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Hesiod′s Cosmology

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The cosmological thinking that underpins Hesiod’s Theogony

Wednesday 19th November 2003

Peter Eyland



 “… such thoughts (about being and non-being, cf. Hes. Theog. 811ff) Hesiod could not have grasped and expressed in open, uncoded, conceptual language. (Fränkel, 1975:106-107) … although the epic deals in myth, it can find room for what amounts to speculations on basic questions about metaphysics. … it is not correct to make Greek philosophy begin simply with Thales and Anaximander.” (Fränkel, 1975:108, n.30) 

The stimulus material refers to Fränkel’s assertion that Hesiod’s Theogony contained an implication that the universe encompassed both “being” and “non-being”, so that whatever actually existed did so in tension with non-existence.  As Greek philosophy has been said to begin with abstract cosmological theorising, Fränkel saw this speculation as qualifying Hesiod to be ranked as a pre-Socratic philosopher.

This essay will give a brief introduction to Hesiod’s Theogony, discuss the four references to Chaos (in relation to whether it has “being” or not), then discuss the shape of regions around the Earth, then three criteria for philosophy will be introduced (abstract cosmological reasoning, theories about the universe as a whole, the principle of sufficient reason) and Fränkel’s view tested against each of them [1]

Dates for Hesiod’s life and works range from the middle of the ninth century BCE (Evelyn-White, 1914:intro. xxvi), to the (more likely) last third of the eighth century BCE (Caldwell, 1987:intro 1; West, 1988:intro vii).  The Theogony was written in hexameter verse, which was a rhythmical poetic form, here explained in an idealised way by a graphic from the Skidmore College Department of Classics [2].

Hesiod dum-diddy


The structure of the poem has been debated extensively [3], but this one adapted from Thalmann (1984:38-39) seems to capture, reasonably well, the idea of combining ring composition (abc … cba) with parataxis.  That is, the Theogony had symmetrical framed episodes (that include “flashbacks”), yet the structure was free enough to simply string episodes after each other [5].  There were three framing episodes at the start and end that had significance for Zeus’ rule, but offspring and marriages were strung one after the other.



Present time: The Muses: Zeus and his children



1st stage of succession; The first gods; Ouranos and Gaia;
start of Titans under Kronos [Typhoeus the youngest links with 820-880];



offspring of Night [linked with Tartaros in 744 and Strife in 782]




offspring of Pontos,   a long list of daughters (Nereids)




offspring of Okeanos, a long list of daughters (Okeanids)




marriages of other Titans, ending with Zeus honouring Styx




marriages of other Titans, ending with Zeus honouring Hekatê




start of 2nd stage of succession;
offspring of Rheia and Kronos; ending with Zeus’ control of lightning




offspring of Iapetos, ending with Prometheus bound by Zeus




end of 2nd stage of succession; Titans beaten by Zeus’ lightning



description of Tartaros [Night and Strife reappear as link with 211-232]



3rd stage of succession;
end of Titans, Typhoeus beaten by Zeus’ lightning [links with 116-210]



Zeus is king of the gods and divides honours;  union with Mêtis ends succession problem; Zeus’ other marriages; present time, ends up with the Muses

The origin of humanity was not explained so the Prometheus story was not the central theme.  There are as Thalmann commented (1984:40), three central groups of passages (d, e, f) that culminate in the central theme, which is Zeus’s victory.

Fränkel’s main thesis about Chaos is that (1975:105) “before being there was void, into which being entered”.  That is, Fränkel asserted that Chaos had no being and was not a material substance like all the beings that appeared within it.  The four references to Chaos in the Theogony , are discussed to see if this concept is tenable.

