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Hesiod: Man, Law and Cosmos

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image of Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought

In his two chief works, the Theogony and Works and Days, Hesiod treats the possibility of providence. In the former poem, he considers what sort of god could claim to gives human beings guidance. After arriving at Zeus as the only consistent possibility, Hesiod presents Zeus’ rule as both cosmic and legalistic. In the latter poem, however, Hesiod shows that so long as Zeus is legalistic, his rule is limited cosmically to the human being. Ultimately, Zeus’ rule emerges as more human than cosmic, and thus unable to fulfil the cosmic demands of piety. Hesiod’s presentation thus begs, without thematically posing, the question of how human beings ought to live. Accordingly, Hesiod’s theological analysis, and not his theogony (or, implicit cosmogony or cosmology), sets the stage for the inquiries of the early Greek philosophers, and so political philosophy as a whole.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Philosophy, Sarah Lawrence College1 Mead Way, Bronxville, NY


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