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Theogony Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Hesiod's Theogony. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Hesiod

Hesiod is one of the oldest known Greek poets, writing in the eighth and seventh century B.C., roughly contemporaneous with Homer. Very little is known about Hesiod (even his lifespan is somewhat contentious), though scholars have been able to piece together bits of Hesiod’s life based on admissions in his own poems. For instance, most scholars agree that Hesiod hailed from Boeotia (central Greece), and his father was originally from Cyme. Hesiod’s poems, like that of Homer, draw their subject matter from myth and legend, detailing the struggles of gods, goddesses, and heroes, as well as more everyday influences such as agricultural and pastoral life in ancient Greece. Hesiod is best known for his poems Works and Days and the Theogony. While Hesiod was certainly influenced by existing mythology, as well as by older oral compositions, he also spun many of his own tales; Hesiod himself is the source of many of the oldest versions of Greek myths, including the stories of Pandora, Prometheus, and more.
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Historical Context of Theogony

Hesiod wrote in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C., a time poised between the peaks of the semi-mythical Mycenaean age that much epic poetry takes as its subject matter, and the widespread cultural and political achievements of fifth-century B.C. Athens. As Greece recovered from the so-called “Greek Dark Age” that spanned the twelfth to the ninth centuries B.C., epic poetry flourished, drawing on existing oral and religious traditions. Hesiod’s poetry is also influenced by the largely agricultural society of ancient Greece, with pastoral wisdom and a keen sense of dependence on the natural world suffusing his poems.

Other Books Related to Theogony

Writing the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. in Greece, Hesiod was immersed in the myth and epic poetry of his contemporaries. However, few other works from this time have survived, with Hesiod’s poetry in some cases representing the oldest extant version of certain myths. One notable contemporary is the poet Homer, who also wrote in the epic vein and composed works such as The Iliad and The Odyssey, although it is a matter of scholarly debate whether Hesiod and Homer were aware of each other’s work. Along with Homer, Hesiod was in some ways considered to be the founder of Greek epic poetry, and his influence upon subsequent generations of writers was significant. Poets and dramatists in classical Greece such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides also drew from the rich tapestry of Greek myth to craft works like the Oresteia (Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides, Oedipus Rex, and the The Bacchae. In later centuries, Roman poets like Virgil show the influence of Hesiod’s pastoral poetry in works like The Aeneid.
Key Facts about Theogony
  • Full Title: Theogony
  • When Written: c. 700 B.C.
  • Where Written: Boeotia
  • When Published: N/A
  • Literary Period: Archaic Greece
  • Genre: Epic Poetry
  • Setting: Greece
  • Climax: Zeus wins in the battle against the Titans.
  • Antagonist: Heaven, Kronos
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient

Extra Credit for Theogony

Divine Intervention. Hesiod claimed that he began writing poetry after encouragement from the Muses, goddesses representing the creative arts, when they visited him as he tended sheep as a young man.

Influence. The mythology detailed in the Theogony is thought to have had near-eastern influences, most notably Babylonian and Hittite.