(RELIGION, MYTH and the ANCIENT GREEKS – continued)
Another Greek thought to have written before 700 BCE is Hesiod (Hesiodus). With an increase in contacts between various parts of Greece in his time, knowledge of his work spread, as did knowledge of Homer's writing, arousing interest in the mythical past.
According to the British classics scholar M L West, Hesiod describes himself as having become a poet "through instruction from the Muses themselves while he was tending his lambs, or his father's lambs on mountain slopes." Hesiod wanted to put the story of his ancestors into a credible whole – a difficult task. It meant drawing from and reworking stories that had been told orally, stories with ingredients that scholars in modern times trace to Babylon. Hesiod, according to West, expressed it as the Muses "telling him to sing of the family of immortals."
The Greeks viewed Hesiod's writing, like the writings of Homer, as divinely inspired and Hesiod as an instrument of the gods. In his epic poem the Theogony, Hesiod describes the origins of the world and of the gods Gaia, Chaos and Eros. Gaia was a mother goddess that was earth itself. According to Hesiod:
Gaia, the beautiful, rose up, born of Chaos. She was broad-bosomed and the base of all things. And fair Gaia bore the starry heavens, equal to herself, covering her on all sides and home forever for the gods.
Eros was a god of passion and eroticism. Hesiod wrote that Eros was,
... the fairest of the deathless gods; he unstrings the limbs and subdues both mind and sensible thought in the breasts of all gods and all men.
According to Hesiod, the god Kronos descended from Gaia and the primordial god Uranus, and Kronos ruled as lord until overthrown by his son, Zeus. And Zeus dwelled in the highest of mansions, on Mount Olympus – the Greeks like others seeing mountains as mysterious and divine places.
Hesiod described the gods as givers of blessings. He described the Greeks as having descended from a golden race that lived in idle luxury before Zeus was Lord, when Kronos was king. Writes Hesiod:
Men then lived like gods, with carefree heart, without toil and misery. Neither did old age affect them... They enjoyed themselves in feasting, beyond all illness, and they died as if overcome by sleep. All good things were theirs. The grain-giving soil bore its fruits in unstinted plenty, while at their leisure and in contentment they harvested their fields amid abundance.
According to Hesiod this golden race of men was punished by Zeus and fell to a lesser breed. Zeus was angry that they had not offered honor to the gods on Mount Olympus and had not made sacrifices on the sacred altars.
An angry Zeus summoned his subordinate gods to a conference at his heavenly palace. The gods traveled across the Milky Way, and at his palace they decided to destroy humankind and to provide the earth with a new race of mortals more worthy of life and more reverent to them. Zeus feared that the destruction of humankind by fire might set heaven itself aflame, so he called for assistance from a god of the sea, and man was instead swept away by a great flood.
To further explain the fall of men, Hesiod writes of the god Prometheus. Like the Hindu god Agne, Prometheus was a god of fire, and he was a god interested in the welfare of mankind. Hesiod describes Prometheus as stealing fire from the heavens and giving it to mankind. This theft angered Zeus. He had Prometheus chained to a rock high in the Caucasus Mountains. There an eagle or vulture tore at his liver each day, with Zeus causing the liver of Prometheus to grow anew each night in preparation for the next day's torture.
And as punishment for accepting the fire stolen from the heavens, Zeus sent man a curse in the form of woman. Her name was Pandora. Zeus sent her with a magic storage jar (pithos) that he forbade her to open. But after she had been on earth a while she grew curious and opened the jar, and out came the earthly plagues and misfortunes that forever after harmed humankind. Pandora hurriedly put the lid back on, but all that remained inside was hope. Hesiod wrote:
From her is the race of women and female kind: of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble, no helpmate in hateful poverty, but only in wealth.
In real life, Greek men and law treated women as property. In warrior societies males dominated, but what bothered Hesiod was men ceasing to respect their aging parents, treating them with harsh words and not likely to repay their parents for their nurture in ignorance of the gods' punishments. He complains too of men at war sacking towns and men honoring miscreants. He wrote of good people being rewarded: "Decency and Moral Disapproval will go to join the family of the immortals, abandoning mankind." Those who are not good will not fare well. "There will be no help against evil."
However depraved humankind, Hesiod writes of rules for them to stay on the right side of the gods. Among these rules:
Never pour a libation of sparkling wine to Zeus after dawn with unwashed hands, nor to others of the deathless gods (proper purification rituals) else they do not hear your prayers but spit them back.
Don't make water (urinate) while standing upright facing the sun, but remember to do this when he (Zeus) has set towards his rising.
Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.