The first reference is inlines 116 and 117:

Ἦ τοι μὲν πρώτιστα Χάος γένετ' αὺτὰρ ἔπειτα,

Verily at the first Chaos came to be,

Γαῖ' εὺρύστερνος, πάντων ἔδος ἀσφαλὲς αἰεὶ

but next wide-bosomed Earth, the ever-sure foundation of all

Cornford took Chaos as “yawn” and wrote that this “yawn” meant that a gap opened up “between the fiery heaven and the earth” (Cornford, 1965:194) but as Kirk & Raven point out this is inconsistent with “the postponement of the birth of Ouranos” (Kirk & Raven, 1957:28). [6]   However on origins, Kirk & Raven wrote that “it is out of the question that Hesiod or his source was thinking of the originative substance as coming into being out of nothing” (Kirk & Raven, 1957:28) and so accept Cornford’s view (Kirk & Raven, 1957:31).  Unfortunately they do not indicate why it is “out of the question”, presumably they take  γένετο [< γίγνομαι ] as “to come into a different state of being” (“sky and earth separated”, Kirk & Raven, 1957:29),as opposed to “come into being” from a previous condition of not being.  This leaves the “eternal precondition” unknown and does not take full account of πρώτιστα .

In contrast, Fränkel commented on the lines in this way (1975:101), “First, … came Chaos (116), yawning emptiness.  Before there was anything, only a void existed in which things would enter”.  Fränkel, in effect, took πρώτιστα (first) and ἔπειτα (next) to mark sequence and be strongly opposed to the former act or state (as in Liddell, Scott, & Jones, 1940: under ἔπειτα.  This enabled him to assert a distinction, rather than continuity, between the void and the “beings” that next entered into it.
The void as “non-being” is a concept that Aristotle attributed to Hesiod.  Aristotle’s Physics Book IV discussed “place” (
τόπον ) and the void ( τὸ κενὸν ).  It should be noted that Aristotle’s word “place” was defined as “position”, and this did not signify “co-ordinates” in a Cartesian sense and was not “space” in a Newtonian sense [7].

In Physics 208b, 26,27, Aristotle attributed to Hesiod the idea that the void was defined in terms of emptiness.

 Ἕτι ὁι τὸ κενὸν φάσκοντες εἶναι τόπον λέουσιν:

τὸ γὰρ κενὸν ἄν εἶη ἐστερημένος σώματος

Again, the theory that the void exists involves the existence of “place”:

for one would define void as place bereft of body [8].

From Liddell, Scott, & Jones, (1940) στερέω in the passive is “to be deprived, bereaved, robbed”, hence in this context “emptied” (with a sense of loss).

Physics 208b, 30 has:

Δόξειε δ' ἂν καὶ Ἡσίοδος ὀρθῶς λέγειν ποιήσας πρῶτον τὸ χαός.

Hesiod too might be held to have given a correct account of it when he made Chaos first.

Aristotle agreed that Hesiod (if all were correct with the theory) should be commended on insisting that Chaos must be first.

In Physics 208b, 33 Aristotle, continuing an explanation of the theory, wrote that room or space ( χώραν ) must have been provided first, so that things could be placed somewhere.

ὡς δέον πρῶτον ὑπάρξαι χώραν τοῖς οὖσι

implying that things need to have space first

The reason that Aristotle rejected Hesiod’s attributed view was because Aristotle determined that “place” was related to the surface area of a body (Wickstead & Cornford, 1929:268-9).  The void could not exist because there was necessarily “nothing” between the surface areas (continents) of bodies and their containing media (Aristotle, Physics: 209a).  Since there could not be anything between them, the void had no place and so could not exist.

It should be noted, that there has been confusion between the concepts of “emptiness” (Greek: κενὸν , Latin: vacuum) and "nothing" (Latin: nihil), which continued up to Descartes’ time.  For example, Descartes [9] has a conclusion (from logic) that if everything were removed from inside a closed container, then the sides must immediately touch because a vessel cannot contain "Nothing".  It is clear that, if there were “nothing between the sides” then they would indeed be touching but (from experiment) emptying the contents does not necessarily affect the sides.  (They might collapse from the pressure difference but this is not a logical necessity). 

