Hesiod's Theogony Paperback – 6 May 2010
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As it happens, I own most (but not quite all) of the currently or recently available English translations: those by Apostolos N. Athanassakis, Norman O. Brown, Hugh G. Evelyn-White (bilingual edition, Loeb Classical Library), R.M. Frazer, Richmond Lattimore, Dorothea Wender (Penguin Classics), and M. L. West (Oxford World's Classics). Except for Brown, who also covers only the "Theogony," they all contain at least the other main Hesiodic poem, "Works and Days" as a companion piece. West is also the editor of a Greek text, with extensive commentary. In this crowded field, in which the renderings of Athanassakis and Lattimore are notable for the quality of their poetry, Caldwell stakes a claim to utility.
The introduction contains numerous tables, displaying the relationships of various sets of gods, nymphs, monsters, and others, His translation is set out in verse lines, with running numbers at intervals of five, which makes locating references extremely easy. (No headnotes identifying thirty or fifty-line blocks of material!) An essay on the "Psychology of the Succession Myth" (rather simplistically Freudian, but interesting) is followed by a translation of some the most important related material from "Works and Days," and (hurray) parallel passages from a late prose compendium of Greek mythology, the Bibliotheke of Apollodoros (better known as the "Library of Apollodorus"). He has a useful (if now slightly dated) discussion of the main Near Eastern parallels. (Brown also discusses the comparative and psychological aspects of the poem, from different perspectives; his psychological treatment seems to me subtler, and more closely related to the political reading he offers.) [To be fair, I should have mentioned when this review was originally posted that Caldwell is here offering a simplified form of the argument in his 1985 book "The Origin of the Gods: A Pscyhoanalytic Study of Greek Theogonic Myth."]
There is a very good index-glossary. Most useful of all, however, are the running annotations. They range from the most elementary (assuming no prior knowledge of Greek myth or literature) to impressively advanced (issues of structure, technique, and deeper meanings). Caldwell explains that he has drawn heavily on West's commentary, which is nice, because West himself incorporated many of his conclusions implicitly in his prose translation, without the arguments that accompanied his text editions.
Given Caldwell's attention to detail, if you are a novice in the field who doesn't plan to build up even a small collection, but is willing to read a single volume with close attention, this might be your best choice. Those who already know the subject are likely to find it attractive, although sorting through such basic reminders as "Zephyros is the west wind, Boreas the north wind" in search of interpretive insights can be a test of patience.
Because of its accurate, highly original language, copious explanatory introductions and footnotes, and extremely helpful family trees, I highly recommend buying this edition of the Theogony. I prefer this edition a lot much more than Oxford World Classic's Theogony, which does not ave such an original or vivid translation, and does not also have as many explanatory notes, and Oxford does not have many explanatory notes which I feel are mandatory for modern Theogony Editions.
Inside this book, all the lines are numbered, and footnotes often take up more than half of the pages. Because of its highly original translation, original proper names and often literal translations of Greek expressions have to be explained through footnotes.
Also included is Appendix A, which contains Lines 1-201 of Hesiod's "Work and Days", describing Pandora and the five generations of giants before Modern Man. Appendix B consists of a portion of Apollodorus' Library of Greek Mythology, which is a late Hellenistic mini-Theogony. The index, though large and complete, is somwhat confusing to use.
Overall, I would highly recommend this edition of Hesiod's Theogony next to Richmond Latimore's verse translation of Hesiod's work. Edith Hamilton's mythology, Bulfinch's Mythology, and mythology dictionaries aren't enough for the serious - you NEED Hesiod's Theogony - straight from the source. Whether you are a student or professor studying/teaching Greek mythology or just a hardcore amateur mythology fan, you will NOT regret buying this book.
In my reading I consider Hesiod, alongside Homer, to be a fountainhead from which all later Greek writers flow. It's not a Greek Bible, but it is the earliest full exposition of Greek creation mythology we have today. There are competing versions of some myths, but more often than not, this is the antecedent of many later Greek elaborations.
It's certainly a great work to cut your teeth on because if you can master the full panoply of gods and the tangled network of their relationships as sketched out by Hesiod, then you can hold your own when reading almost any other ancient Greek text. To this end, Caldwell is a very generous guide for leading novices down all those tricky paths. His copious footnotes leave few stones unturned.
Moreover, what I found to be a very gratifying addition to Hesiod was Caldwell's interpretive essay, "The Psychology of the Succession Myth". One reviewer referred to it as "rather simplistically Freudian, but interesting". I read Hesiod and Caldwell's essay before reading this review and I must admit I was worried myself, at first, that Caldwell was plunging into cheap Freudian psychology; but I was pleasantly surprised that he took it into another direction. I personally found the essay to be a very thoughtful and thought-provoking analysis.
The Theogony is full of incest, as most ancient myths are (e.g. the children of Adam and Eve); but Caldwell does not make the Freudian misstep in assuming that that is the natural desire of children. Instead Caldwell treats it as the logical fallacy people would naturally arrive at by extrapolating lines of familial descent, viz. if all cousins can trace their origins to one set of great grandparents, and so on, eventually there is a primordial set of first parents - and inherent in such a situation would be the necessity of incest for the race to multiply. (And also, because incest is a universal and natural taboo, which is always assumed to be negative in some manner for the resulting children, the only way incest is permissible is if the first generations are somehow superior to humans today - be they gods or superhuman like Methuselah.)
Unfortunately for the field of psychology, Freud might have gotten it half right, but he got the other half so terribly wrong that everything he touched is now taken with great suspicion. However, if one does try to think about the human mind at the beginning of its consciousness - for both the individual and for the species - one cannot not help but conclude that humans, _in part_, have little recourse but to metaphorically extrapolate their understanding of their own bodies out onto the world; and Caldwell is very conscious of those constraints, so I would not dismiss his analysis so easily as simplistic Freudianism.
In conclusion, if you are wondering which translation of Hesiod to get, I enthusiastically recommend Caldwell's. His will serve as an excellent resource if you plan on expanding your knowledge of ancient Greek writing because it is a constant source of clarity and illumination when walking the labyrinth of Greek myth.