- Hesiod and the Divine Gaze
The Hesiodic universe seems like a surveillance society. Under the controlling, assaultive, and all-pervasive imperial gaze of Zeus, men, women, monsters, and other gods struggle to take a share of control in their own narratives by violence, deception, and evasion.1 The following passage from the Works and Days depicts a legion of immortal spies keeping a sinister (or is it reassuring?) eye on the moral actions of kings and judges:
As for you kings, too, ponder this justice yourselves. For among human beings there are immortals nearby who observe all those who grind one another down with crooked judgements and have no care for divine retribution. For three times ten thousand are Zeus’s immortal guardians of mortal men upon the bounteous earth. They watch out for judgements and wicked deeds, clad in invisibility, walking everywhere upon the earth.
This passage introduces many of the themes of this paper: it conveys a sense of the power of immortals over mortals; the poet aligned with Zeus, attempting to hold power over kings, who in turn take power over society; of watchers unseen; and of divine punishment associated with divine viewing. It also shows well the slippage between vision and knowledge that is so important in Greek language and culture.2
This article investigates the theme of vision and power in the Hesiodic poems, and is an offshoot of my project on vision in epic from Homer to Nonnus, The Epic Gaze?.3 In this project, I start from the classic article of Mulvey 1975 to explore a number of visual phenomena in epic: the ever-present divine spectators; prophetic visions and blind prophets; the women on the walls; ekphrasis as a way of secluding [End Page 143] and objectifying the Other; the beautiful body of the hero; the blazing eyes of berserk heroes; visual confrontations and battles of the gaze; and monuments as visual signs. Modern analysis of genre, and of the Latin reception of Hesiod, sees a stronger distinction between didactic and narrative epic than is apparent in archaic epos.4 In the tradition of narrative epic, Hesiod is an ambivalent presence: highly influential, yet always on the sidelines.5 The Iliad in particular is such an important code model that other streams of Greek epos seem not to be epic at all. In this paper I explore the Hesiodic poems in the light of my ongoing research on vision in epic, and compare Hesiodic visions with those of the Iliad in particular, and different parts of the Hesiodic corpus with each other.6
One of the biggest differences between the Homeric and Hesiodic poems is their treatment of the divine audience. In the Iliad, the gods often are watching the events of the siege at Troy as a group, and engaging in vigorous disagreement with each other about them, just as the Danaans watch the chariot race at Iliad 23.448–98 and argue about the likely outcome.7 This connection is self-consciously underlined by the simile at 22.162–6, which compares the race between Hector and Achilles to games, and the watching gods implicitly to the audience at the games.8 The gods can be seen as a model for the readers of epic.9 In Hesiod, however, the gods are rarely given the chance to sit back and enjoy a show. The ultimate spectacle of the Titanomachy (Theog. 674–86) appears (, 677) but has no one to watch it. The cosmos itself feels rather than sees the battle; trembling, shuddering, and groaning are the order of the day:
They took up their positions against the Titans in baleful conflict, holding enormous boulders in their massive hands; and on the other side the Titans zealously reinforced their battle ranks. Both sides manifested the deed of hands and of [End Page 144] strength together. The boundless ocean echoed terribly around them, and the great earth crashed, and the broad sky groaned in response as it was shaken, and high Olympus trembled from its very bottom under the rush of the immortals, and a deep shuddering from their feet reached murky Tartarus...