Standing at the very beginning of European literature, the poems and verse fragments that have come down to us under Hesiod’s name tap the vast reservoir of oral tradition constituting Greek wisdom about the ways of gods and men. The Theogony tells of the origins of the gods and the universe, and so of the world-order we know, while the Works and Days offers the first picture of the society and economy of archaic rural Greece. Robert Lamberton provides here an accessible introduction to these works of Hesiod. He discusses the historical background of the poems and the problems of accurately dating them, analyzes the major and subsidiary works, and concludes by tracing the influence of Hesiodic poetry on later Greek and Roman poetry and on Western European literature until after the Renaissance. Throughout, Lamberton restores a sense of the poetry of Hesiod in all the richness of its contradictions. He shows that this body of poetry, which sings of the creation of the universe and the generations of the gods, insists on doing so from the perspective of the humblest of men—a wretched shepherd whom the Muses initiated on Mount Helikon. The poetry speaks through this idiosyncratic, ironic, self-conscious voice, appropriating proverbial wisdom that is clearly the possession of a tradition rather than any individual and transforming it into a discourse that is as much an account of poetry as it is an account of the world. “An important and definitive book. Lamberton combines the sophistication of cultural anthropology with a refined sense for the mechanics and aesthetics of archaic Greek literature and gives Hesiod a fresh and original reading.”—Gregory Nagy, Harvard University
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