The confusion between “emptiness” and “nothing” has been continued past Descartes up to Pellikaan-Engel. Pellikaan-Engel (1978:39) started by saying that, although Aristotle’s view on Hesiod has been considered “far too modern and abstract” by many, “it is not as bad as is often taken for granted” (Pellikaan-Engel, 1978:48). She then speculated that for Hesiod, Chaos ( Χάος ) was something like still air with boundless extension (Pellikaan-Engel, 1978:48-9).  This was a reasonable speculation but it is clear that she does not agree with Fränkel’s attribution to Chaos of “non-being”, because she continued: “before Χάος came into existence there must have been something even less than such a thin stuff, which could have been nothing less than Nothing itself”.  (She should have written “Emptiness” for “Nothing” in making the distinction between Chaos and empty space.)

For a mountain shepherd, who roamed around with his flocks, carrying limited resources and having non-permanent fencing, space to pen sheep for protection at night would have always been a problem.  When the numbers of sheep increased with the springtime (November) lambs, more space would have been needed.  When the numbers decreased through predators, disease or harvesting, less space would have been needed (unlike uncivilized Polyphemus who used a cave).  In considering the springtime of the universe, it was probably pragmatism and not abstraction that led Hesiod to think that room had to be made for newly born divinities.

Summarising the first reference to Chaos, it is not absolutely clear from ἔπειτα (next) in line 117, whether or not the room that was made was “emptiness” or “being”, but there is a probability in favour of “emptiness” [10].

The second reference to Chaos was in line 123 about the birth of Erebus and Night.

ἐκ χάεος δ' ἔρεβός τε μέλαινά τε νὺξ ἐγένοντο

From Chaos came forth Erebus and black Night

This implies two things, firstly that Chaos was dark and the universe began with darkness.  Secondly, it makes explicit that Chaos can give birth to real, albeit dark, “beings”.  Erebus is “dark place” and Night is “dark time” (Wright, 1995:77, noted that Night gave birth to Aether or “bright place” and Day or “bright time”).

It is not clear from line 117 alone (“wide-bosomed Earth [came to be]”) that Chaos gave birth to Earth or Tartaros and Eros.  This is because, for Hesiod, they may have been spontaneously generated [11].  However the ἐκ (out of) in line 123 makes it likely that the personified Erebus and Night “were born” (plural aorist indicative of γίγνομαι ) from Chaos, so from the use of the same word in line 117, Earth was probably born (singular aorist indicative of γίγνομαι ) from Chaos.  Unless it is clear elsewhere that for Hesiod “being” could be born from “non-being”, there is the implication in line 123 that Chaos had “being” in the same way that Earth, Erebus and Night had “being”.

The third reference in line 700 has a temporarily hot Chaos:

καῦμα δὲ θεσπέσιου κάτεχεν χάος

Astounding heat seized Chaos

Heat had seized Chaos because, from lines 687-96, Zeus had hurled his lightning bolts from Heaven to Earth so that the Earth and Sea seethed with heat. Line 697 has:

Φλὸξ δ' αἰθέρα δῖαν ἴκανεν

flame unspeakable rose to the


bright upper air

This being so, it is clear that Chaos is associated with the atmosphere through which the lightning bolts were thrown, that is the space between the Earth and the Sky.  It may be objected from line 700 that if Chaos does not have “being” (i.e. substance) it could not, in itself, have a property like heat [12].  However, as the text has Chaos being seized ( κάτεχεν ) or taken over by an outside agent, “heat” could be thought of as an entity that entered Chaos in the same way that air and aither entered the space between Earth and Sky.  Therefore these lines locate Chaos without implications as to whether it has being.

