PDF Hesiodic Voices: Studies in the Ancient Reception of Hesiods Works and Days

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Richard Hunter, Hesiodic Voices: Studies in the Ancient Reception of Hesiod's Works and Days. Cambridge classical studies. Cambridge; New.
Table of contents

Plutarch's Works and Days, and Proclus', and Hesiod's; 5. Aesop and Hesiod; 6. Hesiod's style: towards an ancient analysis. A central chapter considers the development of ancient ideas about didactic poetry, relying not so much on explicit critical theory as on how Hesiod was read and used from the earliest period of reception onwards.

Other chapters consider Hesiodic reception in the archaic poetry of Alcaeus and Simonides, in the classical prose of Plato, Xenophon and Isocrates, in the Aesopic tradition, and in the imperial prose of Dio Chrysostom and Lucian; there is also a groundbreaking study of Plutarch's extensive commentary on the Works and Days and an account of ancient ideas of Hesiod's linguistic style. This is a major and innovative contribution to the study of Hesiod's remarkable poem and to the Greek literary engagement with the past.

Reading Hesiod; 2. Toggle navigation. Montanari, A. Rengakos, and Ch. Tsagalis Leiden — This presentation examines what is said about the life and times of the poet Hesiod in two sets of ancient sources. The first set is the actual poetry ascribed to Hesiod, primarily the Theogony and the Works and Days. As for the second set, it consists of ancient texts that were external to that poetry. Out of these passages a skeletal biography of Hesiod can be constructed along the following lines.

The son of a poor emigrant from Asia Minor, born in Ascra, a small village of Boeotia, Hesiod was raised as a shepherd, but one day, without having had any training by human teachers, he suddenly found himself able to produce poetry. He attributed the discovery of this unexpected capability to a mystical experience in which the Muses themselves initiated him into the craft of poetry.

He went on to achieve success in poetic competitions at least once, in Chalcis; unlike his father, he did not have to make his living on the high seas. He quarreled with his brother Perses about their inheritance, accusing him of laziness and injustice. This line of reasoning is based on an assumption.

Richard L. Hunter

It is as if such a reality could be reconstructed by taking literally whatever the figure of Hesiod says about himself in Hesiodic poetry. It was this poetry that brought to life the person that is Hesiod. What, then, can we say about the reality that was Hesiodic poetry? Let us begin with two observations about two generally recognized historical facts about the making of Hesiodic poetry:. The second of these two observations needs further clarification. The dissemination of Homeric and Hesiodic poetry, it has been claimed, was a result of textualization.

The same can be said more generally about the archaic era extending from the eighth through the sixth century BCE: in this era, there is no evidence for any widespread dissemination of any texts of poetry.


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There is an alternative way, however, to explain the dissemination of Homeric and Hesiodic poetry during this archaic period. To put it most simply, Homeric and Hesiodic poetry were disseminated as oral poetry. This unified formulation is based on 1 general observations about the factor of dissemination in oral poetry and 2 specific observations about the dissemination of Homeric and Hesiodic poetry as oral poetry: [ 14 ].

To relativize pan-Hellenic is to recognize that the pan-Hellenization of Homer and Hesiod, just like other aspects of pan-Hellenism, cannot be described in absolute terms of universalization.

Brill's Companion to Hesiod

Despite the totalizing ideology implicit in the term pan-Hellenic , the pan-Hellenization of Homer and Hesiod was not an absolute: it was merely a tendency toward a notional absolute. By extension, the Muses are absolutized as the sources of this memory for the poet of the Theogony. More than that, what is unforgettable is an absolute thing. It is something that is absolutely memorable. It is therefore the absolute truth. Shepherds living in the fields, base objects of reproach, mere bellies!

There are comparable passages in the Homeric Odyssey that help us understand the poetic agenda of what the Muses are quoted as saying to Hesiod. So also in the case of the wandering Odysseus himself, he too behaves like such a wandering oral poet while being hosted as an unidentified guest at the court of Alkinoos the king of the Phaeacians.

Hesiod is now to be freed from having to tell the kinds of things he would tell in order to feed his belly for survival. And a sign of the falseness of those things is that they are many, multiple. This uniqueness is a sign of the pan-Hellenism claimed by Hesiodic poetry, which is capable of achieving something that goes beyond the reach of multiple local poetic traditions. And who are these Muses who initiate Hesiod, thereby transforming him from a humble shepherd into a poet of pan-Hellenic stature? Like Hesiod, whose local origins are rooted in the region of Mount Helicon in Boeotia, these goddesses are local to the same region.

But they too, like Hesiod, are transformed. And, in the process of being relocated, the Heliconian Muses are transformed into the Olympian Muses.

