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Hesiod (Greek: Hēsíodos) was a Greek oral poet and is often identified as the first economist. His date is uncertain but leading scholars , favor the the eighth century BC for when Hesiod lived. Since at least Herodotus's time (Histories, 2.53), Hesiod and Homer have generally been considered the earliest Greek poets whose work has survived, and they are often paired. Scholars disagree about who lived first, and the fourth-century BC sophist Alcidamas' Mouseion even brought them together in an imagined poetic agon, the Contest of Homer and Hesiod. Aristarchus first argued for Homer's priority, a claim that was generally accepted by later antiquity.

Hesiod's writings serve as a major source on Greek mythology, farming techniques, archaic Greek astronomy and ancient time-keeping.


J. A. Symonds writes that "Hesiod is also the immediate parent of gnomic verse, and the ancestor of those deep thinkers who speculated in the Attic Age upon the mysteries of human life."

Some scholars have doubted whether Hesiod alone conceived and wrote the poems attributed to him. For example, Symonds writes that "the first ten verses of the Works and Days are spurious—borrowed probably from some Orphic hymn to Zeus and recognised as not the work of Hesiod by critics as ancient as Pausanias."

As with Homer, legendary traditions have accumulated around Hesiod. Unlike Homer's case, however, some biographical details have survived: a few details of Hesiod's life come from three references in Works and Days; some further inferences derive from his Theogony. His father came from Cymemarker in Aeolis, which lay between Ionia and the Troad in Northwestern Anatoliamarker, but crossed the sea to settle at a hamlet near Thespiae in Boeotia named Ascra, "a cursed place, cruel in winter, hard in summer, never pleasant" (Works, l. 640). Hesiod's patrimony there, a small piece of ground at the foot of Mount Heliconmarker, occasioned a pair of lawsuits with his brother Perses, who won both under the same judges.

Some scholars have seen Perses as a literary creation, a foil for the moralizing that Hesiod directed to him in Works and Days, but in the introduction to his translation of Hesiod's works, Hugh G. Evelyn-White provides several arguments against this theory. Gregory Nagy, on the other hand, sees both Persēs ("the destroyer": / perthō) and Hēsiodos ("he who emits the voice:" / hiēmi + / audē) as fictitious names for poetical personae.

The Muses traditionally lived on Helicon, and, according to the account in Theogony (ll. 22-35), gave Hesiod the gift of poetic inspiration one day while he tended sheep (compare the legend of Cædmon). Hesiod later mentions a poetry contest at Chalcismarker in Euboeamarker where the sons of one Amiphidamas awarded him a tripod (ll.654-662). Plutarch first cited this passage as an interpolation into Hesiod's original work, based on his identification of Amiphidamas with the hero of the Lelantine War between Chalcis and Eretriamarker, which occurred around 705 BC. Plutarch assumed this date much too late for a contemporary of Homer, but most Homeric academics would now accept it. The account of this contest, followed by an allusion to the Trojan War, inspired the later tales of a competition between Hesiod and Homer.

Two different—yet early—traditions record the site of Hesiod's grave. One, as early as Thucydides, reported in Plutarch, the Suda and John Tzetzes, states that the Delphic oraclemarker warned Hesiod that he would die in Nemea, and so he fled to Locris, where he was killed at the local temple to Nemean Zeus, and buried there. This tradition follows a familiar ironic convention: the oracle that predicts accurately after all.

The other tradition, first mentioned in an epigram of Chersios of Orchomenus written in the 7th century BC (within a century or so of Hesiod's death) claims that Hesiod lies buried at Orchomenusmarker, a town in Boeotia. According to Aristotle's Constitution of Orchomenus, when the Thespian ravaged Ascra, the villagers sought refuge at Orchomenus, where, following the advice of an oracle, they collected the ashes of Hesiod and placed them in a place of honour in their agora, beside the tomb of Minyas, their eponymous founder, and in the end came to regard Hesiod too as their "hearth-founder" ( / oikistēs).

Later writers attempted to harmonize these two accounts.

The legends that accumulated about Hesiod are recorded in several sources: the story "The poetic contest ( / Agōn) of Homer and Hesiod;" a vita of Hesiod by the Byzantine grammarian John Tzetzes; the entry for Hesiod in the Suda; two passages and some scattered remarks in Pausanias (IX, 31.3–6 and 38.3–4); a passage in Plutarch Moralia (162b).


Of the many works attributed to Hesiod, three survive complete and many more in fragmentary state. Our witnesses include Alexandrianmarker papyri, some dating from as early as the 1st century BC, and manuscripts written from the eleventh century forward. Demetrius Chalcondyles issued the first printed edition (editio princeps) of Works and Days, possibly at Milan, probably in 1493. In 1495 Aldus Manutius published the complete works at Venice.

