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  • Hesiod in Paris:Justice, Truth, and Power Between Past and Present1
  • Charles H. Stocking

It is generally agreed that Hesiodic poetry occupies a privileged position in the history of the western intellectual tradition. At the very beginning of the twentieth century, Francis M. Cornford (1912) used the Theogony to proclaim that the categories of religion and philosophy in ancient Greece were not antithetical but complementary. Likewise, Olof Gigon named Hesiod the "first philosopher" because the Theogony and Works and Days introduced three formal categories of philosophy: truth, origin, and "the whole" (Gigon 1945.12–25).2 And Hermann Fränkel furthered this notion with his comprehensive Dichtung und Philosophie des frühen Griechentums, first published in 1951. For Fränkel, the mythic genealogical structures found in Hesiodic poetry, which can be arranged in terms of positives and negatives, gave "profound ontological expression" to the conditions of being and non-being (Fränkel 1975.101). Finally, these views culminate with Eric Havelock's Preface to Plato (1963), where the figure of Hesiod is touted as the "archegos of abstraction," that is, as the dominant figure who set in motion the forces of philosophy (Havelock 1963.295). Overall, scholars in [End Page 385] the first half of the twentieth century seem to have placed Hesiodic poetry in a liminal position between Homeric poetry and philosophy, between the irrational and the rational, between muthos and logos.3

Yet while Hesiodic poetry was being positioned as an influential source for ancient Greek philosophy, it was also playing an equally important role in shaping modern intellectual traditions, especially the movement of structuralism in postwar France.4 Recently, scholars in the field of classics have come to appreciate that what we consider "theory" today is not simply an abstract, external method of analysis to be applied ad hoc to a given ancient text or aspect of ancient history in order simply to produce a new interpretation (cf. Miller 2003 and 2015b). Rather, the discipline of classics has always been intimately involved in the broader philosophical and political dialogues of the present. In this respect, Paul Allen Miller and Miriam Leonard are foundational in tracing the reciprocal relationship between ancient texts and postmodern European thought, focusing primarily on classical Greek literature and culture (cf. Miller 1998, Leonard 2005, Miller 2007, Leonard 2010, Miller 2015a and 2015b). I would like to contribute to this growing body of scholarship by demonstrating how Hesiodic poetry has been an equally critical aspect of the dialogue between ancients [End Page 386] and moderns in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Through the work of scholars such as Jean-Pierre Vernant, Marcel Detienne, Pietro Pucci, and others, Hesiod has directly factored into the work of Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, Michel de Certeau, and Jacques Derrida in important, but largely unacknowledged, ways. Indeed, Hesiodic poetry was considered significant to these major French thinkers for two primary reasons. First, we find a common focus on Hesiodic notions of justice, truth, and power in their broader intellectual projects. Second, because Hesiodic poetry was considered to be representative of the "origin" of western literature, the use of Hesiodic poetry within modern intellectual contexts becomes a way to understand how those essentializing categories of justice, truth, and power are constantly destabilized and subject to the contingencies of history and politics in both the past and the present. Ultimately, therefore, by becoming more aware of how Hesiodic poetry has been formative in some of the most important intellectual movements in the last century, we, as scholars of the ancient world, may continue to play an active role in shaping future intellectual traditions.


The intellectual movement broadly known as structuralism can be considered one of the most influential and unifying trends of the twentieth century. Although there is perhaps no single prescriptive account of structuralism because of its many permutations in diverse fields of research, most nevertheless agree that it began with Ferdinand de Saussure and his Course in General Linguistics, posthumously published in 1915 (cf. Lévi-Strauss 1963, Benveniste 1966.91–98, Jameson 1972, Dosse 1997a.43–51, and Ungar 2004). Two key concepts from the Course...


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