The fourth reference to Chaos is in lines 813 and 814, and has to do with Tartaros. To locate Tartaros it is first necessary to refer to line 119 where Earth holds:

Τάρταρά τ' ἠερόεντα μυχὧ χθονός εὐρυοδείης

dim Tartaros in the depths of the wide-pathed Earth 

This indicates that “hazy, murky” ( ἠερόεντα ) Tartaros appeared in the innermost ( μυχὣ ), which means here the furthermost or lowest) part of the “Earth system” (which encompasses both Olympos and Tartaros).  Now returning to lines 813 and 814.

πρόσκεν δὲ θεῶν ἔκτοσθεν ἁπάντων

And beyond, away from all the gods,

Τιτῆνες ναίουσι, πέρην χαέος ζοϕεροῖο

live the Titans beyond gloomy Chaos.

To get to Tartaros one had to pass down through the Earth.  Tartaros was beyond ( πέρην ) Chaos i.e. through Chaos to its farther side.  Chaos also then existed in the space between Earth and Tartaros.  Since all was gloomy below the Earth the expanse of Chaos itself was also appropriately gloomy ( ζοϕεροῖο ) . 

Also, referring to the internal depth of Tartaros (as opposed to the distance to Tartaros from the Earth), line 740 seems to have a gloss on Chaos:

χάσμα μέγ'[13]

It is a great gulf. 

It would then seem from these four references in the Theogony that for Hesiod, Chaos was both a dark empty gulf that existed in the lower extension between Earth and Tartaros, and also in the upper extension between Earth and Sky.  There is uncertainty as to whether Chaos had “being” or not, because the arguments are evenly divided at this stage between Fränkel’s disjunctive ( πρώτιστα ἕπειτα ) and Earth born from Chaos.
As Chaos then existed on both sides of the Earth it is probable that Earth was envisaged as coming into being centrally within Chaos.  The shape of regions around the Earth then needs to be considered. 

Ouranos was clearly associated with the daytime sky [14] but also with the night sky, as line 127 indicates:

γαῖα δέ τοι πρῶτον μὲν ἐγείνατο ἶσον ἑαυτῆ

Earth first bare starry Heaven, equal to herself,

Οὐρανὸν ἀστερόενθ', ἴνα μιν περὶ πάντα καλύπτοι ,

to cover her on every side


West (1966:198) asserted that ἶσον ἑαυτῆ here meant the sky was “as flat as the Earth and parallel to it”.  West also argued (1966:198), that “the Greeks were unfamiliar with domes”.  However a “triple-decker sandwich universe” does not seem likely because περὶ πάντα καλύπτοι (covered on every side) suggests a tent like covering, and the Greeks were aware of eggs with their ovoid and spherical shapes and also the dome of the palate.

It would seem that since “starry” Sky was first (
πρῶτον ), the stars that first appeared in the darkness of Chaos were “on every side” in something more than a hemisphere.  Circumpolar stars were directly observed to move in semicircles through a single night and in implied circles through the seasons [16].  From this it may have been concluded that the lower stars did so as well.  This involves about three quarters of a sphere so probably Sky was considered to be spherical.  Presumably “black Night” did not have the power to block out the stars of Sky but Day did have that power.



image007According to the Theogony then, Chaos appeared with more than enough room for a reasonably flat Earth to appear in the middle.  The Earth had Sky all around it and Chaos had a place on both sides of the Earth.  Ocean was a continuous stream enclosing the Earth (Evelyn White, 2002:135 n.1, commenting on ἀαψορρόου “backflowing” or “refluent” in line 775). Tartaros was at the bottom limit of Chaos.  Sky would then have formed the “fence” of a universe whose internal size was determined by Chaos. 

It should be noted that the domains of the gods and the Titans were fixed and so not embedded in the movement of the Sky.  This may mean that they were on upward and downward pointing mountains as in Pellikaan-Engel (1978:18).