Hesiod's works, especially Works and Days, are from the view of the small independent farmer, while Homer's view is from nobility or the rich. Even with these differences, they share some beliefs regarding work ethic, justice, and consideration of material items.

Some (eg A. D. Momigliano) have detected a proto-historical perspective in Hersiod. This is rejected by Paul Cartledge as Hersiod advocates a not-forgetting without any attempt at verification.

Works and Days

Hesiod wrote a poem of some 800 verses, the Works and Days, which revolves around two general truths: labour is the universal lot of Man, but he who is willing to work will get by. Scholars have interpreted this work against a background of agrarian crisis in mainland Greecemarker, which inspired a wave of documented colonisation in search of new land.

This work lays out the five Ages of Man, as well as containing advice and wisdom, prescribing a life of honest labour and attacking idleness and unjust judges (like those who decided in favour of Perses) as well as the practice of usury. It describes immortals who roam the earth watching over justice and injustice. The poem regards labor as the source of all good, in that both gods and men hate the idle, who resemble drones in a hive.


"Theogony," a poem which uses the same epic verse-form as the "Works and Days", is also attributed to Hesiod. Despite the different subject matter, most scholars, with some notable exceptions (like Evelyn-White), believe that the two works were written by the same man. As M.L. West writes, "Both bear the marks of a distinct personality: a surly, conservative countryman, given to reflection, no lover of women or life, who felt the gods' presence heavy about him."

The Theogony concerns the origins of the world (cosmogony) and of the gods (theogony), beginning with Gaia, Chaos and Eros, and shows a special interest in genealogy. Embedded in Greek myth, there remain fragments of quite variant tales, hinting at the rich variety of myth that once existed, city by city; but Hesiod's retelling of the old stories became, according to the fifth-century historian Herodotus, the accepted version that linked all Hellenes.

The creation myth in Hesiod has long been held to have Eastern influences, such as the Hittite Song of Kumarbi and the Babylonianmarker Enuma Elis. This cultural crossover would have occurred in the eight and ninth century Greek trading colonies such as Al Mina in North Syria. (For more discussion, read Robin Lane Fox's Travelling Heroes and Walcot's Hesiod and the Near East.)

Other writings

A short poem traditionally no longer attributed to Hesiod is The Shield of Heracles ( / Aspis Hērakleous). This survives complete; the other works discussed in this section survive only in quotations or papyri copies which are often damaged.

Classical authors also attributed to Hesiod a lengthy genealogical poem known as Catalogue of Women or Ehoiae (because sections began with the Greek words ē hoiē, "Or like the one who ..."). It was a mythological catalogue of the mortal women who had mated with gods, and of the offspring and descendants of these unions.

Several additional poems were sometimes ascribed to Hesiod:
  • Aegimius
  • Astrice
  • Chironis Hypothecae
  • Idaei Dactyli
  • Wedding of Ceyx
  • Great Works (presumably an expanded Works and Days)
  • Great Eoiae (presumably an expanded Catalogue of Women)
  • Melampodia
  • Ornithomantia

Scholars generally classify all these as later examples of the poetic tradition to which Hesiod belonged, not as the work of Hesiod himself. The Shield, in particular, appears to be an expansion of one of the genealogical poems, taking its cue from Homer's description of the Shield of Achilles.

"Portrait" Bust

The Roman bronze bust of the late first century BC found at Herculaneummarker, the so-called Pseudo-Seneca, was first reidentified as a fictitious portrait meant for Hesiod by Gisela Richter, though it had been recognized that the bust was not in fact Seneca since 1813, when an inscribed herm portrait with quite different features was discovered. Most scholars now follow her identification.

Manuscripts of Hesiod

Mss. of Works and Days:

  • S Oxyrhynchus Papyri 1090
  • A Vienna, Rainer Papyri L.P. 21-9 (4th cent.).
  • B Geneva, Naville Papyri Pap. 94 (6th cent.).
  • C Paris, Bibl. Nat. 2771 (11th cent.).
  • D Florence, Laur. xxxi 39 (12th cent.).
  • E Messina, Univ. Lib. Preexistens 11 (12th-13th cent.).
  • F Rome, Vatican 38 (14th cent.).
  • G Venice, Marc. ix 6 (14th cent.).
  • H Florence, Laur. xxxi 37 (14th cent.).
  • I Florence, Laur. xxxii 16 (13th cent.).
  • K Florence, Laur. xxxii 2 (14th cent.).
  • L Milan, Ambros. G 32 sup. (14th cent.).
  • M Florence, Bibl. Riccardiana 71 (15th cent.).
  • N Milan, Ambros. J 15 sup. (15th cent.).
  • O Paris, Bibl. Nat. 2773 (14th cent.).
  • P Cambridge, Trinity College (Gale MS.), O.9.27 (13th-14th cent.).
  • Q Rome, Vatican 1332 (14th cent.).

