Our information respecting Hesiod is derived in the main from notices and allusions in the works attributed to him, and to these must be added traditions concerning his death and burial gathered from later writers.

Hesiod’s father (whose name, by a perversion of “Works and Days”, 299 PERSE DION GENOS to PERSE, DION GENOS, was thought to have been Dius) was a native of Cyme in Aeolis, where he was a seafaring trader and, perhaps, also a farmer. He was forced by poverty to leave his native place, and returned to continental Greece, where he settled at Ascra near Thespiae in Boeotia (“Works and Days”, 636 ff.). Either in Cyme or Ascra, two sons, Hesiod and Perses, were born to the settler, and these, after his death, divided the farm between them. Perses, however, who is represented as an idler and spendthrift, obtained and kept the larger share by bribing the corrupt ‘lords’ who ruled from Thespiae (“Works and Days”, 37-39). While his brother wasted his patrimony and ultimately came to want (“Works and Days”, 34 ff.), Hesiod lived a farmer’s life until, according to the very early tradition preserved by the author of the “Theogony” (22-23), the Muses met him as he was tending sheep on Mt. Helicon and ‘taught him a glorious song’–doubtless the “Works and Days”. The only other personal reference is to his victory in a poetical contest at the funeral games of Amphidamas at Chalcis in Euboea, where he won the prize, a tripod, which he dedicated to the Muses of Helicon (“Works and Days”, 651-9).

Before we go on to the story of Hesiod’s death, it will be well to inquire how far the “autobiographical” notices can be treated as historical, especially as many critics treat some, or all of them, as spurious. In the first place attempts have been made to show that “Hesiod” is a significant name and therefore fictitious: it is only necessary to mention Goettling’s derivation from IEMI to ODOS (which would make ‘Hesiod’ mean the ‘guide’ in virtues and technical arts), and to refer to the pitiful attempts in the “Etymologicum Magnum” (s.v. {H}ESIODUS), to show how prejudiced and lacking even in plausibility such efforts are. It seems certain that ‘Hesiod’ stands as a proper name in the fullest sense. Secondly, Hesiod claims that his father–if not he himself–came from Aeolis and settled in Boeotia. There is fairly definite evidence to warrant our acceptance of this: the dialect of the “Works and Days” is shown by Rzach [1103] to contain distinct Aeolisms apart from those which formed part of the general stock of epic poetry. And that this Aeolic speaking poet was a Boeotian of Ascra seems even more certain, since the tradition is never once disputed, insignificant though the place was, even before its destruction by the Thespians.

Again, Hesiod’s story of his relations with his brother Perses have been treated with scepticism (see Murray, “Anc. Gk. Literature”, pp. 53-54): Perses, it is urged, is clearly a mere dummy, set up to be the target for the poet’s exhortations. On such a matter precise evidence is naturally not forthcoming; but all probability is against the sceptical view. For 1) if the quarrel between the brothers were a fiction, we should expect it to be detailed at length and not noticed allusively and rather obscurely–as we find it; 2) as MM. Croiset remark, if the poet needed a lay-figure the ordinary practice was to introduce some mythological person–as, in fact, is done in the “Precepts of Chiron”. In a word, there is no more solid ground for treating Perses and his quarrel with Hesiod as fictitious than there would be for treating Cyrnus, the friend of Theognis, as mythical.

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