Jenny Strauss Clay (University of Virginia)
Aristotle uses the term theologia to define both the pre-philosophical thought of the poets and the highest form of philosophical speculation concerning eternal and universal principles. Hesiod has a rather special place within that polarity. Aristotle does not mention him at Metaph. 1, 983b27–33 with Homer who, he claims, “theologizes” when he makes Okeanos and Tethys the genesis of all things and sees him as a precursor of “the philosophizing” Thales who posited water as the first principle or arche. Hesiod does not fit the evolutionary scheme that begins with the positing of what Aristotle will call material causes. He does, however, commend Hesiod for his discovery of Eros as his second or efficient cause Metaph. 1, 984b23–24), and he also appears to approve of Hesiod’s definition of Chaos as space (Phys. 4, 208b29–31, MXG 976b16–18) Hesiod’s anomalous status within the Aristotelian scheme invites further investigation as to where exactly he belongs in the history of philosophy and how he contributed to its subsequent development.
This paper will argue that the Hesiod’s Theogony is an invitation to philosophize, that is, to engage his audience to think about the nature of the cosmos, how it came to be, and its eternal components. The Muses’ enigmatic statement concerning truth and lies like the truth has been read in many ways (Th. 27–8; for bibliography, see Vergados 2020: 211–19), but it can be viewed as a provocation, inviting the audience to consider what follows critically and evaluate Hesiod’s account, in other words to participate actively in thinking about the gods and the cosmos. Similarly, the inclusion in Hesiod’s request to the Muses of natural phenomena, rivers, stars (Th.109–10) emphasizes that what follows will account for not only for the traditional genealogies of the gods, but also the natural world, on the grounds that its components are also eternal. His insistence on beginning with what came “first of all” prods the Muses to respond not with Gaia and Ouranos (which were good enough for Zeus), but with the mysterious Chaos (Th.116). The controversy concerning the meaning of this Hesiodic Chaos continues to this day (e.g., Hyland 2006, Warziag 2001) – and that, this paper argues, is just the point: we are meant to ask what is it, where did it come from, why is it first? Epicurus, it is said (D.L. 10.2.6-10), was driven to philosophy when his teachers could not explain Hesiod’s Chaos. And what about Hesiod’s Eros whose beauty attracts, but who is also lusimeles (Th.120–22), dissolving and separating, thus perhaps a precursor of Empedocles’ Love and Strife and the Presocratic mixis and separation. There are many other such moments in the Theogony that similarly engage our participation to question and reflect on the constitution of the cosmos and reality. In other words, to philosophize. The challenge Hesiod set was taken up by the Presocratics.