These MSS. are divided by Rzach into the following families,issuing from a common original: --

a = C

b = F,G,H

  • a = D
  • b = I,K,L,M

  • a = E
  • b = N,O,P,Q

Mss. of Theogony:

  • N Manchester, Rylands GK. Papyri No. 54 (1st cent. B.C. - 1st cent. A.D.).
  • O Oxyrhynchus Papyri 873 (3rd cent.).
  • A Paris, Bibl. Nat. Suppl. Graec. (papyrus) 1099 (4th-5th cent.).
  • B London, British Museam clix (4th cent.).
  • R Vienna, Rainer Papyri L.P. 21-9 (4th cent.).
  • C Paris, Bibl. Nat. Suppl. Graec. 663 (12th cent.).
  • D Florence, Laur. xxxii 16 (13th cent.).
  • E Florence, Laur., Conv. suppr. 158 (14th cent.).
  • F Paris, Bibl. Nat. 2833 (15th cent.).
  • G Rome, Vatican 915 (14th cent.).
  • H Paris, Bibl. Nat. 2772 (14th cent.).
  • I Florence, Laur. xxxi 32 (15th cent.).
  • K Venice, Marc. ix 6 (15th cent.).
  • L Paris, Bibl. Nat. 2708 (15th cent.).

These MSS. are divided into two families:

  • a = C,D
  • b = E,F
  • c = G,H,I

  • = K,L

Mss. of Shield of Heracles:

  • P Oxyrhynchus Papyri 689 (2nd cent.).
  • A Vienna, Rainer Papyri L.P. 21-29 (4th cent.).
  • Q Berlin Papyri, 9774 (1st cent.).
  • B Paris, Bibl. Nat., Suppl. Graec. 663 (12th cent.).
  • B Paris, Bibl. Nat., Suppl. Graec. 663 (12th cent.).
  • D Milan, Ambros. C 222 (13th cent.).
  • E Florence, Laur. xxxii 16 (13th cent.).
  • F Paris, Bibl. Nat. 2773 (14th cent.).
  • G Paris, Bibl. Nat. 2772 (14th cent.).
  • H Florence, Laur. xxxi 32 (15th cent.).
  • I London, British Museaum Harleianus (14th cent.).
  • K Rome, Bibl. Casanat. 356 (14th cent.)
  • L Florence, Laur. Conv. suppr. 158 (14th cent.).
  • M Paris, Bibl. Nat. 2833 (15th cent.).

These MSS. belong to two families:

  • a = B,C,D,F
  • b = G,H,I
  • a = E
  • b = K,L,M

To these must be added two MSS. of mixed family:

  • N Venice, Marc. ix 6 (14th cent.).
  • O Paris, Bibl. Nat. 2708 (15th cent.).

Mss. of the fragments of Catalogue of Women:

  • Berlin Papyri 7497 (1) (2nd cent.). -- Frag. 7.
  • Oxyrhynchus Papyri 421 (2nd cent.). -- Frag. 7.
  • "Petrie Papyri" iii 3. -- Frag. 14.
  • "Papiri greci e latine", No. 130 (2nd-3rd cent.). -- Frag. 14.
  • Strassburg Papyri, 55 (2nd cent.). -- Frag. 58.
  • Berlin Papyri 9739 (2nd cent.). -- Frag. 58.
  • Berlin Papyri 10560 (3rd cent.). -- Frag. 58.
  • Berlin Papyri 9777 (4th cent.). -- Frag. 98.
  • "Papiri greci e latine", No. 131 (2nd-3rd cent.). -- Frag.99.
  • Oxyrhynchus Papyri 1358-9.


