Most helpful positive review
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 21 September 2011
M.L West is one of the great classicists. His book on Indo-European traditions, and another on the influence of southwest Asia on Greek ideas, make him truly valuable, and the breadth and density of his work is aided by the fluency and clarity of his translations (whether in Greek or Avestan!). In this short volume, West translates Hesiod's famous works very neatly without trying to claim that they are anything other than what they are: curious, relatively simple poems (here in prose) about topics of importance to early Greeks. The poems are quaint rather than sublime, but it is important to note that they were very influential, and are still worth reading.
'Theogony' is about the gods and how they came to be; West notes in his introduction that the account appears to derive from southwest Asian influence rather than an Indo-European precedent, and was actually somewhat abhorrent to later Greeks of the classical period for its presentation of warfare between the gods. 'Works and Days' is advice given, ostensibly, to Hesiod's brother, Perses, about such matters as putting to sea, growing grain, and finding a wife. This is by far the more readable and interesting work for those who aren't 8th century BCE Boeotians. Economy, agriculture, astronomy - Hesiod can't be seen as the originator of all of these subjects by any means, but the germs of ideas are clearly present in this poem, germs that, through the fertilising effect of cross-cultural transmission, grew into the flowerings we now know as the classical and Hellenistic ages. There might perhaps have been no Empedocles or Democritus without Hesiod. Who can say how the history of Greece or the world, or even of philosophy, might have developed had Hesiod's poems not been present?
These are superb translations. Anyone interested in the early Greeks, or in the origins of philosophy in the region, should give them a read, and not expect more than startlingly familiar (because influential) poems on themes wantonly mixing the domestic and the theological. Anthropologists might also benefit from reading them, and seeing the fundamental similarities between the works and, for instance, Popol Vuh.