Given the mythological picture above, many texts dismiss Hesiod as a philosopher, for example Nahm (1986:1) starts with “philosophy begins during the first quarter of the sixth century B.C. in the Greek colony of Miletus”.  Kirk & Raven (1957:24-31) include Hesiod in a chapter entitled “The Forerunners of Philosophical Cosmology”.  Waterfield (2000:Intro xxii) while admitting that Hesiod’s ordering of the unstructured world of the gods exemplified the spirit of rationalism, did not admit him into philosophy because, according to him, Hesiod had not made the transition from mythos to logos, i.e. from the world of gods to reductionist science. [17]

The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, (1995:715), has “philosophy began in Greece from, or in conjunction with,
• abstract cosmological reasoning, and …
• probable theories about the universe as a whole, …
• and used the principle of sufficient reason.” 
For Fränkel to be right in naming Hesiod as a philosopher, Hesiod should display these three criteria.

The first criterion relies on abstract cosmological reasoning.  This will be evaluated in two ways.  First by examining three episodes about Zeus’ victory over the Titans, and secondly whether conventions of polarity imply a border between “being” and “non-being”.

Fränkel cited three episodes from the Theogony to show that truth was expressed through mutually exclusive myths.  He argued from their contradictions that the myths could “not to be taken too literally” and were a device for those “incapable of abstract thought” (Fränkel, 1975:98).  Therefore they were a “cover” for abstract reasoning that the poet could not openly formulate.

In the first episode, Zeus was said to have gained his ultimate power of thunder and lightning from the Cyclopses (1975:98).  Line 141 and 503-5

οἵ ζηνὶ βρονθν τε δόσαν τεῦξάν τε κεραυνόν

[The Cyclopses] who gave Zeus the thunder and made the thunderbolt

οὔ οἱ ἀπεμνήσαντο χάριν εὐεργεσιάων

And [the Cyclopses] remembered to be grateful to him for his kindness

δῶκαν δὲ βροντὴν ἠδ' αἰκαλόεντα κεραυνὸν

and gave him the thunder and the glowing thunderbolt

καὶ στεροπήν

and lightning


Fränkel argued this demonstrated that the strongest power is gained from gratitude as a result of previous kindnesses.  This argument seems to be more a basis for political corruption than political correctness.

In the second episode, the three “hundred handers” in lines 674 –5 were also said to be the ones who gave Zeus ultimate power (contradicting the previous story).  Fränkel argued for the abstraction that brute strength was not an inherent quality of power, but was to be used an instrument of power (1975:99).  Contrary to Fränkel, this does not lead to brute strength having the “dignity and honour” that Fränkel gives it from line 396, but leaves it where Fränkel began “as lowly as it is stupid and lacking in independence” (1975:100).

In the third episode, lines 383 – 403 related that Styx brought Contention ( ζῆλον ), Victory ( νίκην ), Power (κράτος ) and Force ( βίην ) into Zeus’ house to live with him forever.  Fränkel argued that Zeus used “the actual factors in life which operate always and everywhere that god (sic) or men exercise power” (Fränkel, 1975:99) so these four concepts encompass the nature of dominion, and dominion is won through exercising them.  The true nature of dominion is thus not through persuasion but by suppression of the weak.

Fränkel (1975:100) thus sees these three episodes as conveying abstract ideas about the functioning of the universe.  That is, dominion depends on gratitude for favours done, the service of the physically strong, and suppression of the weak. Despite Fränkel’s protestation that this does not simply mean “might is right”, it seems that is exactly the case he has argued.  These three episodes form a justification for a particular victory using overwhelming power.  Perhaps it illustrates what Veyne meant when he wrote “myth is information” (1988:23), “myth is truthful but figuratively so” (1988:62) and then “truth is the name we give to the choices to which we cling” (1988:127).  Accepting the justification of overwhelming power seems more often a choice based on myth, and uses information that expresses truth in a figurative way.  The three episodes are more about political theory than cosmological philosophy.

