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The Cosmological Significance of the Wedding of Zas and Chthoniè in Pherecydes of Syros, as a Response to Hesiod

Xavier Gheerbrant

Sichuan University, Department of Philosophy

This paper interprets the cosmological meaning of the wedding of Zas and Chthoniè, and of the gift of the robe in Pherecydes fr.68 Schibli (D9 Laks-Most) on the grounds of a comparison of its structural features with Hesiod’s cosmo-theology in the Theogony. In choosing Hesiod I am not trying to diminish the importance of a comparison with the Orphic tradition (Bregia Pulci Doria 2000), the near-Eastern sources (West 1971), or Early Greek philosophy (Granger 2007). Such comparisons, however, have mostly emphasized factual aspects (the names of gods or the occurrence of a motif such as the winged oak), but have less often focused on how such motifs were differently elaborated into a consistent system in each author or source under study. Along the lines of Sassi’s (2018, 36) suggestion that Hesiod’s cosmology is the result of a series of systematic choices in the mythical material on account of the rationale of his own project in the Theogony, I propose to study how Pherecydes constructed a set of motifs also represented, individually, in Hesiod’s Theogony into a complex elaboration of his own.

The study will focus on two aspects:

– Pherecydes challenges the way Hesiod construes the role of sexual union in the cosmology. In a way we could call ‘vertical,’ Hesiod gives shape to his cosmos by arranging successive generations of gods into catalogues (Clay 2003, 127; Couloubaritsis 2006, §22–26), where the children share or extend aspects of the powers of their parents (Baglioni 2019). In Pherecydes, the meaning of the union of Zas and Chthoniè is construed as horizontal: the wedding has implications outside the couple and their potential children, as reflected in its preparations. The construction of the houses of Zas and the mention of the servants cannot be simply accounted for as a projection of the Greek realia or of Eastern sources; the wedding transforms the world even before Zas weds Chthoniè.

– The gift of the robe by which Chthoniè becomes Gè reveals a difference in the conception and role of technique with Hesiod. In the Theogony technical objects are used to solve crises that had prevented the genealogy from continuing (Iribarren 2018). Even though Pherecydes uses the motif of the crafted dress in a context where a new genealogy is about to open, it is provided a role in the narrative that is structurally different. Our sources make no mention of a crisis, and the gift of the robe on which Ogènos and his houses are represented produces the limit of the universe which gives it its consistency, by extending metonymically the aforementioned horizontal dimension of the wedding to an irreversible transformation of the cosmos as a whole.

Both Hesiod and Pherecydes have been criticized as repetitious authors (West 1966, 72–77; Lilja 1968, 38; Schibli 1990, 50). Throughout the paper, I emphasize the heuristic and hermeneutical advantages of not construing matters such as repetition as merely stylistic elements, but as significant elements in the respective discursive strategies of Hesiod and Pherecydes.

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Myth and History

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