In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Hesiod

  • Introduction
  • Hesiod: Real or Fictional?
  • Ancient Biography
  • Date
  • Bibliographies
  • Texts and Commentaries
  • Fragments
  • Reference Works
  • English Translations
  • Collections of Papers
  • Near Eastern Influence
  • Social/Economic Background
  • Influence on Hellenistic Poetry

Classics Hesiod
Ruth Scodel
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 February 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0019


Until relatively recently, most scholars agreed that an individual named Hesiod (Greek, Hesiodos; Latin, Hesiodus), whose poems said that he lived in the village of Ascra in Boeotia and won a tripod in a bardic competition at the funeral games of King Amphidamas, composed the Theogony and Works and Days. Other poems, including the Catalogue of Women and the Shield of Heracles, were falsely attributed to him later. He was the son of a man who had migrated to the mainland from Aeolic Cyme in Asia Minor, and had a brother named Perses. Hesiod was revered alongside Homer in the Classical period and was adapted by Hellenistic poets as a poetic predecessor.

Hesiod: Real or Fictional?

Readers formerly assumed that the information found in the poems was genuine autobiography, although scholars disagreed about how literally they should interpret the account in the Theogony of how Hesiod met the Muses on Mount Helicon. They also debated whether Hesiod really had the legal dispute with his brother Perses that the Works and Days implies, and what exactly had taken place, since the implicit narrative of the poem is unclear. Since about 1990, many have examined the texts as oral compositions and regarded “Hesiod” not as a real individual but as a legendary figure whose identity performers might assume (Nagy 1990). Developing the arguments of Griffith 1983, Rosen 1990, and Martin 1992 treat the autobiographical comments as fiction. There have also been arguments, such as that of Blümer 2001, that we do not need to deny the existence of a real Hesiod in order to appreciate the poetic functions of his autobiographical comments. Modern scholarship does not see biographical value in the story of his competition with Homer and the sensational account of his death in the ancient Contest of Homer and Hesiod, but the biographical tradition offers valuable insight into Hesiod’s reception in antiquity.

  • Blümer, Wilhelm. 2001. Interpretation archaischer Dichtung: Die mythologischen Partien der Erga Hesiods. Münster, Germany: Aschendorff.

    Blümer argues at length against Nagy and his school and in favor of Hesiod’s individuality, especially at pp. 73–87.

  • Griffith, Mark. 1983. Personality in Hesiod. Classical Antiquity 2:37–65.

    This paper assumes that Hesiod is an individual author but argues that all the autobiographical material in the poems serves a purpose in its context and need not be true.

  • Martin, Richard. 1992. Hesiod’s metanastic poetics. Ramus 21:11–33.

    Suggests that the claim that Hesiod’s father came to Ascra from Aeolic Cymae (Works and Days 633–640) is intended to give the poetic voice an outsider’s authority to criticize the community.

  • Nagy, Gregory. 1990. Greek mythology and poetics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

    Chapter 3, “Hesiod and the poetics of pan-Hellenization,” pp. 36–82, argues that we should think of the texts as representatives of “a tradition of performing a certain kind of poem,” particularly in the context of claims to authority in the larger Greek world.

  • Rosen, Ralph. 1990. Poetry and sailing in Hesiod’s “Works and Days.” Classical Antiquity 9:99–113.

    Argues that Hesiod’s voyage to Euboea (Works and Days 650–662) is a metaphor for his poetics.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.