Fränkel’s three episodes do not prove that Hesiod intended any more abstract thought than typical parables or fables of the time.  Concrete illustrations were a normal way of conveying the lessons of the “Wisdom” literature of ancient Egypt and Israel.  If it was said, “a man had two sons”, then the truth imparted by the story did not depend on the identities of the sons however if their names were “supplanter” and “was my face red” then this would add interest to the story but not reality or abstraction to the situation.

The first criterion (abstract cosmological reasoning) is now discussed in a second context, that is, in relation to the polarity inherent in ancient Greek conventional thinking. Fränkel argued that his polarity implied that there was a border between “being” and “non-being”. 

To give a background for this, Thalmann (1984:1-2) has argued that early hexameter poets had a worldview whose thought patterns naturally expressed themselves in the conventions of poetic structure.  In particular, the Theogony has thought patterns of “similarity and antithesis” (Thalmann, 1984:2).  Things are described in terms of like things, but also “each thing must have its polar opposite in order to be complete, and sometimes even in order to be understood” (Thalmann, 1984:2).  Philippson, by way of illustration wrote that the brightness and lustre of the Olympian’s world could only be comprehended by comparison with Tartaros - its polar opposite [18].  This means that the thought world had enclosure and balance.  This thought world is then reflected by the ring structures of the Theogony which also provide a form of enclosure “wherein antithetical extremes define what lies between them and the whole consists of juxtaposed but interrelated parts” (Thalmann, 1984:3).

With this in mind, Fränkel (1975:105,106) argued that Hesiod’s expressions about “boundaries” and “sources” or “roots” of things, indicated that “spatially, temporally, and logically”, Hesiod asserted that there was a dividing line between the polar opposites of “being” and “emptiness”.  This is analogous to the forces that hold a falling raindrop together.  Internal (cohesive) forces pull the drop together, overcoming the external (adhesive) forces of the air molecules that tend to pull it apart, thus creating a “being” whose surface area (boundary) is in tension with air (“not being”).

An expression about boundaries occurs in line 727 and 728, and the context is looking upwards from the bronze fence that surrounded Tartaros.

  αὐτὰρ ὔπερθεν

while above

γῆς ῥιζαι πεφύσαι καὶ ἀτρυγέτοιοθαλάσσς

grow the roots of the Earth and unfruitful sea

This seems to be either a description of downward pointing mountains (as Pellikaan-Engel) or dangling roots of the kind seen when a divot of grass is pulled up.  It was apparently applied to the perceived lower boundary of the Earth (not mentioned explicitly) as it met Chaos (also not mentioned explicitly).  The Earth met Chaos in its capacity as an entity and not in its capacity of “non-being”.  Athanassakis (1993:52) saw the “roots” as applying to a “world tree” as in the Norse Yggdrassil or in Egyptian and Babylonian mythology.


Lines 736 – 8, describe four realms under the world in terms of “sources and ends”.

Ἔνθα δὲ γῆς δνοϕερῆς καὶ Ταρτάρου ἠερόεντος

 And there, all in their order, are the sources and ends of gloomy Earth and misty Tartarus

πόντου τ'ἀτρυγέτοιο καὶ οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντο

and the unfruitful sea and starry heaven

 ἑξείνης πάντων πγαὶ καὶ πείρατ' ἔασιν  …


The four realms are presented as being “all in their order” which is unclear, but may mean in a straight line outwards from Earth to Tartaros and through the surrounding Ocean to end at the Sky.  Athanassakis (1993:52) wrote that the “sources and limits” were a return to the concept of “roots” in line 728.  In any case, the πηγαὶ (springs, fountains) καὶ πείρατα (and ends, limits, boundaries) are not portrayed in relation to Chaos as “non-being” but simply in their character as “loathsome and dank” (line 739).

Lines 807 –9 are a repeat of 736 – 8 but end with a comment in lines 812 –3 about the threshold of the gates that lead to the underworld.

ῥίζῆσι διηνεκέεσσιν ἀρηρώς,

having unending roots


and it is grown of itself.

