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BIOGRAPHICAL NOTICE OF HESIOD.
“HESIOD and Homer," writes the father of history, (Herod. ii. 53,) “lived, as I consider, not more than four hundred years before my time.” It has been argued that this statement must be taken as relating only to the author of the Theogony, while to the author of the Works and Days, (see Pausan. ix. 31, § 4,) belongs a date perhaps not less than one hundred and twenty years later. It is therefore inexplicable how Herodotus can have spoken of the Hesiod of the Works and Days (on whose non-identity with the author of the Theogony modern writers of weight are agreed with the Bæotians of old) as contemporary with Homer. But even the Theogony is nowise to be deemed of the same age with the Iliad or Odyssey, whether we consider its more advanced and systematized mythology, (an argument strongly urged by Mr. Grote, in his History of Greece,) its extended geography, or the general testimony of ancient authors. Amidst great uncertainty, it is perhaps safe to assign the date of the Theogony to the same period as the Works and Days; leaving the question open whether the author was the same Hesiod, or some composer of the Hesiodic school, a mode of solving the difficulty which has been suggested by the German commentators. In what way to reconcile the statement of Herodotus with all that is ascertained with reference to Hesiod's age, it is difficult to determine: for by his computation Homer and Hesiod must have contemporaneously flourished 884 years before Christ: whereas, as has been observed, the difference of date between the two may be easily detected from an ordinary examination of their poems. Perhaps it may be assumed that Herodotus is speaking of Homer generally as representing the beginning, and Hesiod as the close, of a period; and that in an uncertainty as to the real chronology of the two poets, which the very words of the historian manifest to have been rife, he notes down the proximate date of the former as standing for that of both. Mr. Grote places the author of the Theogony, as well as of the Works and Days, in the period between 750—700 B. C., and this will square with the computation of Velleius Paterculus, who makes Hesiod one hundred and twenty years later than Homer, as well as with the statements of ancient writers that he flourished about the 11th Olympiad.
From the consideration of Hesiod's age we pass on to one concerning which we have clearer data, -his birthplace and his family.
It is stated by the poet himself (Op. et D. 636—640) that his father migrated across the Ægean from Cumæ in Æolia, so that he, as well as the Mæonian bard, derived their 'origin from that colony of Hellas which was so prolific in minstrelsy, so rich in the Muses of history, song, and science. One or two modern writers have attempted, perhaps from a natural wish to connect Hesiod more closely with Homer, to make out that Hesiod was himself born at Cumæ, and emigrated with his father when grown up. But this theory is upset by the poet's own statement, that his father crossed the sea and settled at Ascra, a village of Baotia, at the foot of Mount Helicon, in pursuit of gain, and that he never trusted himself to the waves, except from Aulis in Bæotia across the Euripus to Chalcis in Euboea, (Op. et D. 651,) where he won a tripod as the prize of a poetical contest, founded by Amphidamas, a king of the island, in order to keep up the memory of his own obsequies. This tripod Hesiod dedicated to the Muses of Helicon. This evidence as to the native place of the poet, is further substantiated by the epigram of Chersias of Orchomenus, quoted by Pausanias, (ix. 38, ad fin.,) of which the following lines are a free translation,
" Though fertile Ascra gave sweet Hesiod birth,
Yet rest his bones beneath the Minyan earth,
The wisest bard of bards in wisdom tried ;%
“ Ascra, for her own bard, wise Hesiod, less express'd.”
The general opinion of the ancients further confirms the notion that Ascra was the poet's birth-place: and we may point to the epithet “Ascræus,” applied to him by Ovid, (Fast. vi. 14,) (Art. Am. ii. 4,) and Virgil, (Eccl. vi. 70,) (Georg. ii. 176.) It is not, however, by any means impossible that Hesiod's sire may have retained after his migration to Greece the rights of citizenship which he held at Cumæ, and these may have descended to his son, as was not unfrequent in the Greek colonies.
