Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.12.12 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.12.12

Zoe Stamatopoulou, Hesiod and Classical Greek Poetry: Reception and Transformation in the Fifth Century BCE.   Cambridge; New York:  Cambridge University Press, 2017.  Pp. x, 270.  ISBN 9781107162990.  $99.99.  

Reviewed by Oliver Passmore, University of Law (


Stamatopoulou’s book is the latest intervention on a topic that has enjoyed considerable scholarly attention in the past decade: the reception of Hesiod and his poems in antiquity. Other recent studies have considered Plato’s engagement with Hesiod, later retellings of Hesiod’s Myth of the Races, and the reception of the Works and Days, to which we can add Koning’s encyclopaedic volume.1 Stamatopoulou supplements this collection by examining the reception of the Hesiodic poems in fifth-century BC lyric and drama, an area neglected in previous works. It is a rich study, encompassing an impressive range of texts and genres, which the author proves equally adept at handling. The book is based on close readings of a number of key texts against the Hesiodic corpus, a fruitful approach that will make the study of interest to scholars and accessible to students. It is meticulously researched, extensively footnoted and lucidly written.

My overall assessment of the book is that it is a learned, solid piece of scholarship offering a number of insightful readings of fifth-century poetry’s engagement with Hesiod. The author also deserves credit for the thoroughness of her research and the ambitiousness of the book’s scope. My main criticism relates to the coherence of the book as a whole. Those looking for an argument unifying the study will be disappointed; the chapters serve more as episodic treatments of particular aspects of engagement with Hesiodic poetry by Classical poets. This in itself is not a flawed approach, and those interested in specific texts treated by Stamatopoulou will learn much from her detailed discussions. However, I was often left wondering how it all fit together, with the result being that the bigger questions — How does this change our understanding of Hesiod’s place in fifth-century literary culture? What are the stakes for Hesiod’s own poems and for his Classical interlocutors? — are only indirectly answered. All that said, Stamatopoulou should be congratulated for the impressive achievement of learning represented by this book.

The monograph is divided into roughly two halves, the first of which examines the poetry of Pindar and Bacchylides, with the second turning to drama. From here it is organised into chapters addressing lyric poetics in Hesiod, Pindar and Bacchylides (Ch. 1), lyric poetry’s use of Hesiod’s mythical narratives (Ch. 2), lyric’s use of his gnomic or didactic material (Ch. 3), Hesiodic narratives in Tragedy (Ch. 4), and the appropriation of Hesiodic material by Old Comedy (Ch. 5).

The introduction serves to demonstrate the authoritative status of Hesiod and the wide circulation of his poems within the fifth century BC, as a basis for the intense engagement of lyric and drama with them. The author begins by defining the Hesiodic corpus for the purposes of her study. She rightly distinguishes debates about the existence of an historical figure Hesiod from the question of what, for fifth-century audiences, would have constituted his oeuvre. The various poems that were either attributed to Hesiod already in antiquity or whose Hesiodic authorship has been assumed in modern scholarship, including slightly more obscure poems like the Astronomia, are first introduced and discussed. She claims as a working assumption that a fairly circumscribed group of poems were in circulation under the name of Hesiod at a Panhellenic level already by the fifth century BC. These would have included at least the core repertoire of the Theogony, Works and Days, the Shield of Heracles, the Catalogue of Women and the Megalai Ehoiai. While some variation within these poems at an early stage can be assumed due to the oral nature of their transmission and performance, the canon became more stable in the fifth century.

Chapter 1 considers the relationship between Hesiodic and lyric poetics. Two connected areas are explored here: firstly, the way in which Hesiod’s own claims to poetic truth and authority, particularly in the Theogony, potentially influence Pindar’s and Bacchylides’ poetic positioning; and, secondly and more extensively, the way in which these lyric poets appropriate Hesiodic poetry and invoke the person of Hesiod more directly as a way of establishing their own lyric voices. The latter is treated through discussions of Bacchylides’ Ode 5, where the poet famously recalls the words of the ‘Boeotian man Hesiod’, as well as Ode 3 and Pindar’s Paean 7b. I was most convinced by the analysis of the first of these passages, which involved a subtle reading of Bacchylides’ allusion to both Theogony 81–103 and Works and Days 1–8.

Chapter 2 focuses on lyric’s use of Hesiod’s mythical narratives. Rather than providing an exhaustive account of places where lyric engages with Hesiodic myth, the chapter is built on a number of case studies, all of them taken from Pindar. Here and elsewhere, the author does not fully explain her near-exclusive focus on Pindar (and Bacchylides) as exponents of lyric, at the expense of other lyric authors and texts. The first case study is the description of Typhoeus in Pythian 1, where engagement with the Theogony, as is noted (p. 53), has been underappreciated. The main argument here is that Pindar combines reference to Hesiod’s Panhellenic version with details tailored to his Sicilian audience, which itself supports (the addressee) Hieron’s political purposes. The next sections examine two female figures, Coronis and Cyrene, who feature in Pythians 3 and 9 respectively. The attempt to read P3.24–37 against Hesiod fr.71/60 was intriguing, but to my mind the evidence is pushed slightly further than the texts allow, while the conclusion (p. 76) that Apollo’s wrath towards Coronis is due to his fear that Asclepius will become a bastard needs further support. The chapter concludes by examining Ixion’s progeny in Pythian 2, where it is argued that Pindar’s perverted genealogical description must be understood against the model provided by Hesiod in the Catalogue and the ME. Here and in the preceding two sections, the author does a good job of teasing out information from fragmentary Hesiodic material, but her conclusions can remain only provisional.

