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M. L. West

Author and translator of many books on classical literature and criticism.

M. L. West

Theogony, Works and Days

Author/Artist: M. L. West
ISBN: 0192839411
Publisher: Oxford University Press

This new, fully-annotated translation by a leading expert on Hesiodic poems combines accuracy with readability and includes an introduction and explanatory notes on these two works by one of the oldest known Greek poets. The Theogony contains a systematic genealogy and account of the struggles of the gods, and the Works and Days offers a compendium of moral and practical advice for a life of honest husbandry.

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Standard reading
Hesiod is thought to have lived about the same time as Homer. In his "Theogony" he offers perhaps the most detailed Grecian creation myth still in existence. It traces the emergence of Gaia, her marriage to Ouranos, the fatherly castrations (Kronos / Ouranos & Zeus / Kronos), the hegemony of Zeus as well as a good bit of neurotic misogyny mixed in for good measure. The geneologies serve as a wonderful preamble for those who wish to read Homer and Virgil later on.

Above all else, however, Hesiod pays homage to Zeus. In page after page, the adulation that the author holds for the thunder god is unmistakable. There is no doubting as to who the "hero" of the poem is.

"Works And Days" can best be described as one of the earliest farmers almanacs in the western world. It is written as an "instruction manual for life" for his indolent brother, Perses. Throughout the work, Hesiod admonishes Perses on the subjects of ethics, self-control and moderation. He also writes on how to run a farm and when the best times to sail are. Later authors of this genre, such as Xenophon & Virgil, doubtlessly were inspired by Hesiod.

Theognis came a few centuries later than Hesiod, somewhere around 550 BC. His "Elegies" give a fascinating look at the transformation of Greek life in the 6th century. Slowly but surely, the Aristoi (the Greek ruling party) saw the erosion of its status, power & wealth. No longer were armies made up of the elite class; more and more, armies were comprised of hoplites, made up of working-class peasants. Along with the wartime duties went the justification (Arete) of the Aristoi's claim to power.

In the "Elegies" we discover the frustrations of an upper-class Grecian gentleman who is forced to deal with the changing idealogies. He spurns the thought of poverty above all else, but comes to the realization that, for the 1st time, it is possible for a member of the Aristoi to be poor.

Like Hesiod, much of Theognis is told in an advisory manner. However, Theognis is far more inconsistent than H, especially when it comes to the concept of wealth.

Wender does an exceptional job at translating these early Greek texts. She also offers helpful introductions which set the tone for both authors' poems. Her commentary is especially insightful on why she believes there were "2" Hesiods (1 artist for each poem) rather than 1.

I will leave you with a sagacious passage from one of Theognis' elegies:

No one is always lucky in all things;

Good men endure bad luck without complaint,

The common man cannot control himself

In good times or in bad. All sorts of gifts

Come to us mortals from the gods; we must

Endure, whatever sorts of gifts they give.

David Scott Roberts, United States
added 2003-02-12

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