At Ascra it would seem that Hesiod's father did not enjoy the rights of citizenship in the home of his adoption, as is inferred from a comparison of the expression váooaro, (Op. et D. 637,) used generally of emigrants and colonists with the Homeric phrase áriuntog ueraváorns, which points to the condition of the “metæch,” or “resident alien," defined by Aristotle, Politics III. v. 9, (Congreve,) as ó tūv Tipūv un METéxwv, as being that of the father of Hesiod at Ascra.
Yet even thus it would seem that his substance increased, and that he had his share of the wealth most common in the primitive ages, the flocks and herds, which we find Hesiod feeding at Helicon, (Theog. 23,) and to a moiety of which he seems to have succeeded by inheritance, though, owing to the bribe-purchased award of corrupt judges, his brother Perses won a suit which robbed our poet of his patrimony. But ill-gotten gain took to itself speedy wings. Hesiod, the defrauded, if we may judge from Op. et D. 396, was able afterwards to give the thriftless defrauder aid, from means which he had acquired in spite of his losses, although, if we note the force of the preposition in the verb Śmidaiw in that line, it is clear that he plainly tells his brother that he will give him no more in future, unless he ceases to idle in the Agora, and will turn to work for his daily bread. It is to this same Perses that the Works and Days are addressed, and they afford a goodly example of brotherly interest for one who had wronged the poet in the highest degree. The complaints of Hesiod respecting the injustice of which the kings, or chiefs of the Agora, were in his day guilty, convey a striking picture of the crying abuse and evil, upon which the Homeric poems are not altogether silent. (Cf. Hom. Il. xvi. 387; Hesiod, Op. et D. 250—263.)
These things may have tended to strengthen the poet's dislike for Ascra, which he expresses pretty freely in ver. 639, 640 of his Works and Days, verses probably written at Orchomenus, to which he is supposed to have migrated, (compare the epigram of Chersias translated above,) and which Velleius Paterculus notices in Lib. i. c. 7, where he says of him, “Patriamque et parentes testatus est, sed patriam quià multatus ab eâ erat, contumeliosissimè." Pausanias indeed, in i. 2, § 3, quoted by Goettling, asserts that Hesiod, like Homer, basked not in the sunshine of courtly favour, owing to fortune's spite, or set dislike to high places; and that this was the case with Hesiod because he had embraced a rural life, and was averse to roaming (ůypoukią kaì okvy a lávns). But there is nothing inconsistent with this in the supposition that, born at Ascra, he spent his later years in the more kindly and congenial soil of Orchomenus, and there died and was buried.
This is the sum of what we know of Hesiod's life from the Hesiodic poems, and from probable testimony; and even this small sum Goettling would fain diminish by a doubt whether the passages referred to are bonâ fide Hesiod's own, and are not rather later additions, based on oral tradition. It is not needful that we should adopt this view, unless we prefer to be left without a single grain of admitted fact; whilst on the other hand it is unnecessary to encumber a notice, like the present, with any inquiry into the narratives of Ephorus, and the logographers, Hellanicus, Damastes, and Pherycides, and with them to trace up the generations of Hesiod through a given list of ancestors to Orpheus himself; or to attempt to prove a cousinship between Hesiod and Homer, by making Hesiod's father, Dius, the brother of Mæon, the sire of Homer. There are other fables, applicable, not so much to Hesiod, as to the school of bards, Pierian or Thracian, as contradistinguished from the Ionian or Homeric, to which he gave his name. Such are his second youth (cf. Goettling, p. xiii. præf.) and his double burial, relating to which there is a story in Pausanias (ix. 38, § 3) which reminds us forcibly of the story in Herodotus (i. 67) about the bones of Orestes.
These and the legend of his having met with a violent death near the Locrian Æneon in the territory of Naupactus, detailed by Plutarch, (Conviv. Sept. Saps. xix.,) point indeed to the hero-worship of Hesiod among the Locrians and Bæo