Edited by Alexander C. Loney and Stephen Scully

OUP (2018) h/b 552pp £97.00 (ISBN 9780190209032)

The latest addition to the Oxford Handbooks series offers a comprehensive overview of the Stand der Forschung on one of antiquity’s greatest poets. In 29 authoritative chapters (excluding the introduction), written by experts in the field, the reader is introduced to Hesiod’s world (Part I, four chapters), poetic art (Part II, seven chapters), and reception within antiquity (Part III, thirteen chapters) and from the Byzantine period to modern times (Part IV, five chapters). As befits the academic subgenre of the handbook, it will be of great value to students, teachers, and scholars seeking orientation on a particular aspect of the poet(s) whom we now call ‘Hesiod’ and the poems we consider ‘Hesiodic’ (a word on this term below). The strong focus on Hesiod’s reception rather than the Hesiodic poems themselves may be somewhat surprising—a point to which I will return. It is impossible to summarize the contents of all chapters here; instead, I shall deal with some overarching themes. 

Traditionally enough, the volume contextualizes Hesiod by beginning from the Hesiodic Question (Koning) —who (one or more poets?) or what (which poems?) are Hesiodic? The next pair of chapters situate Hesiod within the material culture of seventh-century Boiotia (Larson) and the wider world (Tandy), respectively. Katz looks at the Indo-European heritage behind line 35 of the Theogony that stands out as the only language-based chapter in the volume. Part II looks at the practicalities of Hesiodic poetics, focussing on style and form (Scully), structures (Sammons), temporalities (Loney), theology (Martin), aspects of performance (Bakker), exhortation of internal and external addressees (González), and gender (Lye). 

Most importantly, however, the Handbook offers one of the most sustained efforts yet to chart Hesiod’s lasting influence on ancient and modern literature, and has an unprecedented chronological and generic scope, encompassing Hesiod’s reception in Solon (Almeida), the Pre-Socratics (Miller), Orphics (Edmonds III), visual arts (Shapiro), Pindar (Phillips), tragedy (Sommerstein), comedy (Henderson), Plato (Folch), Hellenistic literature (Canevaro), philosophical prose from Aristotle to Posidonius (Wolfsdorf), Vergil (Nelson), Ovid (Ziogas), the Second Sophistic and early Christian literature (Van Noorden), the Byzantine and early Renaissance periods (Zorzi), Christian Humanism (Wolfe), in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Lecznar), Freud (Scully & Stocking), and the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (Jenkins). 

The emphasis on Hesiod’s reception is a distinguishing feature of this volume and follows a trend in recent scholarship, particularly Richard Hunter’s Hesiodic Voices: Studies in the Ancient Reception of Hesiod’s Works and Days (CUP, 2014), Hugo Koning’s Hesiod: The Other Poet. Ancient Reception of a Cultural Icon (Brill, 2010), Stephen Scully’s Hesiod’s Theogony from Near Eastern Creation Myths to Paradise Lost (OUP, 2015), and Zoë Stamatopoulou’s Hesiod and Classical Greek Poetry: Reception and Transformation in the Fifth Century BCE (CUP, 2017), alongside scholarship on the interaction between Hesiod and a particular later author, such as Ovid (I. Ziogas, Ovid and Hesiod: The Metamorphosis of the Catalogue of Women [CUP, 2013] and Plato (G.R. Boys-Stones and J.H. Haubold eds, Plato and Hesiod [OUP, 2010]). 

It also sets this handbook apart from the competition, such as Brill’s Companion to Hesiod (Brill, 2009), edited by Franco Montanari, Antonios Rengakos, and Christos Tsagalis. For the sake of comparison, I note that that companion is focused squarely on the corpus Hesiodicum, its twelve chapters dealing with aspects of authorship, language and style, the Hesiodic reception of Near Eastern literary motifs, ancient scholarship on and biographical readings of the Hesiodic poems, and its reception in Hellenistic and Latin poetry (one each—and nothing beyond Ovid). Although it is not stated anywhere explicitly, it seems that the editors of the handbook have decided on a division of labour so as not to duplicate material in the Brill’s Companion. 

This is understandable, even laudable, but in a volume bearing the mark of the handbook one does expect complete coverage (pace the disclaimer on pp. 1-2). A chapter on language, metre, and style, for instance, would have been useful in itself, but also might have served as a convenient entry point for a discussion of what readers ancient and modern have considered the distinctively Hesiodic style (to which many of the aforementioned studies attest). The same holds for Hesiodic concepts of cosmogony, divinity, and human and divine justice, which inevitably are only discussed piecemeal, depending on an ancient or modern author’s interests in Hesiod (see J.S. Clay, Hesiod’s Cosmos [CUP, 2003] for sustained interpretation). 