  1. Rothbard, Murray N., Economic Thought Before Adam Smith: Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, Vol. 1, Cheltenham, UK, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd, 1995, pg. 8.
  2. Gordan, Barry J., Economic analysis before Adam Smith: Hesiod to Lessius (1975), pg. 3
  3. Brockway, George P., The End of Economic Man: An Introduction to Humanistic Economics, fourth edition (2001), pg 128.
  4. West, T.W. Allen
  5. eg Sparta and Lakonia - A regional history 1300 to 362 BC 2nd Edition, p46 Paul Cartledge
  6. M.L. West, "Hesiod," in Oxford Classical Dictionary, second edition (Oxford: University Press, 1970), p. 510.
  7. J. A. Symonds, Studies of the Greek Poets, p. 166
  8. J. A. Symonds, p. 167
  9. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica (Cambridge: Harvard Press, 1964) Volume 57 of the Loeb Classical Library, pp. xivf.
  10. Gregory Nagy, Greek Mythology and Poetics (Cornell 1990), pp. 36-82.
  11. Translated in Evelyn-White, Hesiod, pp. 565-597.
  12. Sparta and Lakonia - A regional history 1300 to 362 BC 2nd Edition, Paul Cartledge
  13. Hesiod, Works and Days, line 250: "Verily upon the earth are thrice ten thousand immortals of the host of Zeus, guardians of mortal man. They watch both justice and injustice, robed in mist, roaming abroad upon the earth." (Compare J. A. Symonds, p. 179)
  14. Works and Days, line 300: "Both gods and men are angry with a man who lives idle, for in nature he is like the stingless drones who waste the labor of the bees, eating without working."
  15. West, "Hesiod", p. 521.
  16. Gisela Richter (1965). The Portraits of the Greeks. London: Phaidon, I, 58ff; commentators agreeing with Richter include Wolfram Prinz, 1973. "The Four Philosophers by Rubens and the Pseudo-Seneca in Seventeenth-Century Painting" The Art Bulletin 55.3 (September 1973), pp. 410-428. " feels that it may just as well have been the Greek writer Hesiod..." and Martin Robertson, in his review eview of G. Richter, The Portraits of the Greeks for The Burlington Magazine 108.756 (March 1966), pp 148-150. "...with Miss Richter, I accept the identification as Hesiod"
  17. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns and Homerica, p. xliii-xlvii.


  • Allen, T. W. and Arthur A. Rambaut, 'The Date of Hesiod', The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 35 (1915), 85-99
  • Buckham, Philip Wentworth, Theatre of the Greeks, 1827.
  • Lamberton, Robert, Hesiod, New Haven : Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0300040687
  • Murray, Gilbert, A History of Ancient Greek Literature, New York : D. Appleton and Company, 1897. Cf. pp. 53 and onward for Hesiod.
  • Peabody, Berkley, The Winged Word: A Study in the Technique of Ancient Greek Oral Composition as Seen Principally Through Hesiod's Works and Days, State University of New York Press, 1975. ISBN 0873950593
  • Pucci, Pietro, Hesiod and the Language of Poetry, Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977. ISBN 0801817870
  • Rohde, Erwin, Psyche, 1925.
  • Symonds, John Addington, Studies of the Greek Poets, 1873.
  • Taylor, Thomas, A Dissertation on the Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries, 1791.
  • Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns and Homerica, p. xliii-xlvii.

Selected translations

  • George Chapman, The Works of Hesiod, London, 1618, dedicated to Sir Francis Bacon.
  • Cooke, Hesiod, Works and Days, Translated from the Greek, London, 1728
  • Sinclair, Thomas Alan (translator), Hesiodou Erga kai hemerai, London, Macmillan and co., 1932.
  • West, Martin Litchfield (translator), Hesiod Works & Days, Oxford University Press, 1978, ISBN 0-19-814005-3. Edited with Prolegomena and Commentary.
  • Athanassakis, Apostolos N., Theogony ; Works and days ; Shield / Hesiod; introduction, translation, and notes, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983. ISBN 0801829984
  • Frazer, R.M. (Richard McIlwaine), The Poems of Hesiod, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983. ISBN 0806118377
  • Tandy, David W., and Neale, Walter C. [translators], Works and Days: a translation and commentary for the social sciences, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. ISBN 0520203836
  • Schlegel, Catherine M., and Henry Weinfield, translators, Theogony and Works and Days, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2006
  • Most, Glenn, translator, Hesiod, 2 vols., Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2006-07.

Further reading

  • Athanassakis, Apostolos N., [guest editor], Essays on Hesiod I, Ramus: Critical Studies in Greek and Roman Literature, Vol. 21, no 1 (1992), and Essays on Hesiod II, Ramus: Critical Studies in Greek and Roman Literature, Vol. 21, no 2 (1992), La Trobe Universitymarker and Aureal Publications, Australia. [1726]
  • Athanassakis, A.N., Cattle and Honour in Homer and Hesiod, Ramus, v.21, n.2 (1992), pp. 156-186.
  • Martin, Richard P. Hesiod's metanastic poetics, Ramus, 21 (1992), 11-33.
  • Debiasi, Andrea. Esiodo e l'Occidente. Roma, L'Erma di Bretschneider, 2008, 220 p. (Hesperìa, 24).

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