(I studied this text at Columbia but never read it in it’s entirety until 2001. Theogony is 40 pages long.)
“ First it was Chaos, and next broad-bosomed Earth, ever secure seat of all the immortals, who inhabit the peaks of snow-capped Olympus, and dark dim Tartaros in a recess of Earth having-broad-ways, 120 and Eros [Love], who is most beautiful among immortal gods, Eros that relaxes the limbs, and in the breasts of all gods and all men, subdues their reason and prudent counsel. But from Chaos were born Erebos and black Night; and from Night again sprang forth Aether and Day, 125 whom she bore after having conceived, by union with Erebos in love…”
Hesiod’s Theogony is a large-scale synthesis of a vast variety of local Greek traditions concerning the gods, organized as a narrative that tells how they came to be and how they established permanent control over the Cosmos. It is the first Greek mythical cosmogony. The initial state of the universe is chaos, a dark indefinite void considered a divine primordial condition from which everything else appeared. Theogonies are a part of Greek mythology which embodies the desire to articulate reality as a whole; this universalizing impulse was fundamental for the first later projects of speculative theorizing.
In many cultures, narratives about the origin of the Cosmos and about the gods that shaped it are a way for society to reaffirm its native cultural traditions. Specifically, theogonies tend to affirm kingship as the natural embodiment of society. What makes the Theogony of Hesiod unique is that it affirms no historical royal line. Such a gesture would have sited the Theogony in one time and place. Rather, the Theogony affirms the kingship of the god Zeus over all the other gods and over the whole Cosmos.
Further, in the “Kings and Singers” passage (80–103) Hesiod appropriates to himself the authority usually reserved to sacred kingship. The poet declares that it is he, where we might have expected some king instead, upon whom the Muses have bestowed the two gifts of a scepter and an authoritative voice (Hesiod, Theogony 30–3), which are the visible signs of kingship. It is not that this gesture is meant to make Hesiod a king. Rather, the point is that the authority of kingship now belongs to the poetic voice, the voice that is declaiming the Theogony.
Purchase this text:
Hesiod: Theogony. Works and Days. Testimonia (Loeb Classical Library) (9780674997202): Hesiod, Glenn W. Most. $24.76