Hesiod, Theogony

from Hesiod,
Theogony, Works & Days, Shield translated by A. N. Athanassakis (Baltimore, 2004)


I begin my song with the Helikonian Muses whose domain

is Helikon, the great god-haunted  mountain;

their soft feet move in the dance that rings

the violet-dark spring and the altar of mighty Zeus.

They bathe their lithe bodies in the water  of Permessos or of

Hippokrene or of god-haunted Olmeios.

On Helikon’s peak they join hands in lovely dances

and their pounding feet awaken desire.

From there they set out and, veiled in mist,

glide through the night and raise enchanting voices to exalt

aegis-bearing Zeus and queenly Hera,

the lady of Argos who walks in golden sandals;

gray-eyed Athena, daughter of aegis-bearing Zeus,

and Phoibos Apollon and arrow-shooting Artemis.

They exalt Poseidon, holder and shaker of  the earth,

stately Themis and Aphrodite of the fluttering eyelids,

and gold-wreathed Hebe and fair Dione.

And then they turn their song to Eos, Helios, and bright Selene,

to Leto, Iapetos, and sinuous-minded Kronos,

to Gaia, great Okeanos, and black Night,

and to the holy race of the other deathless gods.

It was they who taught Hesiod beautiful song

as he tended his sheep at the foothills of god-haunted Helikon.

Here are the words the daughters of aegis-bearing  Zeus,

the Muses of Olympos, first spoke to me.

“Listen, you country bumpkins, you pot-bellied blockheads, we

know how to tell many lies that pass for  truth,

and when we wish, we know to tell the truth itself.”

So spoke Zeus’s daughters, masters of word-craft,

and from a laurel in full bloom they plucked  a branch,

and gave it to me as a staff, and then breathed into  me

divine song, that might spread the fame of past and future,

and commanded me to hymn the race of the deathless gods, but

always begin and end my song with  them.

Yet, trees and rocks are not my theme. Let me sing  on!

Ah, my heart, begin with the Muses who hymn father Zeus

and in the realm of Olympos gladden his great  heart;

with sweet voices they speak of things that are

and things that were and will be, and with effortless  smoothness

the song flows from their mouths. The halls of  father Zeus

the thunderer shine with glee and ring, filled with voices

lily-soft and heavenly, and the peaks of snowy Olympos

and the dwellings of the gods resound. With their divine voices

they first sing the glory of the sublime race of the gods

from the beginning,  the children born to Gaia and  vast Ouranos

and of their offspring, the gods who give blessings.

Then they sing of Zeus, father of gods and men-

they begin and end their song with him

and tell of how he surpasses the other gods in rank and  might.

And then again the Olympian Muses and daughters of  aegis-bearing Zeus

hymn the races of men and of the brawny  Giants,

and thrill the heart of Zeus in the realm of Olympos.

Mnemosyne, mistress of the Eleutherian hills,

lay with father Zeus and in Pieria gave birth to the Muses

who soothe men’s troubles  and make them forget their sorrows.

Zeus the counselor, far from the other immortals, leaped

into her sacred bed and lay with her for nine  nights.

And when, as the seasons turned, the months waned,

many many days passed and a year was completed,

she gave birth to nine daughters of harmonious mind,

carefree maidens whose hearts yearn for song;

this was close beneath the highest peak of snowy Olympos, the

very place of their splendid dances and gracious homes.

The Graces and Desire dwell near them and take  part

in their feasts. Lovely are their voices when they sing

and extol for the whole world the laws

and wise customs of all the immortals.

Then they went to Olympos, delighting in their beautiful voices

and their heavenly song. The black earth resounded with  hymns,

and a lovely beat arose as they pounded their feet

and advanced toward their father, the king of the sky

who holds the thunderbolt  that roars and flames.

He subdued his father, Kronos, by might and for the gods

made a fair settlement and gave each his domain.

All this was sung by the Olympian Muses,

great Zeus’s nine daughters whose names are

Kleio, Euterpe, Thaleia, Melpomene,

Terpsichore,  Erato, Polymnia, Ourania,

and Kalliope, preeminent by far,

the singers’ pride in the company of noble kings.

And if the daughters of great Zeus honor a king

cherished by Zeus and look upon him when he is born,

they pour on his tongue sweet  dew

and make the words that flow from his mouth  honey-sweet,

and all the people look up to him as with straight justice

he gives his verdict and with unerring firmness

and wisdom brings some great strife to a swift end.

This is why kings are prudent, and when in the assembly

injustice is done, wrongs are righted

by the kings with ease and gentle persuasion.

When such a king comes to the assembly he stands  out;

yes, he is revered like a god and treated with cheerful respect.

Suchis the holy gift the Muses give men.

The singers and lyre players of this earth

are descended from the Muses and far-shooting Apollon,

but kings are from the line of Zeus. Blessed is the man

whom the Muses love; sweet song flows from his mouth.

A man may have some fresh grief over which to mourn,

and sorrow may have left him no more tears, but if a singer,

a servant of the Muses, sings the glories of ancient men

and hymns the blessed gods who dwell on Olympos,

the heavy-hearted man soon shakes off his dark mood, and oblivion

soothes his grief, for this gift of the gods diverts his mind.

Hail, daughters of Zeus! Grant me the gift of lovely song!

Sing the glories of the holy gods to whom death never comes,

the gods born of Gaia and starry  Ouranos,

and of those whom dark Night bore, or briny Pontos  fostered.

Speak first of how the gods and the earth came into being  

and of how the rivers, the boundless sea with its raging swell,

the glittering stars, and the wide sky above were  created.

Tell of the gods born of them, the givers of blessings,

how they divided wealth, and each was given his  realm,

and how they first gained possession of many-folded Olympos.

Tell me, 0 Muses who dwell on Olympos, and observe proper order

for each thing as it first came into being.

Chaos was born first and after it came Gaia

the broad-breasted,  the firm seat of all

the immortals who hold the peaks  of snowy  Olympos,

and the misty Tartaros in the depths of broad-pathed earth

and Eros, 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.

Chaos gave birth to Erebos and black Night;

then Erebos mated with Night and made her pregnant

and she in turn gave birth to Ether and Day.

Gaia now first gave birth to starry Ouranos,

her match in size, to encompass all of her,

and be the firm seat of all the blessed gods.

She gave birth to the tall mountains, enchanting haunts

of the divine nymphs who dwell in the woodlands;

and then she bore Pontos, the barren sea with its raging   swell.

All these she bore without mating in sweet love.

But then  she did couple with Ouranos to bear deep-eddying Okeanos,

Koios and Kreios, Hyperion and Iapetos,

Theia and Rheia, Themis and  Mnemosyne,

as well as gold-wreathed Phoibe and lovely Tethys.

Kronos, the sinuous-minded, was her  last-born,

a most fearful child who hated his mighty father.

Then she bore the Kyklopes,  haughty  in their might,

Brontes, Steropes, and Arges of the strong spirit,

who made and gave to Zeus the crushing thunder.

In all other respects they were like gods,

but they had one eye in the middle of their foreheads;

their name was Kyklopes because of this single

round eye that leered from their foreheads,

and inventive skill and strength and power were in their  deeds.

Gaia and Ouranos had three other sons, so great  

and mighty that their names are best left unspoken,

Kottos, Briareos, and Gyges, brazen sons all three.


Fig. 1 Nancy Sultan, Hesiod Tree, Humanities 101: World of Ideas, Fall 2016, Illinois Wesleyan.