- Hesiod: The Other Poet: Ancient Reception of a Cultural Icon
The primary concern of this book is how Homer defines the way in which Hesiod is received. Koning sets out to prove that “there is a dynamic interaction between their representations” (10) and that “Hesiod, it seems, is never really alone” (130). Koning considers Hesiodic reception in literary sources over a millennium (seventh century b.c. to 300 a.d.), consulting works of some 200 ancient writers as well as epigraphic material and papyri, and collating around 1200 references. The book does not claim to be exhaustive; indeed so broad a scope “has often led to abstraction and generalization” (370): what it aims to do, and succeeds in doing, is to identify general trends and draw out examples for in-depth analysis.
The book’s theoretical framework is mostly derived from collective or cultural memory studies in the wake of Halbwachs and Assmann. It seems to me that, for Hesiodic poetry, these theories are most important in terms of canonization: “Canonical texts are central to the sense of identity and continuity of a mnemonic community” (9). Hesiod’s poems became canonized at an early stage in Greek history, and “the Greeks spent much interpretative labour on keeping the canonized works alive, bridging the gap between their moment of enshrinement and the present” (8). It was this interpretative effort that led to the need for specialist interpreters (schoolmasters, rhapsodes, sophists, philosophers; 96) and an armory of “exegetical weaponry” (103).
The analysis begins with “commemograms” (18–21, the term is taken from Zerubavel 2003) showing which lines of Hesiod’s poetry are quoted and how often, and a table of distribution of references to Hesiod through time (21–22). This information provides a strong starting point: even when taken with the pinch of salt Koning recommends, surprising trends come to the fore such as the popularity of Works and Days over Theogony in antiquity (21), or the most quoted parts of Works and Days being neither the Works nor the Days. Koning later attempts to explain these trends by isolating mechanisms of memory which suggest why certain parts of the past are received and others rejected (130).
The book is divided into three parts, corresponding to the three Hesiods Koning differentiates (handy summary at 380): Hesiod combined with Homer (“sacred” Hesiod); Hesiod alone (“modern” Hesiod); Hesiod opposed to Homer (“typical” Hesiod). Each part is then organized under categories of the poets’ σοφία: moral and educational integrity, knowledge and factual accuracy, technical skill, and aesthetic/emotional impact. The thematic divisions allow Koning to consider such mechanisms of reception as “lumping and splitting” (e.g., 10, 39), and to focus on the role Homer plays in Hesiod’s reception. It seems to me, however, that the book’s strong point is chapter 9, which follows a diachronic [End Page 131] framework: here we really get a sense of development, and how over time Hesiod went from being “The Other Poet” to another poet (299).
The divisions are driven by the book’s primary concern. Koning notes (369), however, that Hesiod’s relationship with Homer is only one of the two key factors in the poet’s representation: the other being the poems themselves. Due consideration of this second factor seems to me less well considered in this book. By taking the reception of Hesiod as his starting point, Koning shows how reception influences the meaning of the text, but he pays little attention to how, or to what extent, the text governs its own reception. The idea of the “catchword factor” (144–48) is an important one, even if Koning does not develop it as a strategy which the text uses to shape its reception. Starting with the text may at times have produced a more nuanced analysis: for example, the Certamen tradition (245–66) was to a certain extent invited by Works and Days itself; interpreting the two kinds of Eris in Works and Days as a...