The Inspiration of Hesiod

This post is one in a series on the History of Epistemological Thought.  Previously in this series: Epistemology in (Western) History: From Hesiod to Hoppe.

One ancient day, at the foot of Mount Helicon in Boeotia, a lowly shepherd named Hesiod tended his flock.  Upon entering a clearing, he found to his astonishment nine unspeakably beautiful goddesses standing before him.  These were the Muses, the divine patronesses of the rhythmical arts (that which we call "music" in derivation from their name).  It is by the grace of the Muses that the choir sings, the flutist trills, and the dancer twirls.  These benificient goddesses impart their own divine abilities upon the mortals they favor.  And on that day, they chose to favor a mere shepherd.  The Muses gave Hesiod a staff of laurel to signify his new status, and literally inspired him by exhaling their "divine voice" directly into the shepherd's lungs.  With the divine voice came not only the ability to sing, but the knowledge of songs themselves.  And these were not short songs of love or worship.  These were songs that told stories: true stories.  Nor were these just brutish tales of kings and wars, but of origins: the genesis of man, the births of the gods, and the dawn of existence itself.  Thus did Hesiod the shepherd become Hesiod the poet.

At least that is what Hesiod himself says happened.  We may not take his word for it, but we should be glad that he (or one of his successors), unlike most of his poet contemporaries, took the trouble to learn how to write, and to write his poems down.  His works, written some 2,700 years ago, are, along with those of Homer, the earliest surviving works of western literature.  But Hesiod's writings do not only give us a window into the superstitions of antiquity.  For strikingly, in Hesiod's writings, situated as they are at the dawn of the western literary tradition,  we have an artifact of ancient reason.  His works evince a mind striving to work out the subtleties of natural and moral philosophy through the medium of mythology.  This is especially true with his epic poem, the Theogony, which I will discuss next.

Next in this series: Introducing the Theogony


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