Hesiod - Wikipedia audio article

In the process of initiating Hesiod as a pan-Hellenic poet, these goddesses can begin their transformation from Heliconian into Olympian Muses. Just as we saw them descending from Helicon 9 , we now see them ascending to Olympus And, as Olympian Muses, they achieve pan-Hellenic status, just as Hesiod achieves pan-Hellenic status as a poet. The comparative evidence from the Homeric Hymns is decisive in this regard: in these Hymns , the ascent of gods and goddesses to the heights of Olympus is tantamount to achieving pan-Hellenic status.

It is a story that universalizes the figure of Hesiod as poet, making him a generic representative of a pan-Hellenic form of poetry. It is as if the stories about the life and times of Hesiod had no historical value at all.

But the real historical facts are the stories themselves, which are artifacts that have their own historical reality. For an objective analysis of these stories in their historical contexts, the point of reference must be the real world in which the stories were told, not the artificial world as created by the artifice that went into the telling of the stories. The artifice of telling stories about Hesiod was not a matter of fiction.

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By contrast, the various stories telling about the life of Hesiod were telling something real about a reality. That reality was the poetry of Hesiod. And the same can be said, as we will see later, about the various stories telling about the life of Homer: they too were telling a myth , which was the myth of Homer. In using this word myth , I have in mind the meaning of the Greek word from which it derives, muthos , which in its earlier phases was understood to be the telling of something that is real - real not only for an individual but also, collectively, for society.

In terms of the earlier understanding of the word muthos , by contrast, the myths told by Homer and Hesiod were true, not false. And the same goes for myths told about Homer and Hesiod: they too were true, not false.

Annual Webster Lecture with Richard Hunter (Cambridge) | Stanford Humanities

A case in point is the use of the word muthos in the Hesiodic Theogony 24 with reference to what the Muses are quoted as saying to Hesiod in the three verses I already quoted 26—28 : these verses spoken by the Muses are a notional retelling by Hesiod of the muthos told by the goddesses This muthos , then, is not only about the Muses in the act of speaking to Hesiod: it is also about Hesiod.

Because the Muses are speaking to him and thereby initiating him as a poet, Hesiod becomes part of the muthos - part of the true story. This story that tells about the initiation of Hesiod by the Muses is thus a myth in the older sense of the word muthos - in the sense of a true story. That is because this story defines Hesiod in terms of his relationship to the Muses. As we have already seen, the story tells how the Muses make Hesiod a pan-Hellenic poet.

He achieves this status because the Heliconian Muses become Olympian Muses in the process of initiating him. And these goddesses become Olympian, as we have also seen, by virtue of the fact that the Theogony actually shows them ascending to take their rightful place on Mount Olympus, just as other gods and goddesses become Olympian by virtue of the fact that they too are shown ascending to Mount Olympus. We have already noted the myths that show such Olympian ascents in the Homeric Hymns.

Such myths about the achievement of Olympian status by a special grouping of gods are presupposed in the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey , where the pan-Hellenic status of the Olympian gods is marked by their location on Mount Olympus. We have already seen that the pan-Hellenization of Hesiodic poetry, as defined by the Olympian Muses, can be explained in terms of oral poetry. Can this myth be explained in terms of oral poetry as well?

In the case of Hesiodic poetry, we can see references to all four of these aspects of oral poetry: composition , performance , reception , and transmission. In the Theogony , references to the composition and performance of Hesiodic poetry are expressed by way of picturing the Muses as the models of Hesiod. So the content of Hesiodic composition emanates from them.

Studies in the Ancient Reception of Hesiod's Works and Days

The Muses are pictured as actually starting the song to be sung by Hesiod, which is their own song — Their theogonic performance is thus the model for the performance of the Hesiodic Theogony. I use the term reception here not in the narrow sense that applies in studies of literature, where this term conventionally refers to whatever happens after a given piece of literature is composed for transmission to the public. A broader sense of the term is needed when we are dealing with literary traditions that stem from oral traditions, as in the case of Hesiodic poetry.

How, then, are we to understand the phenomenon of reception in oral traditions? The answer has to do with the transmission of composition by way of performance. In any oral tradition, as we saw earlier, the process of composition is linked to the process of performance, and any given composition can be recomposed each time it is performed. The performer who recomposes the composition in performance may be the same performer who composed it earlier, or it may be a new performer, even a succession of new performers.

The point is, such recomposition-in-performance is the essence of transmission in oral traditions. This kind of transmission is the key to a broader understanding of reception. Unlike what happens in literature, where reception by the public happens only after a piece of literature is transmitted, reception in oral traditions happens during as well as after transmission. That is because the process of composition in oral traditions allows for recomposition on each new occasion of performance for a public that sees and hears the performer. In oral traditions, there is an organic link between reception and performance, since no performance can succeed without a successful reception by the public that sees and hears the performer or performers.

The link between reception and performance affects the actual content of the composition performed before a given public. That is because the performance of a given composition can speak about itself. For example, the performance can say things about the context of performance or even about the performer or performers.