Ireland would be evidence that this was not the case.  And the oral tradition represented by the Muses also pre-dated the state.

With Ouranos's shoving the cyclopes and hecatonshires into Gaia, we have an "orginal sin".

Another interesting "historical" event of the Theogony is the Prometheus "contract".  Prometheus brokers a "settlement" between the gods and man.  He puts before Zeus two piles of the body parts of an ox, and tricks him into choosing the one that was naught but bones and fat.  Thus, was the law established that sacrifices to the gods would be burnt offerings of bones and fat, whereas the good meat was reserved for man (or at least the priests).

Zeus in revenge tried to keep the technology of fire away from mankind.  Prometheus however managed to steal it away for them.  This is one instance in a theme throughout world literature of the gods wanting to hold mankind back in their abilities and technology.

Then in revenge for the theft of fire, Zeus arranges for Pandora, the first woman to be created.  Out of her, the "race" of women was created.  This is perhaps the earliest recorded instance of the "can't live with them, can't live without them" maxim: Hesiod says that women drive men to poverty (as man's eternal foil, a parallel with Biblical Eve), and yet without them, there will be no children to care for men in their old age.

Next in this series: Human Nature in the Theogony.

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