This seems to refer to a self-replenishing source and possibly circularity.  Again there is no obvious connection with Chaos.

So far, Hesiod does not show any more abstract thought than typical parables or fables of the time and he does not have the “boundaries” of things in relation to Chaos but to each other.  Thus Hesiod does not pass the first criterion about abstract cosmological reasoning.

The second criterion is about theories of the universe as a whole.  The Theogony did have a theory about the universe as a whole because it reduced the complexities of the human situation to a genealogy.  It traced the origin of the universe, the development of the gods, and explained the nature of the present human situation.  It systematised how the gods related to humanity and vice versa, but it did not explain the origin of humanity.  This is a serious omission, equivalent in modern scientific terms to leaving out Darwin’s theory of evolution, when explaining how life came to be how it is on this planet.  Because of this omission Hesiod does not pass the second criterion about theories of the universe as a whole.

The third criterion is Leibniz’ principle of sufficient reason (Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 1995:859).  It says in brief that nothing exists without a reason for it’s being and being as it is: nihil fit sine ratione.
Fränkel (1975:96) suggested that the reason the name Theogony (“genesis of the gods”) was given to the poem was that it was attracted by the genealogies of the personalised gods (Zeus, Apollo etc).  However he noted that cult worship is not mentioned (Fränkel, 1975:97) and there were some enduring divinities that were never worshipped.  The divinities included natural objects (Earth, Sky), natural forces (wind, currents), human abilities (thought, memory) and human motivations (love, blame).  From this he argued that the poem was better considered a history of the universe from its genesis up to Hesiod’s present time, and the poem gave an explanation of how things came to be, along with the essence of the forces that people regularly faced in their daily lives.  Fränkel argued that the mythic narratives in the Theogony were a way of using conventional forms to present (or “clothe”) abstract realities. This being so, the poem’s truth (and Hesiod claimed to have been given the truth in lines 28 - 34) did not depend on whether the actual stories were considered to have happened [19], because their truth lay in the abstractions.

However, since the Theogony did not explain how particular gods came to have their particular powers, it is classification without an explanatory paradigm, so Hesiod fails the third criterion of sufficient reason.

In conclusion: from the four references to Chaos in the Theogony Hesiod, Chaos was both a dark empty gulf that existed in the lower extension between Earth and Tartaros, and also in the upper extension between Earth and Sky.  There is uncertainty as to whether Chaos had “being” or not.  Fränkel’s argument of disjunctive πρώτιστα ἕπειτα could refer to Chaos creating out of nothing, but it is more likely from the birth sequences that Chaos’ space had “being”.  Three criteria for philosophy were determined and they showed that Hesiod did not have truly abstract cosmological reasoning, his theory about the universe as a whole was deficient, and he did not utilise the principle of sufficient reason.  It remains true that Greek philosophy began with Thales and Anaximander.


Primary Sources

Aristotle, The Physics, 1929, Loeb Classical Library ed. Wicksteed P.H., and Cornford, F.M., Harvard University Press, Cambridge

_______, Physics, 1952, Great Books of the Western World, vol. 8, Aristotle I, ed. Hutchins, R.M., Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago

Descartes, Rules for the Direction of the Mind, 1952, Great Books of the Western World, vol. 31, Descartes, Spinoza, ed. Hutchins, R.M., Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago

Hesiod, The Theogony, 1914, Hesiod Homeric Hymns Epic Cycle Homerica, Loeb Classical Library trans. Evelyn-White, H.G., Harvard University Press, Cambridge and London


Secondary Sources

Athanassakis, A.N., 1993, Hesiod; Theogony, Works and Days, Shield, John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore

Bruit Zaidman, L., & Schmitt Pantel, P., 1989, Religion in the Ancient Greek City, trans. Cartledge, P., Redwood Press, Melksham