Moreover, the handbook’s unwillingness to recognize any other poem beyond the Theogony and Works and Days as ‘Hesiodic’ (whether taken to mean ‘genuinely by Hesiod’ or ‘in the same style or generic vein as Hesiod’), as many readers in antiquity surely did, leads to a rather limited and possibly skewed view of the reception of Hesiod. Although it makes sense to focus on the two major poems, it is somewhat curious that other poems, such as the Catalogue of Women and the Shield of Heracles, which have been experiencing a bit of a renaissance of their own in recent years, are hardly remarked upon. Even within this somewhat limited scope, most attention goes to the Theogony. Nevertheless, this reception-based handbook demonstrates exactly how multifaceted the two major Hesiodic poems are through the variety of responses they evoked (even though the broad-strokes chapters on Hesiod’s reception in a given period, sometimes entire centuries, are necessarily selective and sometimes run the risk of becoming bitty). 

That said, there are plenty of highlights in the volume. For instance, the tour of the lived realities of Hesiod’s Boeotia (Ascra, Thebes, Thespiae, and the Valley of the Muses) by Stephanie Larson is as learned as it is enjoyable, while David Tandy’s foray into the socio-economical world behind the Works and Days is a neat complement to his translation-cum-commentary (with W. Neale, Hesiod’s Works and Days: Introduction, Translation and Commentary for the Social Sciences, University of California Press, 1996). Larson and Tandy show how Hesiod’s world enters and structures his poems, while the poem themselves are shown to be deeply reflective of late-Archaic society, a period of transition during which regional and societal pressures create an intricate political interplay that is represented in miniature in the conflict between Hesiod and his brother Perses and the ruminations on the (un)justness of basilēes in Works and Days (compare and contrast the emerging cosmic dikē under Zeus in the Theogony). The literary classicist will find much archaeological, historical, and sociological material to enrich a reading of Hesiod qua above-average agriculturalist in the changing political and social landscape of Boeotia. 

Hesiod was not the first poet to reflect on mankind’s place in the universe, even if he (with Homer) definitively influenced the Graeco-Roman imagination. Katz’ exploration of Hesiod’s Indo-European heritage is a veritable tour-de-force, demonstrating through a single phrase (Theogony 35: “But what are these matters about a rock and a tree to me?”) how deeply ingrained older formulae, themes, and structures are in Hesiodic thought, demonstrating that Hesiod was capable of creatively and flexibly moulding Indo-European traditions to his needs. Highly intriguing is the quartet of philosophical chapters—Miller’s on Hesiod and the Pre-Socratics Anaximander and Xenophanes (as well as Heraclitus and Parmenides), Edmonds III’s on the Orphics, Folch’s on Plato, and Wolfdorf on the Peripatetic, Epicurean, and Stoic traditions—vindicating Hesiod once and for all as a serious thinker capable of devising sophisticated theological and moral value systems, with which one could take issue, but which one could not afford to ignore. The chapter by Thomas Jenkins on the most recent receptions of Hesiod in literature, film, and videogames includes new insights on some classics as well as a few pleasant surprises, demonstrating that Hesiod’s view of the cosmos is still influential today. 

But why play favourites? All chapters offer at the very least enjoyable and insightful overviews of the state of play, while adding important nuances or revisions in the light of modern scholarship. For those interested in matters of intertextuality and reception, the Handbook has much to offer; those who want to learn more about the Hesiodic poems proper will wish to consult it in conjunction with other resources. The volume is accompanied by a full Index and Index locorum antiquorum (convenient enough for most users, though some will want specific references to the Byzantine and later authors and/or sources quoted—these must be retrieved by pursuing the entries in the general index instead). Save for a handful of trivial typos (p. 63: ‘Hesioidic’; p. 309: ‘trand.’ for ‘trans.’) and some errors of punctuation (twice in the bibliography on p. 41; extra space on p. 300) or typography (the title of Stocking, C. 2017 on p. 141 should be italicized; pp. 330, 332 lack indentation of elegiac pentameters), I have not found any slips. 

This is a landmark publication, unprecedented in scope and ambition: the editors and contributors are to be congratulated for achieving such comprehensive coverage of the Theogony and Works and Days throughout the ages and across a wide range of genres.

Gary Vos

We welcome your comments; please send via our social media.
Back to Reading Room