- Hesiod’s Theogony: From Near Eastern Creation Myths to Paradise Lost by Stephen Scully
Following a short introduction in which the recent reception of Hesiod’s creation account is contextualized, chiefly within the frame of Freud’s view of myth, Scully begins his analysis of the Theogony with a comparison of (1) Hesiod and Homer with regard to their treatment of the gods and their individual epic styles, and, perhaps more interestingly, (2) Hesiod’s Theogony and the creation account of the biblical book of Genesis; it is in the latter portion of this initial chapter that Scully first makes reference to an idea to which he will keep returning—that of the idealized polis in the Theogony.
In chapter 2 Scully wastes no time in foregrounding this concept of “the Theogony as a πόλις-creation myth,” contending that in his liberal use of “personified abstractions,” Hesiod moves “toward philosophy,” “turning a mythic story into something approaching political science and political allegory” (30). One is immediately left wondering what sense Scully attributes to the concept of μῦθος in Hesiod’s eighth-century setting—a term which, while occurring only three times in the Theogony, is consistent with its far more frequent use in Homeric epic, found most significantly at line 24 of the “speech” that the Muses spoke to the poet. The chapter otherwise consists of Scully’s overview of the Theogony; among the points made, he contends that Hesiod identifies only Metis and Hera as wives of Zeus and that all of the intervening “wives” are only paramours. The phrase πρώτην ἄλοχον θέτο at line 885, as the catalogue of “wives” begins, surely suggests otherwise, however. He concludes the chapter with the claim that “the Theogony is an intensely political poem. It tells the story of creation in the context of a city creation myth” (47).
In chapter 3 Scully compares Hesiod’s Theogony with the so-called Hittite “Kingship-in-Heaven myth” (not a term that he uses) and the Hittite myth of the dragon Illuyanka. Much space is given to the presentation of the Babylonian theogony, the Enûma elish: it is a good description of a complex tradition. He then examines the theogony of Dunnu and the Phoenician theogony—again with comparison to Hesiod. Early in making these comparisons, he states that of the several Near Eastern traditions, he finds “the parallels between the Theogony and the Enûma elish … to be the most compelling” (51), and readers [End Page 572] might infer that it is this perceived closeness that is responsible for Scully’s “intensely political” view of the Theogony: the Enûma elish was performed in and for Babylon at the celebration of the New Year. Others would perhaps find the formative Hittite/Hurrian traditions to be much the closer (and also underlying what we know of a Phoenician tradition). In his fourth chapter, Scully considers the place of the Theogony (and also Hesiod’s Works and Days) in (1) archaic and (2) classical Greek literary tradition (especially  Homeric Hymns, Solon, Pre-Socratics, Pindar; and  Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Plato, and fourth-century authors, respectively). Chapter 5 looks at the reception of the Theogony in the Hellenistic era (Callimachus, Stoic philosophy, Euhemerus, etc.) and in Rome (especially Ovid). The remainder of the chapter is given to a comparison of the Theogony and the mythic handbook (Bibliotheca) of Pseudo-Apollodorus, and to its reception in the Second Sophistic and among early Christian writers and Philo of Alexandria.
In chapter 6, Scully explores the reception of the Theogony in Byzantium, Medieval Italy, and subsequently among writers such as, inter alia, Poliziano, Erasmus, Chapman, and—notably—Milton. The nowadays-inevitable typographic error is to be found here and there (e.g., Jasper Griffin is made to be “Gasper” ); and there are a few inaccuracies (e.g., rather than being attested only twice “in extant Greek literature” , δυσνομία can be found at least six times [prior to the fourth century a.d., more later]). One may not agree...