Caldwell, R.S., 1987, Hesiod’s Theogony, Focus Classical Library, Newburyport

Fränkel, H., 1975, Early Greek Poetry and Philosophy, trans. Hadas, M. & Willis, J., Blackwell, Oxford

Gaukroger, S., 1980, Descartes: Philosophy, Mathematics and Physics, Harvester Press, Brighton

Kirk, G.S., & Raven, J.E., 1957, The Presocratic Philosophers, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

Liddell, H., G., & Scott, R., & Jones, H.S., 1940, A Greek-English Lexicon, Clarendon Press, Oxford,

Nahm, M.C., 1986, Selections from Early Greek Philosophy, Prentice-Hall, Eaglewood Cliffs

The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 1995, ed. Honderich, T., Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York

Thalmann, W.G., 1984, Convention of Form and Thought in Early Greek Epic Poetry, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London

Veyne, P., 1988, Did the Greeks believe in their Myths?, trans. Wissing, P., University of Chicago, Chicago

West, M.L., 1966, Hesiod, Theogony, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York

________, 1988, Hesiod, Theogony and Works and Days, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York



[1] No textual criticism will be attempted and the Evelyn White’s text in the Loeb edition will be accepted and quoted

[3] For example, Walcot, 1956, “The Text of Hesiod’s Theogony and the Hittite Epic of Kumarbi”, Classical Quarterly, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp.205-6 and Bradley, E.M., 1966, “The Relevance of the Prooemium to the Design and Meaning of Hesiod’s Theogony”, Symbolae Osloenses, auspiciis Societatis Graeco-Latine 41, pp. 42-47 both cited in Thalmann, op cit, p.198, n.16

[4] (Thalmann, 1984:4) Aristotle called παράταξις (placing side by side) the λέξις εἰρόμενη (“the strung style”).

[5] The four lines are 116, 123, 700 and 814

[6] The permanent separation of Earth and Sky, with Sky confined to the roof of the world was probably metaphorically indicated in the Theogony by the severing of Sky’s genitalia (Bruit Zaidman & Schmitt Pantel, 1989:154)

[7] Wickstead & Cornford, (1929:267) “what Aristotle is directly concerned with here is only ‘place’ implying ‘position’, and not abstract or absolute ‘space’ at all.  Failure to understand this has led to grotesque misconceptions”

[8] Aristotle’s Greek text is from the Loeb Library (Wickstead & Cornford, 1929:280), and the English translation is from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Great Books of the Western World, (1952:vol 8, 287)

[9] Descartes, (1952:30), Rules for the direction of the Mind, Rule 14 “body possesses extension”. See also Gaukroger, (1980:188) citing Descartes, “you think [God’s power] can take away the contents of a container while preventing its sides from meeting … it involves a contradiction”.

[10] The modern theory of the Big Bang sees Space, Time and Matter appearing together.

[11] One recent theory (now discounted by the cosmic ray background) held that as space expanded new matter appeared to maintain a constant density

[12] It is now understood that radiant heat travels through a vacuum e.g. from the Sun to the Earth

[13] West (1966:358) regards line 740 as “suspect”

[14] In Homer Ouranos is “wrapped in clouds”, Iliad 15.192, Odyssey 5.303; “above the aether”, Iliad 2.458, 17.425, 19.351

[15] Pellikaan-Engel (1978:15) drew attention to a textual variant by Solmsen that has “to shut in or enclose” rather than “to cover”

[16] Summer position shown, in winter the shaded region drops down to the horizon

[17] Veyne (1988:1) denies that myth and logos are opposites

[18] Philippson, P., 1966, “Genealogie als mythische Form: Studien zur Theogonie des Hesiod”, in Hesiod, ed. Heitsch, E., Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt, p.673 “Der Glanz der Olympischen Welt ist für den Griechen nur fassbar durch seine polare Gegenwelt”, cited in Thalmann (1984:188, n.7)

[19] Fränkel (1975:98) “we cannot discern how literally he would have us understand his tales”


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