Hesiod, “Works and Days” and “Theogony” (translated by Stanley Lombardo)

As Robert Lamberton writes in his introduction to this translation, “The Theogony and Works and Days stand alongside the Iliad and Odyssey at the beginning of the European literary tradition.”  And there are instances in which each prompts some comparison with the Bible.

For Works and Days:

  • In his introduction, Lamberton notes that this poem is an example of “wisdom literature,” an “extremely widespread phenomenon” (9, footnote omitted).  Thus, “Books of instruction addressed to princes or simply by fathers to sons are preserved from as early as the third millenium BCE from Sumer and Egypt, and to this day the literatures of traditional societies are rich in advice, often in the form of what we might call ‘proverbs.'”  As to the “the question of influence,” that’s “complex,” since “[t]he patterns of behavior that generate such texts are so widespread that they cannot be said to be characteristic of any one culture or group of cultures.”  These writings are found in the “great libraries of Nineveh and Bogazkoy.”  Lamberton also references “a tradition of wisdom poetry that reaches far back before Greek literacy” (12).  Indeed, one doesn’t have to strain hard at all to see parallels between this poem and Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes (with a little Jewish ritual purity thrown in — see lines 803-839).
  • Later (15), Lamberton is

more specific about the nature of Greek theology’s debts to Mesopotamia.  In the cities between the rivers, king lists organized human history, and these lists themselves, at a sufficient distance in time, merged into god lists. … The Hittite succession myth is dependent on Semitic prototypes that passed on westward to the Greeks.  The Hittites themselves may have had some role as intermediaries, but this was hardly needed, since direct contacts with the east can be easily documented for the Greek world back into the Bronze Age.

  • Hesiod’s division of history into five ages (Golden, Silver, Bronze, of Heroes, and Iron — lines 129-245) has some similarities to Genesis, with the prelapsarian good times, divine anger at humanity, and giants.

For Theogony:

  • I’ll simply note here that the Greek gods are, to be put mildly, quite different from the God we find in the Bible:  much fornication and infighting — “Succession by castration is a feature of several much earlier Eastern creation stories, including the Hittite” (Lombardo’s notes to lines 153-210, on page 93) — and little divine love for humanity.