Parthenogenesis in Hesiod’s Theogony
- Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural
- Penn State University Press
- Volume 3, Number 2, 2014
- pp. 261-283
- Additional Information
This article examines female asexual reproduction, or parthenogenesis, in Hesiod’s Theogony and argues that it is a symptom of the unprecedented and unparalleled female presence Hesiod inserts into his cosmos. This presence in turn reflects Hesiod’s incorporation of gender difference and conflict as indispensable both to the creation and, paradoxically, to the stability of the universe. Five of Hesiod’s deities reproduce parthenogenetically: Chaos, Gaea, Night, Strife, and Hera, of whom all but the sexually indeterminate Chaos are female. Hesiod’s male gods have no analogous reproductive ability. The parthenogenetic phases of the early goddesses form much of the fundamental shape and character of the universe, while in the case of Hera, parthenogenesis serves initially as an act of defiance against Zeus but ultimately enforces his reign. Parthenogenesis does not have these functions in either the Near Eastern or other Greek cosmogonic traditions, a difference that reflects Hesiod’s greater emphasis on female participation in his succession myth. Yet Hesiod’s cosmogonic narrative, like others, culminates in the lasting reign of a male god, Zeus. In this context parthenogenesis is a manifestation of female creation, which ultimately reinforces the stability of a male sovereign. The relative prominence of parthenogenesis in the Theogony reflects Hesiod’s emphasis on gender difference and conflict as indispensable to a cosmos in which conflict and concord coexist as equal partners in creation and stability.