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This paper explores Hesiod’s strategies in the Works and Days through which he revises some of the linguistic ideas implied in the Theogony. While the many etymologies in the Th. aim at impressing upon the audience the existence of a “correct language”, the WD challenges this notion in several ways (see e.g. Gambarara 130-2, Arrighetti 1987, 23-36).

In contrast to Th., there is only one explicit etymology in WD: Pandora’s name (80-2). However, the explanations offered there are ambiguous: does it mean “all the gods gave her as a gift”? “all the gods gave her a gift”? or “she who gives all the gifts” (Pandora originally being an epithet of Earth)? Next, there is an instance of self-correction at 11ff: Hesiod realizes (note ἄρα at 11) that there are two goddesses named Ἔρις and not just one as he had mentioned in Th. More than simply modifying his thought, the poet reveals a semantic and ontological problem: Eris and other abstractions (á½…ρκος, νέμεσις, αá¼°δÏŽς) are “split” or enriched with attributes they did not possess in Th. (Arrighetti 1970-71). Thus one linguistic sign can simultaneously point to multiple and even contrasting meanings (cf. Heraclitus fr. 48).

Further, in the Iron Age language is connected with justice. In the unjust city besides infertility, wars, children not resembling their parents, and lack of respect for familial or friendly bonds, words do not reflect the meaning expected: an á¼€δικÏŽτερος possesses a greater (μείζω) δίκη (v. 272), while á½…ρκος, normally a powerful speech-act, has no effect: Language thus shares in the decay.

Just as human existence in general, language is not static; new elements may be added which the poet feels the need to explain. Hesiod coins and explains new words at 189~192 (χειροδίκαι, δίκη ἐν χερσί), 402~411~440 (ἐτÏŽσια, ἐτωσιοεργÏŒς, ἐτÏŽσιον); 485~490 (á½€ψá¾½ á¼€ρÏŒσεις, á½€ψαρÏŒτης, πρωιηρÏŒτῃ). There are however linguistic phenomena that are opaque, where the poet himself does not offer help: the kenningar are a case in point. Found throughout the second half of WD, they sometimes introduce confusion into the practical advice, for instance, when they function as temporal indicators for the time of an agricultural task, and add a riddling element to Hesiod’s poem, intimating that language is capable of not only revealing but also concealing and leading to confusion.

Does this imply that Hesiod’s exposition in WD does not constitute the ἐτήτυμα announced in v. 10? The answer must be negative, as á¼”τυμος / ἐτύτημος is a quality inherent in the things per se, while á¼€ληθής/ ψευδής is a quality of the statements made about the things (cf. Clay 60-61). Whereas language in Th. reflects the state of the divine cosmos (hence language is “correct”), human existence in the Iron Age abounds in ambiguity and confusion, which the language of WD mirrors. The poet’s promise to tell ἐτήτυμα is fulfilled: but these are the ἐτήτυμα of the human condition, where clear knowledge is lacking (814, 824; cf. 825-6) and thus few people are able to use true (á¼€ληθέα) names (818).


Works Cited

Arrighetti, G. “Ancora sullo sdoppiamento dei concetti etici in Esiodo.” SCO 19-20 (1970-71) 297-301.

Arrighetti, G. , Poeti, eruditi e biografi. Momenti della riflessione dei Greci sulla letteratura (Pisa, 1987).

Clay, J. S. Hesiod’s Cosmos (Cambridge, 2003).

Gambarara, D. Alle fonti della filosofia del linguaggio. ‘Lingua’ e ‘nomi’ nella cultura greca arcaica (Roma, 1984).

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