Chapter 3 explores the use of Hesiod’s didactic poetry by Pindar. Through a study of Isthmian 6 and Pythian 6, it considers how Pindar appropriates Hesiodic precepts and applies them within his specific laudatory contexts. Beyond these two odes, however, it argues that lyric rarely if ever invokes Hesiod’s didactic authority directly. The discussion of I. 6 I found especially stimulating; it considers Pindar’s reference to Lampon’s use of a Hesiodic gnome — identified by the author as WD 412 — in v. 66–7, and to a more oblique reference to the same apothegm by Bacchylides in Ode 13.190–2. As the author points out, this raises important questions about the detachability and use of discrete Hesiodic statements in different contexts, an issue explored extensively by Canevaro in her recent book.2 A more tentative example of Pindar’s inclusion of Hesiodic didactic material comes in P. 6, where it is argued that vv. 23–7 paraphrase precepts from the Chironos Hypothekai, based on a reference to this work in the scholia. Both discussions demonstrate great sensitivity in their treatment of the complex poetic embedding of Hesiod by Pindar, and the interesting dialogue of didactic voices it produces. I would, however, dispute the conclusion that these examples obscure Hesiodic didactic authority (p. 118) in favour of something more subtle. The chapter concludes by arguing that examples of the explicit invocation of Hesiod’s didactic poetry should be treated differently from those instances where gnomai are introduced without attribution and/or clear verbal echoes of Hesiod. While the content of the latter may overlap with Hesiodic wisdom, they would probably have been understood as expressing conventional ideas not associated with a specific author or authority. The author supports her case once more by reference to the scholia, which regularly quote passages of Hesiod (typically the WD) in order to explicate gnomai found in Pindar without seeking to trace their source back to Hesiod. This seems a sound conclusion as far as the interpretation of Pindar by the scholiasts goes, but it raises further, more profound, questions about the nature of quotation and allusion in archaic Greek poetry that merit a more extensive treatment, as well as more robust engagement with recent bibliography on this subject.

Chapter 4 is the first of two long chapters exploring engagement with Hesiod by the dramatists, beginning with tragedy. Its main case studies are Aeschylus’ Prometheus plays and Euripides’ Ion. After briefly surveying the evidence for the composition and performance of the Aeschylean tetralogy of which Prometheus Bound and Prometheus Lyomenos are believed to have been a part, the chapter considers how they use Hesiod’s poems as a foil for their own more complex presentation of Zeus’s rule, especially in Prometheus Bound. While Zeus’s two main mouthpieces in the play, Kratos and Hermes, adopt a distinctly ‘Hesiodic’ view of Prometheus’s crimes, presenting Prometheus as a rebellious transgressor and Zeus as a beneficent ruler, Prometheus on the other hand proceeds to revise Hesiod’s account, particularly in explaining the purpose of his theft of fire and his role in Zeus’s rise to power. This section is very successful in showing how Prometheus Bound probes Hesiod’s largely unproblematic presentation of the succession myth in order to explore issues of power, intelligence and violence, and I found it extremely illuminating. This discussion is supported by a more tentative but to my mind convincing section arguing that Io’s role in the play needs to be understood as a further aspect of its critique of the Hesiodic world view, this time as presented in the Catalogue of Women. Two further brief sections argue, firstly, that Prometheus’s release in Prometheus Lyomenos may reflect a tradition, attested in one version of the Works and Days, of Zeus eventually being reconciled to the Titans; and secondly that, based on the fragmentary and second-hand evidence we have, the Aeschylean satyr-play Prometheus Pyrkaeus may engage specifically with the account of Prometheus and Epimetheus contained in the Works and Days. The chapter concludes with a less strong section on Euripides’ Ion, arguing that it also critiques genealogical poetry like that of Hesiod by giving expression to Creousa’s female voice.

The final chapter turns to Old Comedy. This is an eclectic chapter, which considers multiple aspects of the reception of Hesiod in (mainly) Aristophanes, including the depiction of Hesiod himself as a comic character: speculatively in Cratinus’ Archilochoi, as a way of reminding the audience of Homer’s unsuccessful contest with Hesiod vis-à-vis the play’s present depiction of a poetic competition between the former and Archilochus, and more concretely in Teleclides’ Hesiodoi. The bulk of the chapter focusses on the engagement of Birds’ with Hesiodic narratives, arguing that the playwright inscribes his play within the Hesiodic tradition while at the same time offers a bold rewriting of his predecessor’s cosmic vision. One specific claim here is that the Titanomachy/Hesiod succession myth provides a crucial paradigm for understanding themes in Birds that are separate from the play’s long-appreciated engagement with the Gigantomachy. The author pursues this line of argument persuasively and with skill.

To sum up: Stamatopoulou offers a rich and wide-ranging study of the reception of Hesiod’s poems and persona in fifth-century Greek poetry. Notwithstanding the broad and specific criticisms set out above, the book will be essential reading for scholars engaged in this growing area of enquiry, as well as for students of Hesiod’s poems and Classical Greek poetry more discretely.

I spotted one typo (p. 175, ‘Yet I suggest that there may <be> a more compelling factor…’). Otherwise, CUP has once again demonstrated very high editorial standards.


1.   Boys-Stones, G. R. and Haubold, J., eds., Plato and Hesiod (Oxford, 2010). Noordon, H. van, Playing Hesiod. The ‘Myth of the Races’ in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge, 2015). Hunter, R., Hesiodic Voices: Studies in the Ancient Reception of Hesiod’s Works and Days (Cambridge, 2014). Koning, H. H., Hesiod: The Other Poet. Ancient Reception of a Cultural Icon (Leiden, 2010).
2.   Canevaro, L. G., Hesiod’s Works and Days: How to Teach Self-Sufficiency (Oxford, 2015).

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